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Culture and Creativity

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European Capitals of Culture

An initiative putting culture at the heart of European cities with EU support for a yearlong celebration of art and culture.

The European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) 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

The initiative was developed in 1985 and has, to date, been awarded to more than 60 cities across the European Union (EU) and beyond.

There are no 2021 European Capitals of Culture, due to COVID-19. However, the 2020 European Capitals of Culture can exceptionally hold their title until April 2021:

Designation of European Capitals of Culture

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 at the end of a pre-selection phase by a panel of independent experts in the field of culture or culture-based city development. 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 relevant authority in the Member State concerned then formally designates the recommended city 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.

Moreover, cities in EU candidate countries, potential candidates or members of the European Free Trade Association party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (so-called EFTA/EEA countries) can also hold the title in 2022, 2024, 2028, 2030 and 2033. These cities are selected through an 'open competition', meaning that cities from various countries may compete with each other.

The selection procedure is similar to the one in Member States, but the Commission is the authority publishing the call and validating the panel’s recommendations. 

From designation to implementation…

European Capitals of Culture are formally designated four years before the actual title year. This long period of time is necessary for the planning and preparation of such a complex event.

It is also the time needed to embed the event in a longer-term cultural strategy, to significantly engage with the citizens, to make the necessary European connections and to ensure the right infrastructure is in place. 

The panel, under the auspices of 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

Tagged in:  Creative Europe European Capitals of Culture