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Dismay as 2023 UK European Capital of Culture is cancelled

V&a dundee  alan richardson

The European Commission has cancelled the UK’s hosting of the 2023 European Capital of Culture a week before five British cities were set to learn which one had been chosen

The commission wrote to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport this week to tell it that the UK’s participation ‘would not be possible’. This is despite the title having gone to non-EU cities in the past.

The European Capital of Culture rotates around European countries, and Britain had been scheduled to hold it in 2023. The last time the UK held the title was in Liverpool in 2008. 

But three non-EU cities in Europe have held the title in the past: Istanbul in Turkey (2010), Stavanger in Norway (2008), and Reykjavik in Iceland (2000).

Five UK cities had made bids for the title: Dundee, Nottingham, Leeds, Milton Keynes and Belfast/Derry. They were expected to find out the result next week. 

A spokesperson for Dundee Council, the city where Kengo Kuma’s V&A Dundee (pictured) is set to open in 2018, said it was ‘hugely disappointed’ by the cancellation of the title in the UK.

‘The timing is disrespectful, not only to the citizens of Dundee but to people from all five bidding cities who have devoted so much time, effort and energy so far in this competition. It’s a sad irony that one of the key drivers of our bid was a desire to further enhance our cultural links with Europe.’

The spokesperson added that the team was seeking ‘urgent meetings’ with the UK and Scottish governments to ’discuss how the enthusiasm and imagination of Dundee’s bid can be taken forward’.

Stirling Prize-winning architect Will Alsop told the AJ he was ‘not surprised’ by the European Commission’s decision.

‘It’s another fucking nail in the coffin for Brexit, I hope,’ he said, ‘we need lots more nails.’

He continued: ‘If we’re not in the EU [by 2023], why would we be allowed to do it? I’m surprised the [European Commission] has announced we can’t do it now because we haven’t left yet.’

Alsop added: ‘In my mind, with what’s going on and the mess it’s causing, I don’t think there is any certainty we will leave at all, or will there be another referendum? … now [with the] younger people who are allowed to vote, I think the result would be very different.’

And he described the commission’s decision as a ‘bit premature’, adding that they should have given the UK ‘some notice’. 

Chris Bryant, director at alma-nac, said that the European Commission’s cancellation of the title would hamper cities in the UK, but added that the Brexit-vote was ’ultimately’ the reason behind the decision.

’The opportunity to be a Capital of Culture is important for UK cities as was demonstrated by the success of Liverpool in 2008,’ Bryant said. He pointed to figures from the University of Liverpool, which stated that the event resulted in 34 per cent more visitors to the city and that 85 per cent of residents said Liverpool was a better place to live in than before.

Bryant added: ‘[The title] gives cities the opportunity to showcase the quality of their arts and culture to a wider audience with the ability to attract better funding. The European Commission Office’s decision doesn’t help anyone and deprives cities and the people of this opportunity. Brexit keeps on taking.’

Meanwhile, the DCMS has criticised the commission’s view, adding that it is in ‘urgent discussions’ with the organisation on the matter.

‘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 spokesperson said.

‘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.’ 


Readers' comments (4)

  • And of the five UK candidates, Dundee is in Scotland - whose population voted 62% to 38% in favour of sticking with Europe - and as all 32 Scottish council areas wanted to remain there's surely no excuse for Dundee to be given the cold European shoulder.
    Unless the EC thinks (possibly correctly) that 'every little helps' and their decision will either help to encourage a democratic British re-think about leaving, or encourage the departure of Scotland from an isolationist union.

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  • The Brexit idea has completely failed. When will someone step up to the plate and call the Tory party to order; sack the Brexiteers and get back to a bit more rational political debate...

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  • To be fair, Norway and Iceland are EEA members and Turkey is a an Associate member of the old EEC. With the current UK direction being that it will no longer be a member of any of these and no sign of any kind of 'associate member' status it seems logical that the UK cannot be a European cultural capital. The UK can't have it's cake and eat it as everyone keeps repeating ad nauseam.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    Ahh, politicians, never any imagination and never any style.
    "A new framework makes it possible for a city in a candidate country or potential candidate for EU membership to hold the title every third year as of 2021" according to the wikipedia entry, surely gives the EU the opportunity and grace to leave the UK candidates in the frame.
    Besides, who would want to be in a club that behaves in such a haughty manner.

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