European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The selection of Essen / Ruhr 2010

The claim by Ruhr 2010 has been that it was the intention all along not to make solely Essen, but they entire Ruhr region to be the European Capital of Culture. Indeed the representatives of Ruhr 2010 argue that the title bestowed to Essen can be conveyed to the entire region, and cite the reason put forth when the Jury explained its selection of Essen over Goerlitz. However, this is subject to interpretation. Since so often the case the European Commission will not take necessarily an official stance, but to understand the underswelling controversy and anger about this shift from Essen to include 53 cities, it is worthwhile to take another look. For a start it is wise to quote the entire section of the Jury's decision. After that it is possible to seek further clarification whether Essen or right from the start an entire region was meant to become European Capital of Culture.

The Jury’s verdict and selection of Essen as European Capital of Culture for 2010:

 Presentation of Essen and Ruhr at the meeting in Brussels, 15 March 2006

"The central idea of the concept was to regenerate through culture the vast space devoted to and despoiled by industrial development and to create a metropolis – the Ruhr metropolis- resulting from bringing together the smaller cities of the region.. To win the title of the European Capital of Culture would help the region in its quest for a new identity through a unity – a unity not imposed from above but achieved from its roots – “bottom up” – with culture as the driving force.

Regeneration and redevelopment of the region was the core of the project for 2010. “Transformation through culture, culture through transformation” was the slogan for this operation. The authorities would like to transform the region into a European cultural metropolis and to transform the “black image” of Essen (corresponding to the industrial past) into an image of dynamism.

The global concept focused on 3 items : urbanism, identity and integration. These items constituted the basis for selecting the projects that would be integrated in the programme. They would be interconnected with the 3 themes that structure the year 2010, namely : the city of possibilities/the city of arts/ the city of culture.

Several culture and general infrastructures were presented, as well as projects for 2010 (such as “the invisible city” or “the land for free projects”). The cities as well as the region could build on a cultural history, with many theatres and concert halls. In addition, new and innovative venues would be created by the transformation of the industrial buildings.

The ECOC title and year would not be seen as a one off event limited to the year 2010. It would find its place in a long term cultural development with specific programmes already starting now and going beyond the year 2010. Therefore, a number of projects have already started such as the “Melez festival” the main project related to migration in the region and the “Twins 2010”, a network involving over 150 towns. Cultural diversity as well as integration was an important part of the
programme which should be achieved through celebration, integration and mutual understanding.

The whole operation would cost 78 million €, among which a budget of 48 millions has been earmarked as a basic budget for the preparation and the implementation of the Ruhr’s programme of activities as ECOC 2010. The main sources of funding would come from the Federal Government , the local government and the region as well as sponsors.

The representatives of the “Essen for the Ruhr” delegation concluded that the Ruhr region was a replica of Europe at a smaller scale. Steel and coal were at the origin of EU integration (“Coal and Steel Treaty”) – and they were at the origin of the Ruhr region. The problems and questions of post-industrialisation the Ruhr was confronted with were fundamental questions raised all over Europe today. The model of transformation and regeneration of post-industrial societies and landscapes through arts and culture, given by the Ruhr, could set an example for other regions in Europe to follow. The legacy of the event would be a new identity for the region in the European scene.




The jury puts emphasis on metropolis, and by winning the title it would help Essen and the region to gain a new identity through unity – provided it is not imposed from above but is initiated from below by helping Essen to transform its ‘black image’ insofar as its authorities can bring together the smaller cities in the region in a larger unit. This larger unit can only be an imaginary one insofar as the region has been marked by fierce competition between the cities, and it is doubtful if any of them would allow Essen to dominate the rest. How that was going to be resolved not only for 2010, but beyond that, remained to be seen.

Clearly Essen was meant in this declaration by the Jury. "Essen for the Ruhr" underlines the fact that the city should be the key pivot point. It is something else what an entire region can do together with one prime city. That would mean a change in subject. 

