The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension.
Preparing a European Capital of Culture can be an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and it can help foster urban regeneration, change the city's image and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale.
In 1985, former actress Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s minister of culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.
The Commission of the European Union manages the title and each year the Council of Ministers of the European Union formally designates European Capitals of Culture: more than 40 cities have been designated so far.
An international panel of cultural experts is in charge of assessing the proposals of cities for the title according to criteria specified by the European Union.
A 2004 study conducted for the European Commission, known as the "Palmer report", demonstrated that the choice of European Capital of Culture served as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of the city. Consequently, the beneficial socio-economic development and impact for the chosen city are now also considered in determining the chosen cities.
The European Capital of Culture programme was initially called the European City of Culture and was conceived in 1983, by Melina Mercouri, then serving as minister of culture in Greece. Mercouri believed that at the time, culture was not given the same attention as politics and economics and a project for promoting European cultures within the member states should be pursued. The European City of Culture programme was launched in the summer of 1985 with Athens being the first title-holder. During the German presidency of 1999, the European City of Culture programme was renamed the European Capital of Culture.
1 A 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.