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European Capitals of Culture

What is it?

The European Capitals of Culture initiative is designed to:

  • Highlight the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe;
  • Celebrate the cultural features Europeans share;
  • Increase European citizens' sense of belonging to a common cultural area;
  • Foster the contribution of culture to the development of cities.

In addition to this, experience has shown that the event is an excellent opportunity for:

  • Regenerating cities;
  • Raising the international profile of cities;
  • Enhancing the image of cities in the eyes of their own inhabitants;
  • Breathing new life into a city's culture;
  • Boosting tourism.
How does it work?

Designation of European Capitals of Culture in EU Member States

Six years before the title-year the selected host Member States publish a call for applications, usually through their Ministry for Culture. Cities interested in participating in the competition must submit a proposal for consideration.

The submitted applications are reviewed against a set of established criteria during a pre-selection phase by a panel of independent experts in the field of culture. The panel agrees on a short-list of cities, which are then asked to submit more detailed applications.

The panel then reconvenes to assess the final applications and recommends one city per host country for the title. The recommended city will then be formally designated as European Capital of Culture.

The role of the European Commission is to ensure that the rules established at EU level are respected all along the way.

From designation to implementation…

European Capitals of Culture are formally designated four years before the actual year. This long period of time is necessary for the planning and preparation of such a complex event. The panel, supported by the European Commission, has a continuing role during these four years in supporting European Capitals of Culture with advice and guidance and taking stock of their preparations.

At the end of this monitoring period, the panel will consider whether to recommend or not that the European Commission pays the Melina Mercouri Prize (currently €1.5m funded from the EU Creative Europe programme).

… to evaluation of the outcomes

Each year the European Commission publishes an evaluation report on the outcomes of the European Capitals of Culture of the previous year. For the Capitals post 2019, the cities themselves will carry out their own evaluation and send it to the Commission by the end of the year following that of the title.

What has been done so far?

The initiative was developed in 1985 and has, to date, been awarded to more than 50 cities across the European Union. The 2014 European Capitals of Culture are:

The European Capitals of Culture celebrated their 25th anniversarypdf(7.88 Mb) Choose translations of the previous link   in 2010, culminating in a celebratory conferencepdf(1.58 Mb) Choose translations of the previous link  .

What are the next steps?

European Capitals of Culture have already been designated until 2018:

  • 2015 – Mons (Belgium) and Plzeň (Czech Republic)
  • 2016 – Donostia-San Sebastián (Spain) and Wrocław (Poland)
  • 2017 – Aarhus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus)
  • 2018 – Leeuwarden (Netherlands) and Valetta (Malta)
  • 2019 – Italy and Bulgaria (competitions in these two countries are ongoing)

A new framework for the initiative, post 2019, has been adopted by the European Parliament and Council in April 2014. It includes the chronological list of Member States that can host the title from 2020 until 2033. Ireland and Croatia will host the event in 2020. Croatia launched its competition on 11 June 2014, with Ireland set to follow suit soon.

This new framework makes it possible for a city in a candidate country or potential candidate for EU membership to hold the title every third year as of 2021. This will be selected through an open competition, meaning that cities from various countries may  compete with each other. The Commission will be responsible for organizing the competition.

Cities wishing to take part in future should await the announcement of a competition in their own country, and then complete and submit a bid in response to the call for applicationspdf(334 kB) Choose translations of the previous link  published by the authority in charge of the competition (usually the Ministry of Culture).