Naturally in a period of de-industrialization, it was only too natural to seek a transformation through culture. But here the jury was more specific in the direction of becoming a possible model in an economic sense for other regions rather than what is meant by an undergoing change in culture itself, or in the art of doing things. It seems that the jury overlooked whether or not some constraints were set such as avoidance of overcommercialization or mere functional use of culture. However, the tendency was obviously towards creative and cultural industries as was already discussed in the CIED project e.g. Cardiff and a multi media creative hub where there was the former coal exchange. That tendency would be reinforced by the KEA study published in 2007 and which showed what definite value culture has for the economy.

Not to act within such a cultural constraint may seem nebulous for outsiders, but those with knowledge how the complexity of a European Capital of Culture unfolds or does not, will be aware of the fact that creativity is brought only about by respecting certain constraints. For instance, artists can be given all the freedom to express anything they want provided they do it only on wood and not use any other material. The limitation to wood is the constraint. Similar the rules put out by the European Commission are not non-sensical and, therefore, should be respected, i.e. not be circumvented. Only then a learning process can ensure the designated city adapts accordingly and therefore does make a substantial contribution to the institution of European Capital of Culture.

Naturally it does make sense to attempt to unify an entire region through culture. No one would object to that but then such a project should not be done under the title of being 'European Capital of Culture'. There were opinions heard at the public consultation in Brussels, March 2, 2011, which pointed out that the European Commission should not depart from the one sharp criterion stipulated by the guidelines for the selection process, namely that it should be a city and not a region. Moreover others who have made the experience with a city being subsumed by a regional concept as was the case in both Lille and Luxembourg admitted that it was much too difficult to handle both the urban and regional aspect of culture since that entails two entirely different levels and configurations of actions, actors and possibilities for audiences to participate in the unfolding of the program.

Ruhr 2010 may claim with its program 'local heroes' giving a turn to the individual cities to be the center stage for one week that this was sufficient to satisfy this seeking of a unity in the region. However it was no longer a culture coming from below but an instigated or orchestred program from above. The cities took their turn and no one ever explained how they participated aside from that one specific week in the rest of the program. Instead the latter was determined by and therefore overshadowed by mega projects.

In short, it does make a difference if Essen as a city acts as pivot point for all actions which can include other cities of the Ruhr region in order to attain the so desired unity of the region. Yet it is quite something else if this unity is assumed to exit per forma and a priori, that is not an outcome of a process, insofar as an organisation called Ruhr 2010 acts on behalf of such assumed unity. While the first is linked to a political authority with responsibility for the implementation of the program, an agency founded solely for the purpose of managing a cultural program for this one year of designation, namely 2010, has quite another scope to interpret the original bid made to the European Commission and selected accordingly by a jury comprised of seven European and six national i.e. German experts.

The controversy

What members of Ruhr 2010 dispute till today, that is after the decisive year has been completed and history continues, that there was any controversy surrounding this designation of Essen in 2006.

That controversy prevailed long after the selection was made. For instance, Bob Scott declared as chairman of the jury which had selected Essen, that the ECoC title is meant for one city, in this case Essen, and not for an entire region. While the regional trend for giving designation has been noted by Palmer/Richard in their report as has been the case of Lille '04 or Luxembourg, still there prevailed always one city as key point of reference. The objections by Bob Scott and by others, all heard at the UNeCC General Assembly in Sibiu 2007, meant for the first time not a city but an entire region claimed this title. This was clearly indicated by the transformation of original logo the moment the designation of the title was given in 2006.

The original one with Essen appearing:

The official one which clearly indicates the entire region or Ruhr 2010 to be the European Capital of Culture. (Interestingly enough any dective would see the stamp 'Essen fuer das / Kulturhauptstadt / Europas 2010' had been added in an improvised manner!)

The controversy did surface when the logos was disputed. It was finally resolved when the logos was simplified to contain both 'Ruhr' and 'Kulturhauptstadt' (capital of culture).

