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Brussels, 22 March 2010

What are the European Capitals of Culture?

(See also IP/10/334)

The European Capitals of Culture initiative is the European Union's most ambitious and visible cultural project in size and impact. It is also the best known cultural project among the public.

The aim is to promote and celebrate Europe's rich cultural diversity and shared aspects of our heritage, and to promote mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue.

The European Capitals of Culture are also an opportunity to regenerate cities, to give new vitality to their cultural life, to boost their creativity and to change their image. This contributes to the long-term development of European cities and their regions.

The title is not about the beauty of a city but the programme of cultural activities it proposes for its year. The programme should inspire local people and visitors alike.

When was the European Capitals of Culture initiative launched?

The initiative started with a conversation between Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart, Jack Lang, at Athens airport in January 1985. The two discussed the concept as they waited for their flights, which had been delayed due to bad weather.

Mercouri floated the idea of launching a series of yearly events that would put the spotlight on cities in Europe and their role in the development of European culture. Lang liked her proposal and together they set the ball rolling. Their aim was also to bring Europeans closer by highlighting the wealth and diversity of their cultures, and to raise awareness of their common history and values.

Where was the first European Capital of Culture?

The European Union’s Ministers of Culture invited Greece to designate the first European Capital of Culture in 1985, and Athens was the first city to take the mantle.

 How many cities have been European Capital of Culture since 1985?

42 cities have been European Capital of Culture since 1985, including those for 2010: Essen für die Ruhr (Germany), Istanbul (Turkey) and Pécs (Hungary). As of 2011 there are two Capitals each year.

How are the European Capitals of Culture designated?

From 1985 to 2004, they were designated by national governments, without the involvement of external experts or formal assessments.

In 1999, the European Capitals of Culture was transformed into a European Union initiative with a Decision of the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. New criteria and selection procedures were established, a chronological list of Member States was drawn up indicating the order in which they would host the event, and a European panel of experts was created to assess bids.

The rules were amended in 2006 to increase quality and effectiveness by stimulating more competition between the cities. More attention was attached to the European dimension, participation of citizens and the legacy of the year. The new rules, applied for the first time for the 2013 title, also introduced measures to help cities to prepare and to encourage exchange of good practices. The selection process is coordinated by the Member State in question.

Which will be the next Capitals?

In 2011, Turku and Tallinn will host the title. In 2012, Guimaraes (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia). In 2013, Marseille (France) and Kosice (Slovakia). In 2014, Riga (Latvia) and Umeå (Sweden) - they will be formally designated in May 2010. In February 2010, Belgium recommended Mons for the 2015 title. The selection process for the other title holder in 2015 is still underway in the Czech Republic.

In 2016, Spain and Poland will host the title. In 2017, Cyprus and Denmark. In 2018, Malta and the Netherlands. In 2019, Bulgaria and Italy.

What is the budget of a European Capital of Culture?

It varies, depending on the circumstances and cost of living in each city. As an indication, the amounts invested in putting the programme in place have ranged from € 6 million to €100 million over the past 25 years. Public funds from state and local bodies, as well as from the EU structural funds, are the main sources. The Commission also makes a contribution from the Culture Programme; originally

€ 500 000, the grant (known as the Melina Mercouri Prize) is now €1.5 million.

Amounts invested in infrastructure have ranged from €10 million to €220 million.

Why are cities keen to invest large sums of money and energy into organising these cultural years?

The host Capitals can reap enormous cultural, social and economic benefits from holding the title, as well as fostering regeneration and raising their international visibility. The title also helps attract tourists to the city: the average increase in overnight stays in a Capital when compared to the previous year is about 12%. Liverpool saw an estimated 25% increase in tourism in 2008.

The most successful Capitals are those which seek to embed the event as part of a long-term strategy and commitment to culture-led development.

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