Barroso launches Portuguese Capital of Culture against backdrop of budget cuts
By Benjamin Fox
Portuguese city Guimaraes launched the start of its year as European Capital of Culture (ECOC) on Saturday (21 January) against a backdrop of budget cuts which threaten to derail the success of the event.
The city celebrated its event with a sparkling lights and art display hosted by European Commission President Jose Barroso. Speaking at the launch, Barroso said that "without culture, Europe has no direction".
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Both Guimaraes and Slovenian city Maribor, with whom it is sharing the Capital of Culture title, have had to cope with dramatically reduced budgets owing to government spending cuts.
Guimaraes, which becomes the third Portguese city to have the Capital of Culture title, following Lisbon and Porto, has seen its culture budget cut by €20 million owing to national austerity measures following Portugal's €80 billion bail-out from the EU/International Monetary Fund. The city's budget for the year is €111 million, of which €25 million has been allocated for cultural programmes. Maribor has also seen its budget gradually cut from €71 million to €30 million.
Although the title of European Capital of Culture is hotly contested as cities compete for the publicity and additional structural funds which have traditionally been used for regeneration, both countries will be anxious to avoid the same fate as Vilnius and Tallinn.
The Baltic capitals, who were Capitals of Culture in 2009 and 2011 respectively, suffered from large budget cutbacks leading to the cancellation of nearly 50 percent of the scheduled events and long delays for the payment of artists.
As the two cities wrestle with budget cuts, the spotlight remains on the commission's Creative Europe project, which would increase direct funding for the Capitals of Culture programme from the EU budget from €400 million to €490 million between 2014 and 2020.
The commission's proposal - which also intends to bring all EU culture headings, including the Capitals of Culture, under a single heading worth €1.8 billion - is currently awaiting approval from national governments and MEPs.
In its communication in November, the commission emphasised the financial success of the ECOC programme noting that host cities had been able to raise an "eight-fold leverage effect on generated revenue, triggering between €15 million and €100 million euros in extra investment."
Liverpool's year as European capital of culture in 2010 has been cited by commission officials as a model for other countries to follow, with research for Liverpool University indicating that the programme brought in an estimated €9.6 million in extra revenue for the city.
The cities to hold the title have been selected up to 2015, with the commission currently in the selection process for 2016-2018. In 2013, France's Marseille and Slovakian city Kosice will take the title.