Thus everyone could read into it what one wanted to understand: the region as key unit but still in reference to one Capital of Culture. In the end there was no knowing exactly what was meat, what was fish or were both city and region fish and meat at one and the same time? The ambivalence played right into the hands of the organisation sought to seize the title in the name of both Essen and the entire Ruhr region, and left unclear if Essen or the Ruhr region was to change image wise?

Once an entire region is meant with Essen being but one of the 54 cities, then the controversy surrounding this conversion should not surprise those who constituted Ruhr 2010. Interestingly enough the only thing retained from the original bid was what can be read underneath the main caption RUHR, namely "cultural metropolis" to remind of what the Jury had identified as a positive thing.

Practically it meant the original bid was done by Essen while afterwards an entire region took over. If this does not amount to a controversy, what then? Naturally city and region are enmeashed with each other especially in such an area as the Ruhr, so that playing it naive may convince some that there was nothing to it if this took place. And members of Ruhr 2010 feel justified by what the Jury declared itself when selecting Essen, namely to have recognized and even emphasized the regional aspect in this bid. But it is still a matter of interpretation with real differences prevailing even today as to whether a city or an entire region bears the title.

Circumventing the rule only cities can apply

Essen gewinnt gegen Görlitz,1518,410913,00.html

Essen wins against Görlitz


Essen is the Europaeische Kulturhauptstadt 2010. Das gab der Beauftragte fuer die Neuen Bundeslaender, Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD), heute in Berlin bekannt. Damit setzte sich Essen in der letzten Runde gegen Mitbewerber Goerlitz durch.

Essen ist mit dem Motto "Kultur durch Wandel - Wandel durch Kultur" in den Wettbewerb gestartet. Da sich das Ruhrgebiet als Region nicht bewerben durfte, hat sich Essen stellvertretend beworben: für eine Region mit 5,3 Millionen Menschen in elf kreisfreien Städten und vier Kreisen. Das Leitmotiv der Ruhrgebiets-Bewerbung war: "Entdecken. Erleben. Bewegen."


Essen is the European Capital of Culture for 2010. This was announced today in Berlin by the Minister in charge of the new federal states, Wolfgang Tiefensee (SPD). With that Essen prevailed in the last round against co-applicant Goerlitz.


Essen went into this application with the slogan “culture through change – change through culture’. Since the Ruhr area could not file the application as region, Essen filed as representative thereof the application: for a region with 5,3 Million people in eleven district cities and four districts. The key motive for the Ruhr application was: “discovery, experience, movement”.

One clear indication that things were not as simple as pretended by Ruhr 2010 is the public acknowledgement by the 'Spiegel online' that a city and not a region can apply! Hence it does not make any sense when afterwards the region takes over. That would still be a violation of the original condition under which the bid was made. To pretend otherwise means not to see the real nature of the controversy. In German language, there is a definite word for that: 'Erschleichen'. Translated, it means the region crept into the title under the cover of Essen and once the designation had been given, it seized the title and took over from there on. Not Essen, but Ruhr 2010 was then the organisation in charge. The Jury and the European Commission had simply to face a 'fait accompli'.

Since the controversy never reached any public level, but was resolved informally as it is the usual practice of the EU in such cases when a strong member state has its sway in how things can be interpreted, no one took really notice. Also it had no consequences e.g. withdrawal of the title. Nevertheless the real objections were never entirely off the table. There was left a bitter taste that Essen had been put up front and once the designation was given, then the entire region took over the title.

A closer look at the selection of Essen

Aside from that controversy the selection of Essen over Goerlitz had several serious implications for the European Capital of Culture institution. As this reflects as well under what circumstances these selections are made, and by this is meant what paradigms prevail which can sway a jury, it is worthwhile to reflect a bit more upon the selection process. Already the Palmer / Richard report has been mentioned as indicating this trend towards the region. But there were still other, very serious reasons which altered the way the institution of European Capital of Culture was being perceived and seized upon for other than the original reason, namely to bring according to Melina Mercouri people together and to unify Europe through culture.

