22nd Feb 2020

Istanbul recommended as European Capital of Culture

The Turkish city of Istanbul has been recommended as European Capital of Culture 2010, winning over the Ukrainian candidate Kiev in a contest that was seen as not completely apolitical.

The European Commission's press room in Brussels on Tuesday (11 April) saw rare scenes of applause and cheers when the recommendation by the expert jury was announced.

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  • A final decision will be taken in November (Photo: European Commission)

2010 will be the last year when a city outside the EU can carry the prestigious title, with EU hopefuls Turkey and Ukraine both keen to scoop the status for Istanbul and Kiev.

The number of European Capitals of Culture after 2010 will be limited to two at the same time each year, and they will be both within the EU.

Tuesday's jury verdict also included Hungary's Pecs and Germany's Essen as recommended capitals for 2010, with Essen winning over fellow German competitor Gorlitz.

Member states' culture ministers will make a final decision on the three 2010 capitals in in November, but an EU official said "so far the council has always followed the jury's advice."

Political battle?

The chairman of the jury, Jeremy Isaacs who leads the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden in London, said the advice presented by the jury was "not political," but he added "choices may have political implications."

The battle between Istanbul and Kiev has been closely followed in the European Parliament, with one MEP recently telling EUobserver "I'm sure all MEPs that are against Turkish EU accession support Kiev."

The MEP added "absolutely everything that has to do with Turkey is political."

Istanbul's bid had been actively supported by proponents of Turkish EU membership in the European Parliament, such as Italian liberal MEP Emma Bonino, Dutch Green member Joost Lagendijk and UK MEPs Andrew Duff (liberal) and Geoffrey van Orden (conservative).

Polish liberal MEP Grazyna Staniszewska had, on the other hand, herself suggested to Kiev officials that they should apply for the title when she was on the streets of Kiev during Ukraine's famous orange revolution at the end of 2004.

Kiev after all?

Ms Staniszewska told EUobserver after the jury verdict that she will now propose a European Parliament opinion on making not only Istanbul, but also Kiev a European Capital of Culture in 2010.

"It’s a pity the jury did not propose the status to both cities in order to celebrate the last year when third countries could take part in the contest," she said

The European Parliament may issue an opinion if it wants to but it has no formal say on the final decision made by member states in November.

The parliament itself had appointed two members of the seven-member expert jury, with the commission and member states also appointing two members and the Committee of the Regions, one.

The jury mainly consisted of professionals in the field of culture.

Istanbul bid was bottom-up

The expert panel's chairman said Istanbul had won over Kiev because of its more detailed preparations and the fact that the candidacy had emerged from civil society.

"Interestingly, the Istanbul bid did not begin with the Turkish government or the mayor of Istanbul, but by groups of publicly spirited citizens," Mr Isaacs said.

Istanbul had five years of preparation time, while Kiev picked up the idea to run as a candidate during the orange revolution, around one and a half years ago.

Kiev had "less to say to about [planned] events than other cities might have done," Mr Isaacs said, although the jury in its report "acknowledged the wish of the city to become European Capital of Culture in order to highlight is European identity for which it has struggled so hard."

A Ukrainian diplomat hoped like Ms Staniszewska that member states will decide differently in November, hinting that both cities could be appointed at the same time since 2010 would be the last year for non-EU candidates.

The contact said that many of the planned events were "not only for 2010" and would take place in any case, with a €60-80 million budget already reserved.

The EU only contributes "symbolically" to the financing of European Capitals of Culture allotting only € 1.5 million per city, said an EU official.

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