YES!! DCMS start the competition for European Capital of Culture in 2023

DCMS has launched the call for applications for the ECOC in 2023 in the UK.   

Details here  

Good luck to the candidates (Dundee, Leeds and Milton Keynes at the moment)


The UK hosts a European Capital of Culture (ECOC) in 2023. Under the rules DCMS needs to start the competition before December 2016. This gives the competing cities time to finalize their bids for shortlisting in autumn 2017.  The final selection will be in 2018.  It is now mid September, time is running out.

As the current chair of the selection panel for ECOCs I know that cities need time, over four years, to develop their programme. They also need clarity in preparing their bids.

Several UK cities are preparing bids: Dundee, Leeds, Milton Keynes (and possibly Bristol). They are investing time, money and more importantly, building up momentum in their cities and networks with their citizens, businesses and cultural sectors.

No recent ECOC has been able to prepare a successful bid in less than two years.  In my five years on the panel I’ve seen over 100 bid-books and city presentations and it is easy to spot those which are underprepared; they do not get shortlisted let alone selected.

So what’s the problem? DCMS is not indicating when it will start the formal competition on behalf of the European Commission.  It will have all the paperwork and the rules (they are the same for each country).  Why not?  Simple, I guess,  DCMS look like a rabbit stuck in the Brexit car headlights.

There is no reason for DCMS not to start the competition. The UK, as the Prime Minister frequently says, is a full member of the European Union until it leaves. During that time it will perform as a full member with all the rights and responsibilities that membership entails.  It is both legally and morally the correct stance.

The selection of the ECOC in the UK for 2023 will take place in 2017 and 2018: when the UK will be still be a member of the EU. The ECOC “Decision”, the legal document which governs the ECOC programme, was approved by the UK along with 27 other culture ministries and the European Parliament and it requires the competition to start.

What are the risks to DCMS to starting the competition?

Financial? Not really, the EU only contributes €1.5m to an ECOC and that is conditional.  An ECOC’s programme budget is likely to be over £50-£60m over 6 years found from city, regional, lottery and business sources. This is twice the amount that Hull have successfully raised for their UK City of Culture programme in 2017. The UK government could easily replace the €1.5m in 2023.

The main impact of a delay will be to the candidates. They need to ensure funding lines and commitments and discuss project plans with cultural partners across Europe (and indeed globally).

Reputation?   An ECOC is required to demonstrate a “European Dimension”.  This is cultural not political. ECOCs show and share the diversity of cultures in Europe to their own citizens and to visitors.  Most recent ECOCs have over 70% of their events with international partners and these are not limited to EU countries.  Even the ardent brexiters said that “Europe” is a cultural area of which the UK is a part and it is distinct from the political entity of the European Union.

Split process?   Perhaps. Unlike the UK City of Culture programme an ECOC is subject to a quality control process by a monitoring panel (in effect the selection panel).  This process may be interrupted but can easily be adapted.

Brexit may mean Brexit but no-one knows what that will entail. The referendum indicated a departure but not a destination.  Under the current Decision it is possible for non EU members to host an ECOC: but only closely defined categories:  candidates and potential candidates and, soon, EEA members.  There are calls for the UK to continue to be part of the Erasmus scheme, of the EU research programmes and of the cultural programmes. If the UK stays in the EU cultural programme it could be eligible to host the ECOC in 2023. A very small element in the whole Art50 process.  Staying in the culture and education programmes does not affect the hallowed sovereignty of the brexiters as these areas are not under EU competency. The UK has always had control

And if not, if it is an exceedingly hard Brexit? Well then DCMS could simply introduce a new “UK Capital of International Culture” in 2023 and rebrand the ECOC title to fit between the UK Cities of Culture planned for 2021 and 2025. The successful ECOC city selected in 2018 continues with its implementation, same programme, same objectives with only a minor change to its logo.

So two scenarios: the post Art50 EU-UK deal enables the European Capital of Culture process to continue as normal (clearly the overwhelmingly preferred option) or the UK simply rebrands the title.  Neither prevents DCMS from starting the competition.

A win-win. But DCMS need to give a firm green light now.

Steve Green

Chair, European Capitals of Culture Selection Panel



Creative Europe: “We urge you to reconsider….”

They listened to the Minister (who said no).  They listened to the European Commission and the sector (who said yes).   And they asked the Minister to reconsider.

The UK’s House of Lords Committee scrutinising the Creative Europe proposal from the European Commission came out firmly in support.  Their letter to the Minister says….

” .. we received compelling evidence from the cultural and creative stakeholders…about the economic and social benefits provided by EU funds to UK organisations and to the cultural and creative sectors across the EU more broadly.  We also note that the Commission’s proposed increase constitutes only a fraction (0.002%) of the overall allocation  for the next MultiAnnual Financial Framework for the period 2012-14. In the context of the domestic funding cuts for this sector and taking account of UK organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding and notwithstanding the Government’s declared  negotiating stance of achieving a real terms freeze across the next MFF, we would urge the Government to review its approach to this funding proposal”.