First of all, decisive for the selection of Essen and not Goerlitz was the chairman of the selection committee, namely Bob Scott. As stated again by him at the 25 year celebration of the ECoC in Brussels, March 2010, he was strictly against any border city. Practically it meant in this case he did not favour Goerlitz because that city wished to cooperate with the Polish city across the border in order to exemplify unification of Europe. Instead Bob Scott favoured that a selected European Capital of Culture should be the national representative of its country. His argument goes, however, against the very nature of a city becoming a European Capital of Culture which should not be by definition a mere national one. To define culture through national categories is one of the greatest shortcomings in the European integration and unficiation process but then countries like the UK but also other member states have used the cultural card to retain their national identities with disasterous consequences. For example, the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005 in France and Holland initiated as well the denial of multiculturalism and a return to a fundamentalistic acclamation of national identity. Even more so given such a position as proclaimed by Bob Scott, one wonders how can the European dimension be brought out by a designated city when just a national representative? It would even contradict the need to show and to bring out the cultural diversity existing in Europe. But this position of Bob Scott was never challenged openly even if the European Commission disagreed with it and subsequently Essen, not Goerlitz was selected.

As a matter of fact there prevails much more the British attitude within the European Commission than what has been acknowledged so far in public. This tendency to re-nationalise European programs has set in especially after Delors departed as President of the European Commission and the member states made sure only a weak president was heading the European Commission. There came after Delors first Santer and then Prodi in 1999. As this coincided with the failure of Europe to avert the war in former Yugoslavia, re-nationalisation of EU programmes meant dropping at the same time the prime objective of the EU to bring about integration by means of social and economic cohesion, that is from within. The latter would have meant further deployment of programmes under the structural fund in order to overcome regional differences and inequalities. Instead there started to dominate after 1999 merely the security agenda and therefore only a talk about Europe needing a rapid intervention force. It meant Europe would be unified from then on by external actions in order counter threats to its unity. As this reduplicates merely a classical diplomatic and political ploy to overcome inner resistance and dissatisfaction, it meant going backward, not forward. Already Bismarck had applied this tactic to unify Germany. He did so by instigating superficially wars first with Italy and then with France in order to frighten autonomous regions like Baveria into joining the new nation created from above in 1871 under Prussian dominance. Thus it is no coincidence that the Lisbon Treaty, designed to salvage Europe out of the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty, installed a special envoy for foreign affairs as it was felt to be of greater importance to be able to demonstrate European unity to the outside world than to ensure that inner cohesion exists.

Such re-nationalisation replicated by seeking unification through external means could justify both expansion and a faceless integration policy. For it left the member states secure in their claim for power at national level. The further demonization of the power of the European Commission serves well to justify anti-Europe attitudes as if Brussels stand for bureaucratization while all others can deem themselves to be more progressive. Nothing is more wrong than that projection but it does impede projects like the European Capital of Culture when it becomes a dominant sub-culture to be anti Europe in reality and thus mock the European institution as was the case with Ruhr 2010.

Altogether the institutions of the European Union have suffered a loss of moral legitimacy when the EU Constitutional Treaty was not ratified in 2005. This problem of moral legitimacy has not been dealt with by the Lisbon Treaty enacted upon only in 2010. For the gap between citizens and EU institutions has become ever bigger. All the more reason to expect that the three cities which were selected to be European Capitals of Culture for 2010, namely Essen / Ruhr in Germany, Pecs in Hungary and Istanbul in Turkey would use this unique possibility to create an enlightened dialogue as to where Europe stands altogether at the beginning of the 21st century. Yet the very absence of a politically thought through concept meant no cultural impulses to unify Europe came from these three European Capitals of Culture. Rather the very absence of debates with artists about what role culture could play in a future Europe meant leaving out the European dimension. Instead the cities were bent to profiting out of the title for the sole sake of their own benefit e.g. increase in tourism.

