1985-2019 European Capitals of Culture

European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and Long-Term Effects
Funded by: European Parliament


This study, conducted over a year in 2013, is a response to the European Parliament 2012 call for a comprehensive assessment of the long-term effects of hosting the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) Programme, and the potential organisational and policy implications of these findings.

The main aim of the study is to examine and interrogate the wealth of published material produced about respective ECoC host cities, in order to: identify the most common strategies for success; collate and review evidence of impacts and long-term effects from a cultural, economic, social and policy point of view; and understand the main recurrent challenges.

The study addresses six main research questions:

  1. How did the “European Capital of Culture” initiative come into being, what changes has it undergone, and what are its constitutive elements?
  2. What trends and common patterns, if any, can be discerned with regard to successful applicant cities since 1985?
  3. What different strategies and concepts have been developed and used to make the ECoC a success for the individual cities both in the short and long term?
  4. What are the discernible long-term effects connected with ECoC status in terms of cultural, economic, social, and political aspects?
  5. What are the main obstacles ECoC hosts faced in the past, and what similarities and differences can be identified?
  6. What recommendations can be given to exploit the potential of the ECoC initiative more efficiently and tackle challenges more effectively, both at the level of programming and organisation?

In addition, the study reflects on a series of more specific questions which point at two of the most pervasive challenges for ECoC hosts since the inception of the Programme in 1985: the Programme’s capacity to develop a meaningful European Dimension; and the capacity for hosts to extract lessons from previous experience and maximise knowledge transfer.

The Study has considered evidence available for the three first decades of the ECoCProgramme, as articulated by published material on 48 host cities between 1985 and 2013, and the proposals of 10 upcoming hosts between 2014 and 2019. This has been complemented by selected expert reflections across the Programme


The European City/Capital of Culture Programme was launched in 1985 and the ECoC title has been awarded to nearly 60 cities in 30 countries. The Programme has become a key platform for city positioning and a catalyst for economic and cultural regeneration. Immediate cultural, social and economic impacts are common and the capacity to secure long-term effects, though harder to evidence, has grown in key areas such as urban image change and tourism development. The latter is evidence of the stronger commitment towards sustainable legacy planning and ever more defined and locally sensitive vision statements. This report documents common approaches and success strategies, highlights the strongest claims of long-term effect and analyses recurrent challenges that limit the Programme’s ability to reach its full potential. Key recommendations are the establishment of a standardised evaluation framework, greater emphasis on comparative research and the creation of a formal knowledge transfer programme so that future hosts can better benefit from the wealth of experience developed in the last three decades.

Access full report here

Access summary powerpoint presentation  here

Access appendices here