Derry was the UK's first City of Culture in 2013

MPs protest European Capital of Culture exclusion

Jonathan Knott, 29.11.2017
Five UK areas have submitted bids for the title
MPs representing the five areas that have submitted bids to be European Capital of Culture for 2023 have written to the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, urging him to reconsider the applicants’ exclusion from the process.

Fifteen MPs including Rachel Reeves, the MP for Leeds West, and Stewart Hosie, the MP for Dundee East, wrote to Juncker on Monday encouraging him to allow the cities to participate in the competition.

The MPs said they “find it inexplicable that the European Union (EU) waited until after the bids from the United Kingdom had been submitted before ruling them all ineligible, when it has been aware of the UK’s decision since June 2016. Politics should not interfere with what is in many ways an event intended to bridge cultural and political divides.”

“We are writing to you, as president of the European Commission, to encourage you to reverse the discontinuation of the United Kingdom’s eligibility to be part of this great institution.”

The MPs added: “We politely remind you that the United Kingdom is still a member of the European Union, and that no decision has yet been made as to what a future relationship will look like.”

They also wrote to culture secretary Karen Bradley asking her “what we can do together to encourage a resolution to this situation with the European Commission in order to make sure that our cities are not denied this opportunity”.

Before the UK voted to leave the EU, the country was due to host a European Capital of Culture in 2023, sharing the accolade with Hungary. Bids were submitted by DundeeNottinghamLeedsMilton Keynes and jointly by Belfast, Derry and Strabane.

But last week it was reported that UK cities would no longer be considered eligible, following the Brexit decision. Cities from non-EU countries have been awarded Capital of Culture status before. But if the countries are outside the EU, they must either be candidates to join the union, or in the European Economic Area or the European Free Trade Association.

After news of the EU’s position emerged, John Glen, the minister for arts, heritage and tourism tweeted: “Crazy decision by European Commission over Capital of Culture 2023. We’re leaving the EU - not Europe! My team at DCMS are speaking with the five cities right now on the way forward”.

Glen tweeted again on the issue yesterday, saying: “Grateful to the five UK candidates for European Capital of Culture 2023 for meeting me today. Very positive discussion and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them to achieve their cultural ambitions.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Cuture, Media and Sport said:

“We disagree with the European Commission's stance and are deeply disappointed that it has waited until after UK cities have submitted their final bids before communicating this new position to us. The prime minister has been clear that while we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe and this has been welcomed by EU leaders.

“We want to continue working with our friends in Europe to promote the long-term economic development of our continent, which may include participating in cultural programmes. We remain committed to working with the five UK cities that have submitted bids to help them realise their cultural ambitions and we are in urgent discussions with the Commission on the matter.”

Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, said: “Late last year I wrote to the UK government to highlight the enormous benefits international cultural engagement can bring and to seek reassurances that the UK continues to participate in partnerships like the European Capital of Culture. 

“It is now deeply concerning that the amount of time, effort and expense Dundee have put into scoping out their bid could be wasted thanks to the Brexit policy of the UK government.

“We are in urgent contact with the UK government and Dundee to understand the potential implications of this situation and to establish what action the UK government is going to take to address it.”

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