European Capital of Culture

Each year since 1985, EU ministers of culture have bestowed the title ‘European Capital of Culture’ on one or more cities in the Union. (Until 1999, the designation was ‘European City of Culture’). The initiative was launched by Melina Mercouri , the (then) Greek culture minister, during her country’s presidency of the Council of Ministers. Cities designated as Capitals of Culture benefit from financial support from the EU Budget in organising a special programme of concerts, exhibitions, film festivals and other cultural events with a pan-European dimension. To date, the award has been granted to the following cities:

1985  Athens

1986  Florence

1987  Amsterdam

1988  Berlin

1989  Paris

1990  Glasgow

1991  Dublin

1992  Madrid

1993  Antwerp

1994  Lisbon

1995  Luxembourg

1996  Copenhagen

1997  Thessaloniki

1998  Stockholm

1999  Weimar

2000  (see below)

2001  Rotterdam, Oporto

2002  Bruges, Salamanca

2003  Graz

2004  Genoa, Lille

2005  Cork

2006  Patras

2007  Luxembourg, Sibiu

2008  Liverpool, Stavanger

2009  Linz, Vilnius

2010  Essen, Pécs, Istanbul

2011  Turku, Tallinn

2012  Guimarãres, Maribor

2013  Marseille, Košice

2014  Umeå, Riga, Sarajevo

2015  Mons, Pizen

2016  San Sebastián, Wroclaw

Exceptionally, in view of the symbolic importance of the new millennium, nine cities were named for the year 2000: Avignon, Bergen, Bologna, Brussels, Helsinki, Kraków, Prague, Reykjavik and Santiago de Compostela.

Until 2004, the Capitals of Culture were designated by the Council of Ministers acting unanimously. The member-state government chose the city for the country in question, usually without any serious competition among candidates. Designation of the Capitals of Culture is now determined by a new system adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, under the co-decision procedure. In October 2006, arrangements were agreed for choosing cities for the years 2007-19. Two countries are chosen as recipients for each year, one of which is normally from a member state having joined since 2004. Non-EU states may also be included, as Norway (Stravanger) was in 2008 and Turkey (Istanbul) in 2010. A screening panel for each country each year draws up a short-list and makes a recommendation, on the basis of competitive bids. The Council, acting by qualified majority, then designates the two successful candidates at least four years in advance, with a monitoring phase thereafter. A parallel scheme for a ‘European Cultural Month’, involving cities outside the Union, was launched in 1992 but has since been discontinued.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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