European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Selection of cities 2020 - 2033

The European Commission points out in "A guide for cities preparing to bid" that by 2019 60 cities will have held the title of European Capital of Culture. This means a vast amount of experience has been accummulated, and hence most difficult to keep track of at times. With focus shifting over time due to the experiences made pointing in a new direction, reference is made to a growing awareness of the role culture does play in the life of cities. Culture is now seriously considered to be a contriibutor to citizens' "well being" and to the "prosperity of a city". Yet here lies precisely the dilemma. For citizens may well have drawn their conclusions that the principles governing their lives cannot be changed even if they affect and limit their 'well being'. A critical analysis of the European Union points out the difference between having one constitution and a maze of treaties with the latter being much more difficult to change since it requires the agreement of all 28 member states. Thus the role of member states, and how their claims of sovereignty impinge upon working out principles of governance, next to the institutional set-up of the European Union with the European Commission playing a prime role, requires more than mere 're-thinking' as advocated by Aarhus when European Capital of Culture in 2017. When candidate cities prepare their bid, all this and more seems to be in a flux. Their search for a concept which fulfils the six award criteria laid out in the new selection process for 2020-2033 uncovers a great deal of the lack of clarity in European affairs, even when a theatre director can say in this age there reigns as well a 'dictatorship of clarity'.  


New procedure

New rules for the European Capitals of Culture from 2020 onwards were published by the EU on 6.Feb. 2014

"The permanent representatives of the member states endorsed on 29 January 2014 the
informal agreement found between the Council and the European Parliament
representatives on the decision establishing a Union action for the European Capitals of
Culture for the years 2020-2033. Today the European Parliament's Committee on Culture
and Education also endorsed that agreement, which paves the way for the official adoption
of the decision by the Council during the Greek Presidency."

The current rules for selecting European Capitals of Culture are laid down in decision
1622/20061, which will expire in 2019. In July 2012, the Commission submitted a proposal
(12558/12) to continue this initiative beyond 2019.

Under the new procedure host countries are responsible but assisted by a pre-selected jury (10 EU experts + 1 or 2 national experts) for selecting a city.

Selection after 2019

Under the new procedure host countries are responsible but assisted by a pre-selected jury (10 EU experts + 1 or 2 national experts) for selecting a city.

The relevant authorities in the host countries publish a call for applications 6 years before their turn to host.

Cities interested in winning the title must submit their proposal by replying to a questionnaire, within around 10 months.

Pre-selection – a panel of independent experts in the cultural field meets approximately 5 years before the year to assess the initial proposals against the criteria and to issue a short list of cities (pre-selection). The short-listed cities are invited to submit more detailed applications.

Final selection – the panel meets approximately 9 months after the pre selection meeting to assess the  final proposals against the criteria and to recommend one city per host country for the title.

Submission of applications
Final selection


In terms of the time line, candidate cities need to take into consideration that anticipation of the title means extra energy is freed amongst its citizens and cultural actors especially at the level of the imagination. The prospect of being European Capital of Culture does create excitement and offers until then unknown opportunities of learning. A wise use of the term 'culture' can and does alter dispositions of all actors towards each other and towards their city, but most importantly as well towards Europe. Since it is a creative process, it matters how these energies are spend and used. A key recommendation here has been articulated by the poet Brendan Kennelly, namely cities should demonstrate through various performances that they have learned to "use, but not abuse" culture. There prevails at all times during the bidding and preparation phase this specific time horizon till the decisive year has arrived and the implementation process has not only to start, but last throughout the duration of one year and thereafter add to cultural sustainability of life in that respective city. By that time, a cultural synthesis between citizens and Europe must have been achieved.




A chronological summary of the designation stages:

Timeline (in years, n being the year of the event starting 1 January)

Body responsible

Stage in the procedure

n-6 (for example, end of 2014 for the 2021 title)

Member State (MS)

Call for applications

n-6+10 months

Candidate Cities

Deadline for responding to the call for applications

n-5 (for example, end of 2015 for the 2021 title)

Member State (MS)

Meeting of the panel for a pre-selection in the MS concerned => list of pre-selected cities (13 experts)

n-5 + 9 months

Member State (MS)

Meeting of the panel for the final selection in the MS concerned (13 experts)

n-4 (for example, end of 2016 for the 2021 title)

Member State (MS)

Notification of the application from a city to the European Institutions

n-4 + 3 months

European Parliament

Opinion of the European Parliament on this application


Host Country

Designation of the European Capital of Culture



One important change concerns the designation procedure: from 2020 onwards the selected
cities will be designated directly by the member state concerned. This means that a
confirmation at EU level will no longer be necessary. The act of designation will be
formalized by the publication of the name of the city in the Official Journal of the EU.

Selection Procedure for Capitals of Culture

The Governments of the host countries are required to present applications for one or more cities to the European Parliament, Council, Commission and Committee of the Regions at least 4 years in advance – with the option of recommending a particular city.

Consequently, cities interested in the title have to contact the national authorities to inform them of their wish to apply and provide them with their proposal.

Candidates must fulfil six award criteria

Successful candidates must also devise a programme with a lasting impact that contributes to the long-term cultural, economic and social development of the city concerned.



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