European Capitals of Culture were born in 1985 on the initiative of the then Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri.
The initial ambition – which was to bring citizens of the European Union (or EC, as it was then called) closer together – is still very much valid today.
In providing opportunities for Europeans to meet and discover dimensions of the great cultural diversity of our continent, but also to look freshly at our common history and values, European Capitals of Culture are promoting mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue among our citizens as well as increasing their sense of belonging to a common cultural area.
Along the years, European Capitals of Culture have grown into one of the most ambitious cultural projects in Europe both in scope and in scale. They have become one of the best known EU initiatives, and one of the most appreciated by European citizens.
Being a European Capital of Culture can also contribute to the long-term socio-economic development of cities as the title can be for them and their surrounding regions a powerful tool to regenerate themselves, inject new vitality into their cultural life, boost their creativity, raise their profile on both a European and international scale and foster social cohesion.
In 2021 Greece will host its fourth European Capital of Culture after Athens in 1985, Thessaloniki in 1997 and Patras in 2006.
By publishing a call for submission of applications, the Greek Ministry of Culture is launching its national competition. The name of the Greek city that will hold the title of European Capital of Culture in 2021 together with one city in Romania and one city in a candidate country for EU membership will be known in 2016.
In the meantime I wish good luck to all Greek cities planning to bid. I am sure that – whatever the outcome of the competition – they will learn and benefit from their candidacy as this is for them an extraordinary opportunity to work with all their cultural, social and economic stakeholders and with their inhabitants on the place they want for culture in their longer term development strategy.
Head of the Creative Europe Programme Unit in the Directorate-General for Education and Culture