The European Capital of Culture is an initiative of the European Union aimed at highlighting the richness, diversity and shared characteristics of Europe's cultures, focusing on the sustainable cultural, social and economic development of the cities and communities hosting the event and greater mutual acquaintance and proximity between European citizens. The initiative was launched in Athens, by a resolution of the Ministers responsible for Cultural Affairs, on 13 June 1985, under the name “European City of Culture”, which lasted until 1999.
In the present-day model, each year, the Council of Ministers of the European Union awards the title of European Capital of Culture to two (occasionally three) European cities. Cities of European Union Member States, and cities of European third party countries that are known to respect “the principles of democracy, pluralism and the rule of law”, are eligible, with alternation between member countries and other countries as a rule.
Four years in advance, interested nations submit their nomination proposals for one or more cities to the European Commission, European Parliament, the Council and the Regions Committee. Each year, the European Commission calls together a board of 7 high-ranking independent cultural specialists, which draws up a report on the applications submitted according to the European Capital of Culture initiative’s goals and objectives.
Each designated city organizes an events program that illustrates and highlights its unique cultural heritage and identity, as well as its role in the European cultural context, by establishing long-lasting cooperative relationships with agents and institutions from other European countries.
Since its launch in 1985, the initiative has successfully encompassed around 40 European cities, asserting itself as an extraordinary tool for the regions’ cultural, social and economic progress. Guimarães (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia) will boast the title in 2012. This is the third time that a Portuguese city has been designated with this title (Lisbon 1994; Porto 2001).