They were also (politely) critical of the Ministers’ failure to attend meetings with other Culture Ministers.  I woonder what they would think if they read my article of the UK Culture Ministers failure to sign the Decalogue for Culture (leaving it to a Business Minister)

The Minister has ten days to reply.

Creative Europe strikes back

Creative Europe struck back yesterday at the House of Lords committee which is reviewing the European Commission’s proposed new culture programme.  Last week the UK’s minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, said the UK government will oppose the planned 37% budget increase.   Yesterday Ann Branch (European Commission), Yvette Vaughan Jones (Visiting Arts and the UK’s Cultural Contact Point) and Agnieszka Moody (MEDIA Desk UK.) refuted Vaizeys’ objections.

Last week I said that the supporters of the Creative Europe programme need to offer hard facts rather than appeals to vague concepts of “Europeanness” if they are to convince politicians to support the increase in the EC’s culture budget. That is precisely the approach the three “witnesses” took yesterday.

To every question they replied with hard facts and practical explanations of the impact the EC Culture programme has.  Benefits to UK?.. of course; benefits to arts and creative professionals?’s an example, benefits to wider society?.. lets look a this example,  supporting jobs and growth?.. look at the numbers and the multipliers, is there European added value?.. see through these examples, Will the increase benefit the UK arts sector and society?  here’s another example.  On the critical issue of the proposed loan guarantee facility the Ann Branch gave compelling evidence of support from the European Investment Bank.

Watch the session here on Parliament TV.

Vaizey was clearly embarrassed last week when he said there had only been 6 responses to the UK consultation exercise run by his ministry.   He extended the deadline to 26 March.  The CCP, and this blog, alerted the arts sector.  There are no nearly 50 responses.  There are still a few days to get more responses.  Send them to DCMS.

The Committee were clearly impressed when the sheer scale of consultation across Europe was listed by the three witnesses.

And now?   My guess is that the Committee will support the increase in the programme, re-assure the Minister that EU funding is not replacing reduced UK arts funding and will benefit the UK sectors.   The big question is less over the Creative Europe budget itself.   I suspect that over the next 12 months as heads of government start to become involved over the EC budget as a whole .. and I guess that the EC will not get away with any real increases but have a static budget (except for inflation) then the inter-programme battles will resume within the Commission.  The issue then is whether the proposed culture programme benefits Europe’s (not the sector) jobs and growth strategy more than other programmes run by the EU. We all have our favourite programme to hate.  Naturally the Common Agricultural Programme tops my listing!

“Creative Europe”: yes but no more money says UK Minister

The UK will oppose the proposed 37% increase in the EU’s culture budget.  The European Commission has put forward a new programme for 2014-2020 under the banner “Creative Europe” to cover culture, media and a “cross sectoral financing facility”.  Ed Vaizey, the UK’s Minister for Culture, Communication and the Creative Industries told a Parliamentary Committee on 15 March that the UK does not support any increase in the EC’s budget, in these days of austerity. Consequently it opposes the increase in the culture budget.  (The Minister’s uncorrected comments to the Committee are here).

Vaizey gave strong support to the objectives of the culture programme and to the support to the media and film industries.  In particular he supported the translation programme saying the publishing industry was often overlooked.

Vaizey said: “On one level it is unusual for me as a Culture Minister to oppose a proposed substantial increase in a budget designed to support the cultural and creative industries, but I do oppose it because I very much sign up to the Government’s position that in times of great economic austerity, when the European Union should be focused on growth, looking hard at its budget and the money it spends and reducing it if possible, it would be terribly wrong for me, given my own particular passion, to say, “That’s all very well but we’ll take the increase in the culture programme“.


He singled out the proposed financial facility  for strong opposition .  The Commission have proposed this loan guarantee facility as small  businesses in the creative industries have difficulty attracting commercial loans from the financial sector in many countries.  Vaizey disputed this. His objections rested on the risk that starting such a loan guarantee system ran the risk of other sectors seeking similar preferential treatment, and that the better way  forward was to educate the investors.  His own ministry has recently launched a support scheme based around tax relief.

Two surprises came from the hearing.  Vaizey does not know or meet his ministerial counterparts across the EU. He did recall a short meeting with the French Culture Minister at the Venice Architectural Biennale.    Secondly his Ministry  has only received 6 responses to its consultation on Creative Europe.  This clearly concerned the Minister.  So much so that the Cultural Contact Point wrote out that evening saying the deadline for comments has been extended to 26 March.

The UK’s view is not surprising. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not let the EC claim an exception to the general cuts in government spending that we are seeing across the EU.  The EC’s culture budget increase is a casualty of this policy.   The messages for the “We are More”  campaigners are clear:

* the need to argue why culture is more effective than other areas of EC spend (presumably the Common Agriculture Policy as the largest element of the EU’s budget)

* why the local guarantee facility will help small and medium companies in the creative and cultural sector.

* and, in the UK, to get your views to DCMS and Vaizey before 26 March.

General pleas to a conceptual idea of a “Europeanness” will fall I suspect fall on deaf ears (the point of another article soon).  As governments cut their own budgets only hard evidence will sway them now.