Creative cities at centre of EU 2020 goals, says Barroso

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Cities with thriving cultural and creative arts sectors are key to achieving the "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" called for by the 'Europe 2020' strategy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said yesterday (23 March). 

Speaking at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the European Capital of Culture project in Brussels, Barroso urged national and local authority leaders to "make sure that culture is firmly anchored in your long-term development strategies".

"We have entered a new era" in which "we must move more resolutely towards an economy based on creativity, knowledge and innovation," Barroso said.

Yesterday's event gathered over 400 officials, stakeholders and representatives of EU cultural capitals past, present and future.

Creativity is an important "new source of growth, jobs and sustainable development for the future," President Barroso said, and as such boosting the creative industries in Europe's cities is "a key element of the Europe 2020 strategy" for growth and jobs, which replaces the Lisbon Agenda. 

The Capitals of Culture project, inaugurated in 1985, seeks to highlight "the wealth and diversity of European cultures," promote "mutual understanding between European citizens," and "encourage a sense of belonging to the same European family by making us aware of our common European roots and our shared ambitions for the future," according to the European Commission.

Holding the title of European Capital of Culture represents a "unique opportunity to regenerate cities in the long-term, by giving new vitality to their cultural life, their creative industries and transforming their image," the EU executive further claims.

Amounts invested in putting cultural programmes in place have ranged from €6m to 100m over the years, 77% of which comes from national, regional or local public funds. But the Commission estimates that every euro invested generates another 8-10 euros in economic gains.

"Certain cities have been literally transformed by their experience as European capitals of culture," Barroso said, hailing the "direct impact" that being designated has on economic growth, job creation, cultural activity, tourism and improving a city's public image.

According to Commission figures, European capitals of culture experience a 12% average increase in the number of overnight stays during the course of their year in the limelight. Liverpool recorded a 25% increase in tourism during its stint as cultural capital in 2008, with 15 million people attending cultural events in the city that year.

This year's Capitals of Culture are Essen for the Ruhr (Germany), Pécs (Hungary), and Istanbul (Turkey).

Hailing the success of the European capitals of culture initiative, German MEP Doris Pack (European People's Party), chair of the European Parliament's culture and education committee, said "there is not one European culture, but a diversity of European cultures".

Dr. Beatriz Garcia of the University of Liverpool, author of a study published this month on the year's impact on Liverpool, warned against expecting too much from European capital of culture status.

"The levels of enthusiasm generated by the bid led to unrealistic expectations and a feeling of uncertainty in the years preceding 2008," Garcia told the UK press.

"This resulted in the expectation, by some residents and stakeholders, that capital of culture [status] would single-handedly redress long-term inequalities between Liverpool and other UK cities, from unemployment to low income and poor health," she said.

"A major cultural event can be a powerful driver for social and economic change, but it must be complemented by other long-term developments to ensure sustainable legacies," Garcia cautioned.

Despite this assessment, Garcia conceded that "the city has undergone a remarkable image renaissance locally, nationally and internationally," with 2008 helping it to move on from dated, negative images of the city like the social deprivation of the 1980s.

"2008 has created a new picture of Liverpool as a modern city with a vibrant cultural life that reached far beyond football and music," she declared.

Speaking after the publication of an Open Europe report alleging that the EU spends €2.4 billion a year on "propaganda" like the Capital of Culture initiative, Lorraine Mullally, the think-tank's director, said "taxpayers should not be footing the bill for vain PR exercises to make us love the European Union. This senseless spending on dubious and silly projects has got to stop".

"The EU's 1.5 billion euro yearly budget for 'Education and Culture' should be dramatically scaled back, scrapping expensive campaigns to 'foster European citizenship' and other initiatives which exist for the purpose of promoting the EU," the report claimed.

Councillor Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council, said: "Being European Capital of Culture in 2008 redefined Liverpool to many people, not least our residents and visitors but also businesses, the media and opinion formers".

"The year gave the city a priceless platform to showcase a new, dynamic and creative Liverpool on a global stage and the unqualified success of '08 has forged a great sense of ambition to set new goals and the confidence to achieve them," Bradley said.

The title of 'European Capital of Culture' was created by the EU in 1985. Athens was the first to hold the title, and since then over 40 cities from all over Europe have followed in its footsteps.

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. 

Candidates mustfulfil three main criteria: integrating a true European dimension, reinforcing cooperation among EU countries with the support of the public and highlighting the role of the city in the formation and development of culture in Europe. 

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. 

This year's European Capitals of Culture are Essen for the Ruhr (Germany), Istanbul (Turkey) and Pécs (Hungary). 

The upcoming capitals of culture are: 

  • 2011: Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia)
  • 2012: Guimarães (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia) 
  • 2013: Marseille (France) and Košice (Slovakia) 
  • 2014: Umeå (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia) 

Istanbul is not the first city outside the EU to have been selected as European Capital of Culture. Bergen and Stavanger in Norway and Reykjavik in Iceland have held the title in previous years. However, the opportunity for non-EU cities to apply was recently shelved.

Istanbul won this year's title after beating the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, to the honour.

  • 2011: Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) to be European capitals of culture. 

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