History of the Capitals
The initial idea for the "European city of culture" is said to have originated from a chat between the former Greek and French Ministers for Culture, Merlina Mercouri and Jacques Lang, while they were waiting for a flight at Athens airport in January 1985.
Ms Mercouri followed the idea up and, in June 1985, the European City of Culture project was launched – by Resolution of the EU Culture Ministers – with the aim of helping to bring the people of Europe closer together.
From 1985 to 2004, the European Cities of Culture were chosen by EU Culture Ministers (meeting in the Council), with reference to the criteria set out in the Council conclusions of 12 November 1992.
In 1990 the Culture Ministers adopted another Resolution setting up a parallel cultural event: the European month of culture. The event took place each year in a city, located in any European country based on democracy, pluralism and the "rule of law" Fundamentally this event was designed for the benefit of countries in central and eastern Europe at a very specific period of their history. It is no longer operating.
From the beginning, the European Commission gave given financial support these two events. A study on the Capitals between 1985 and 1994 (‘European Cities of Culture and Cultural Months'), by John Myerscough, 1994) demonstrated the positive impact of the event on the cities concerned. As an exception, 9 cities were selected in 2000 as European Capitals of Culture, for symbolic reasons.
European Capital of CultureEuropean Capitals of Culture and Cultural Months – past, present and future
In 2005, changes were introduced to the procedure for selecting a European Capital of Culture (note also the change of name). The event is now restricted to cities in EU countries, which take turns to host the event in a pre-set order.
Given the success of the event and the new scope for EU involvement in the field of cultural (see Article 151 of the EC Treaty), the European Parliament and the Council of ministers adopted a Decision on the designation of European Capitals of Culture – 1419/1999/EC.
As well as laying down the order in which countries would host the event, the Decision stipulated that proposals from potential host cities would be assessed by an international panel – against specific criteria. European non-member countries could also bid for the title. The Capitals 2005 to 2012 were chosen under these rules.
In 2005, Decision on a European Capital of Culture – No 649/2005/EC enabled countries who joined the EU in 2004 to participate in the event in the same way as all other members from the 2009 title onwards.
Challenges as the Event has Developed
The extremely thorough "Palmer study" took stock of the event and its development, studying all cities that were Capitals or hosted a cultural month between 1995 and 2004. It demonstrates that the event can be used as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of a city.
This study assessed the potential of the event and concluded it was under-used. Another study (Economy and Culture) in Europe, 2006, par KEA European Affairs) highlights the role of culture in the EU project and the socio-economic benefits of this sector in Europe.
The weaknesses of the procedure set up by Decision 1419/1999/EC became apparent:
- lack of competition – some countries organised a national competition on the basis of their own criteria and proposed only one city
- lack of follow-up after the host city was chosen
- failure to demonstrate the European value added of the event clearly enough
The Continuing Success of the Event.
Since then a new selection procedure has been introduced – by Decision on a European Capital of Culture – 1622/2006/EC.
The new procedure – used to select cities from the 2013 title onwards – sets up a competition between cities within in the host countries. Their proposals are assessed by an international panel composed of 13 members against specific criteria. See selection procedure.
The order of host countries up to 2019 has not changed.