13 Making most of the European Capital of Culture brand through inclusive urban governance

Ágnes Németh, University of Eastern Finland, Finland

The European Capital of Culture (ECOC) initiative is one of the most flexible programmes funded and co-ordinated by the European Union. The Programme provides guidelines for applicant cities rather than outlines strict criteria for participation, and the EU contributes only with a little (an average of 4-5%) to the total budget of an ECOC event (Garcia-Cox, 2013). In terms of the general role of EU funding, the ex-post evaluation of the three ECOC projects implemented in 2010 claims that the relatively small proportion of EU funding makes the programme “very cost-effective compared to other EU policy instruments” (ECORYS, 2011: ix).

ECOC nominees in general need to fulfil two explicit criteria of the Programme: ‘the European Dimension’ and ‘City and Citizens’ defined in article 4 of Decision 1622/2006/CE. While the former criterion is most often translated into a European level of cultural cooperation and cultural diversity of the event, the latter mainly highlights the importance of the engagement of local (and regional) citizens and the long-term cultural and social development of the urban place and its surroundings. It is a real challenge for the cities to meet this dual expectation by creating an event of European dimension while supporting local social and cultural sustainability (Németh, 2010).

At the same time, one should not forget about the very strong brand of the ECOC programme, which often urges participant cities to make the most of the cultural year, and stake all their resources on one card. Motivation for and implementation of ECOC events are more generally driven by the mere opportunity of funding in the case of new EU member countries, where local municipalities have serious financial problems. As a result, when a one-off opportunity arises, such as this mega-event, these cities suddenly get into a somewhat more privileged situation than the others in terms of national support, too.

As a consequence of the above-mentioned characteristics and criteria, ECOC is a type of event which has a great potential and necessity to generate public interest, to reach and mobilise various segments of the society and to bring to surface diverse constellations of open and invisible power relations. How do these processes of public engagement operate and between what actors on which spatial levels, and how do they create or limit space for inclusion in the governance of ECOC? In order to explain the different governing powers of the European Capital of Culture, two case studies are selected (Pécs 2010 in Hungary and Turku 2011 in Finland) for the analysis of the general and distinctive patterns of governance of the projects.

On the one hand, there is an evident influential force that effects the implementation of ECOC events: the institutional frameworks on different scales and spatial levels. The deployment of the Programme is managed by the European Commission, while national governments also have an important role in the evolution of individual ECOC projects in terms of both co-financing and development strategies. The way of using the ECOC label aswell as the real budget of a project mostly depend on the hosting country and the city or city-region. Because the funding largely comes from (or at least through) the national and local levels, the primary factors effecting the individual projects are often to be found in the regional development strategies. However, not only European or national priorities shape the projects; the different local power-relations and interests also influence them in various ways. The availability of financial resources, the priorities of the local management as well as the lobbying of local interest groups can develop the projects in different ways from the planning phase to the actual cultural events. (Németh, 2013)

On the other hand, the governance of the ECOC is not merely a subject that occurs between the EU, the ‘branded’ cities, and their relevant national authorities but it is characterised by new patterns of networking and increased social involvement. Social mobilisation is not merely due to the necessity of pulling in resources, but just as importantly it emerges from the bottom-up initiatives of cultural and other actors (e.g. from the social sector, tourism, etc.) to be part of the ECOC project and ‘trademark’. This can be certainly attributed to the strong brand-status of the event, but also to the actual or anticipated possibilities and financial resources the event entails. As a result, the ECOC can build on a substantial drive to participate from below, and not only from the part of cultural production.

Aiming at real long-term effects, participation in both cultural life and decision making is a key focus of ECOC projects. In relation to the above-mentioned ‘City and Citizens’ criterion, the projects should “foster the participation of the citizens living in the city and its surroundings and raise their interest as well as the interest of citizens from abroad” (OJ, 2006: 304/2). Therefore locals do not only serve as an audience, but they are also percieved as an organic part of the ECOC product. As such, their inclusion is a complex task which needs to be considered at a very early stage of preparations.

Examples from the selected Hungarian and Finnish cases indicate that the significance of conscious, well-planned efforts to include willing participants cannot be overestimated. Various, and intensely context-specific constellations of open and invisible power relations at diverse levels create or limit space for inclusion and participation. Besides, active and wide participation in ECOC depends mainly on the different concepts and ways of inclusion. Inclusion can be by promoting volunteering, welcoming representatives of different actors, fields, age-groups, etc. in the cultural boards (deciding on project applications), by providing real incentives and support to local and regional civil organisations, or simply by acknowledging and respecting their suggestions and contribution as equal parties. Neglecting these may cause conflicts and disgruntlement, which can sometimes hinder decision-making and implementation and hamper constructive co-operation. (Németh, 2015) In short and simple, while there was an obvious creative bottom-up potential in both of the case study cities, the Pécs 2010 project was trapped in a dominant top-down governance practice throughout the preparation years. In this sense, the Turku 2011 project showed a more balanced combination of governance processes. This however, is not only due to an inherently stronger civil society in the Finnish case, but rather a clear commitment to inclusion of grassroots from top-down.


ECORYS (2011). Ex-post evaluation of 2010 European Capitals of Culture: Final report for the European Commission.    Retrieved from (23.6.2015):                                              http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/creative-europe/actions/documents/ecoc/ecoc-2010-report_en.pdf

Garcia, B. and Cox, T. (2013). European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and LongTerm Effects. European Parliament. Directorate-General for Internal Policies of the Union. Retrieved from (23.6.2015): http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/join/2013/513985/IPOL-CULT_ET%282013%29513985_EN.pdf

Németh, Á. (2010). Mega-events, their sustainability and potential impact on spatial development: the European Capital of Culture. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5(4), 265-278.

Németh, Á. (2013). Multi-level development perspectives and the European Capital of Culture: Pécs 2010 and Turku 2011: Moore Niamh, Pineira-Mantinan Maria-Jose, Transforming cities : urban processes and structure. Young Scholars Book Book 3. Geography. 17-29. Santiago de Compostela: IDEGA, USC and IGU Urban Commission.

Németh, Á. (2015). European Capitals of Culture – Digging Deeper into the Governance of the Mega-Event. Territory, Politics, Governance (e-publication) http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21622671.2014.992804

OJ (2006) Official Journal of the European Union: DECISION No 1622/2006/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 24 October 2006 establishing a Community action for the European Capital of Culture event for the years. 2006.11.3. 304/2-3. Retrieved from (2.3.2015): http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:304:0001:0006:EN:PDF

Authors Biography

Ágnes Németh (MSc in Geography, MA in European Heritage, Digital Media and Information Society) is a project researcher at the Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland. Her main research interests and focus in her doctoral work include regional policy and development, urban studies and mega-events planning. Currently, she is also involved in international research projects in border studies.

Contact Details:

Address: Project researcher, Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland, PO Box 111, FI- 80101 Joensuu, Suomi-Finland

Email: anemeth@uef.fi

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