Brexit culture

Peter Ramsden

By Peter Ramsden, on December 11th, 2017

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One month after Five UK cities submitted their bids to become European Capital of Culture 2023, the announcement by the European Commission, on November 23, that UK cities cannot be eligible has created a small storm in the UK’s Brexit teacup. Here is why Peter Ramsden considers that UK cities risk being sidelined in European policy making.

The 2023 competition for European Capital of Culture has created a small storm in the UK’s Brexit teacup.  2023 was the turn for a UK city (following Liverpool in 2008 and Glasgow in 1990).  The British Government had allowed five bids to be prepared from Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Leeds, Dundee and a combined bid from Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane. The winner was to be decided by an independent panel of ‘experts’. While there is no grant for the winners, the impact on a city can be significant and as a result a lot is spent on mounting lavish campaigns. Figures as high as £500 000 were bandied about in the British press. By the end of the week the Sunday Times had accused the EU in general and the European Commission in particular of sulking in deciding that the UK would no longer be eligible. ‘It looks like pure petulance’ said Rosie Millard Chairwoman of Hull City of Culture 2017 and one of the ten judges for European capital of culture.

Of course the Brexit vote of 23 June 2017 has consequences. In particular the UK Government’s preferred hard Brexit option that involve leaving both the Customs Union and the Single Market would leave the UK outside the fold altogether. Critics have cited the European Capital of Culture discussion as yet another example of the UK’s ‘Have your cake and eat it’ negotiating stance. Arguments have been made in UK that Bergen, Stavanger, Rejkjavik and Istanbul were previous winners of capital of culture. However, all of these were in countries that at the time were either in the European Economic Area (Norway) or had applied to join the EU (Turkey and Iceland). The current rules specify that there should be two capitals each year, one from an EU Member State the other from a non EU member of the EEA or an applicant to the EU.

Lobbying is underway with previous winners of Capital of Culture writing to the European in defence of the British cities. Meanwhile on the 7th of December the UK’s department of Culture Media and Sport announced the winners of a parallel contest called UK City of Culture: Coventry. Hull is this year’s city of culture with Derry Londonderry as the 2016 winner.

UK Cities have a lot more to lose than being European Capital of Culture.  Already there are reports of UK cities and Universities being shunned in Horizon 2020 bids. The future of UK cities in transnational territorial cooperation programmes is in doubt. Continued involvement would probably require the UK government to provide the equivalent of the ERDF component. There are other prestigious awards, such as European Green capital, which Bristol won in 2015.  No guarantees have been forthcoming.  British cities, which have been great contributors to the European project and most of which voted remain, risk being sidelined in European policy making.

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