The Mediterranean port of 800,000, which fought off competition from Lyon, Bordeaux and Toulouse, will share the accolade that year with Slovak city Košice, which was nominated on 9 September (EurActiv 11/09/08). Under the banner 'Marseille-Provence 2013', the city made the inclusion of the wider metropolitan area, home to some two million people, and the towns of Arles and Toulon an integral part of its bid.
Congratulating Marseille on its nomination, EU Culture Commissioner Jan Figel' was "particularly pleased with the level of commitment" shown by the bid's organisers. Hailing "the seriousness of the preparations" of all the cities in contention, Figel' said "the competition was of a very high standard".
Marseille's bid beat the competition because "it represents a particularly good balance between cultural quality, political engagement and economic weight," said Sir Robert Scott, the chair of the selection panel, quoted in Le Monde. But he warned that a number of ambitious projects, including a Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, would not succeed without the support of the French state.
"Migration, racism, gender relations, religion, the environment: these are the issues facing Europe today, and Marseille is on the front line," Bernard Latarjet, the director of Marseille-Provence 2013, told Le Monde. Insisting that "no city is more cosmopolitan," Latarjet believes Marseille "needed the title of European cultural capital more and can serve Europe better" than the other cities in the frame.
Marseille hopes becoming a European Capital of Culture will cement its position as a key hub for international exchange and research. "The European continent needs this anchorage to the south. A substantial proportion of Europe's future will be played out in the Mediterranean," stated the bid's organisers.
Indeed, Marseille's selection as an EU cultural capital comes in the wake of July’s inauguration by leaders of 43 countries of the 'Mediterranean Union' dear to French President Nicolas Sarkozy (EurActiv 14/07/08). The project aims to strengthen ties with North Africa and other countries on the Mediterranean Sea.
The decision follows a May visit to Brussels by Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin to press for his city's selection. "We think we will win," he confidently predicted at the time, hailing the enormous and long-standing impact that "getting the label" of EU cultural capital has on those chosen (EurActiv 28/05/08).
The title of European Capital of Culture was created in 1985. Capitals are chosen by an international panel of thirteen members, six of whom are appointed by the country concerned and seven by the EU institutions. While the final decision rests with the Council, their endorsement of the panel's decision is considered a formality.