European Capitals of Culture

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

In 2015, the European Capitals of Culture celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Discover the brochure illustrating successful projects in recent European Capitals of Culture and the factsheet on the history and highlights of the initiative over the years.

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 2017 European Capitals of Culture are:

What are the next steps?

European Capitals of Culture have already been designated until 2021:

  • 2018 – Leeuwarden (Netherlands) and Valletta (Malta)
  • 2019 – Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and Matera (Italy)
  • 2020 - Rijeka (Croatia) and Galway (Ireland)
  • 2021 - Timișoara (Romania), Elefsina (Greece) and Novi Sad (Serbia, Candidate country/potential candidate)

The competitions for the 2022 titles are ongoing in Lithuania and Luxembourg. The selection meetings will respectively take place in March and September 2017.

A new framework for the initiative, post 2019, was 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.

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. In June 2016, Commission submitted a proposal aiming to extend this open competition to cities from the European Free Trade Association countries which are parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (so-called EFTA/EEA countries). This proposal is currently under discussion in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

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 applications published by the authority in charge of the competition (usually the Ministry of Culture).

The Capitals from 2011 onwards

Elefsina  Timișoara Novi Sad
GREECE ROMANIA Candidate country/Potential candidate

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