Moreover it was clear that Essen becoming Ruhr in 2010 was set instead to use culture for economic and structural purposes at a level which was till then unknown within the ECoC institution. Rather than focus on the political dimension of Europe and what culture can contribute to facilitate integration and unification, culture in the case of Ruhr 2010 was used consciously to facilitate the transformation of an entire region known in the past for its steel and coal industry into an imitation of Silicon valley based on IT industries. One clear indication for that was the inclusion of 'creative industries' in its program. As members of Ruhr 2010 would proudly proclaim repeatedly, this was the first time that such a program point was included in the history of European Capitals of Culture. But by having this point included, it meant the program deviated consequently from being an artistic one and instead of aiming to elevate artistic achievements, it focused like Liverpool '08 on image conversion as was recognized already by the Jury was a need of Essen to get rid of its 'black image'. However, Ruhr 2010 meant to utilize culture not to convert the image of one city but of the entire region.

Yet even if that intention became very clear in how culture was to be used in this context of Ruhr 2010, it is a subtle but important question whether one image can unify a region or if it would not be better culture would be used to bring about a greater sharing of values by all people in the region so that they could learn to work better together and thereby co-operate in achieving a new type of economy suited for the 21st century? This question can be linked to studies by Phil Cooke about which regions in Europe are more competitive than others with the main conclusion being the importance of sharing such values as can be achieved a 'culture of excellence', i.e. people all valorizing excellent work and thereby making it easier for bigger companies to outsource work tasks to smaller but more innovative firms as is the case in Baveria and Baden Württemberg, two special 'Länder' in the German federal state with higher cultural homogeneity and levels of productivity.

Indeed the concentration on an entire region comprising 54 cities entails such a dramatic shift in the original concept of European Capital of Culture, that it provoked at the public consultation held in Brussels about the future of ECoC cities the question whether or not the entire Ruhr area would not have been better advised to attempt this conversion by seeking funds from a program financed by the structural fund? This program exists precisely for this purpose, namely to make an entire region become creative. In other words, why use the title 'European Capital of Culture' when not a city but an entire region is meant?

Ruhr 2010 never wished to acknowledge is that it annoyed many people in going ahead as it did. By not realizing the existence of a controversy simmering more underneath the surface, the appraisal of Ruhr 2010 differs from other European Capitals of Culture. While on the one hand, yes there were absolved 5000 events and some of them being most impressive in the way former coal mines and industrial plants were converted into artistic and performance spaces, there was incurred a loss of trust. This is always the case when a discrepancy is never bridged between outer expectations / interpretations and inner perceptions as to what the original bid stood for. As this is a particular equally problematic self-understanding akin to the German mode of thinking, it should be noted that Ruhr 2010 excluded historical reflections and thereby cut itself off from previous experiences made by former European Capitals of Culture. Rather than upholding the continuity of learning by supporting the old ECCM network aiming to keep former, current and future ECoC cities together, Ruhr 2010 joined Liverpool '08 to create an informal network which excluded the former ones.

This cut which has been one of the factors which contributed to the break-up of the ECCM Network by 2010 has been repeatedly justified by Schmidt of Ruhr 2010. He claims that he has nothing to learn from previous European Capitals of Culture. At the same time, he argues the new network is much more efficient as it is orientated towards the needs of the newly designated cities which need to share experiences in order to know how to face the demands of that one year. That argument is reinforced by the claim everything has changed since the institution started out in 1985 with Melina Mercouri inspiring fellow Ministers of Culture to attempt to unite Europe through culture and not just through 'coal and steel' or through economic means alone. Yet even then it could be expected that some attention is given to a culture independent from any economic usefulness. Instead culture was seized upon by Ruhr 2010 as a tool to bring about an organisational and therefore economic transformation of any entire region. Clearly the region was in need to find an alternative form of existence to its previous defining economic characteristics based on coal and steel, but the question remains if that was the way to go about it?



For the final reasons given by the Jury for the selection of Essen /Ruhr 2010, see










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