Three cities had been short-listed after the initial pre-selection round in November 2015: Galway, Limerick and Waterford for the Three Sisters (Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford). The formal designation of Galway by the relevant Irish authorities is expected to take place in the coming months.
Started in 1985 on the initiative of the then Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, European Capitals of Culture have developed into one of the most ambitious cultural projects in Europe and become one of the best known – and most appreciated – activities of the European Union.
The original motivation of the project is more relevant than ever. It is to provide Europeans with an opportunity to learn more about each other's cultures, to enter into intercultural dialogue and to enjoy their shared history and values: in other words, to experience the feeling of belonging to the same European community. Along the years, the European Capitals of Culture have grown in scope and size, contributing to the cultural, social and economic development of many cities and their neighbouring regions across Europe.
Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner responsible for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said:
"In 2020, Ireland will host its third European Capital of Culture after Dublin in 1991 and Cork in 2005. The competition in Ireland illustrates that this EU initiative remains fresh and vigorous, highly popular with cities and citizens. I congratulate Galway on its successful bid. I am confident that Galway will give visitors from Europe and all over the world the opportunity to discover the city and its cultural assets but also to appreciate the diversity of cultures in the European Union as well as our shared values. I am convinced that the title will bring Galway significant long-term cultural, as well as economic and social benefits, as we have seen with many previous European Capitals of Culture."
In accordance with the Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council which governs the European Capitals of Culture Union action, Ireland and Croatia are the two Member States entitled to host the event in 2020.
According to the current scheme for designating the European Capitals of Culture, the selection has two rounds: a pre-selection round, following which a shortlist of candidate cities is drawn up, and a final selection round nine months later (one city is recommended for the title). The selected cities are then officially designated by the Member State concerned.
Ireland invited applications from interested cities in December 2014. Four cities applied: Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford for the Three Sisters (Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford). The pre-selection meeting took place in November 2015 and three cities (Galway, Limerick and Waterford for the Three Sisters) were pre-selected and given until June 2016 to complete their applications.
The selection criteria state that cities should prepare a cultural programme with a strong European dimension, which fosters the participation of the city's stakeholders as well as its various neighbourhoods and attracts visitors from the whole country and Europe. The programme must have a lasting impact and contribute to the long-term development of the city. The cities must also show that they have the capacity to deliver the project.
All applications in Ireland were examined by a panel composed of 10 independent experts appointed by the Union institutions and bodies:
- Appointed by the European Commission: Steve Green (United Kingdom), who has an extensive experience of international cultural relations and the role of culture and languages in society with EUNIC (European Network of National Cultural Institutes) and the British Council; Jordi Pardo (Spain), CEO of the Pau Casals Foundation and expert in strategic planning and urban renewal through culture and tourism; Suzana Žilič Fišer (Slovenia), professor and head of media communications department at the University of Maribor and director general of Maribor – European Capital of Culture 2012.
- Appointed by the Council: Ulrich Fuchs (Germany), deputy artistic director and programme director of Linz, European Capital of Culture 2009, and Marseille-Provence, European Capital of Culture 2013; Aiva Rozenberga (Latvia), programme director of Rīga, European Capital of Culture 2014; Pauli Sivonen (Finland), director of Serlachius Museum.
- Appointed by the European Parliament: Sylvia Amann (Austria), who is specialised in urban, regional and rural development, culture and the creative economy; Cristina Farinha (Portugal), expert in the development of creative industries and national cultural strategies; Agnieszka Wlazeł (Poland), expert in audience development and former CEO and artistic director of art festivals.
- Appointed by the Committee of the Regions: Alain Hutchinson (Belgium), Commissioner of the Brussels Government in charge of the relations with European & International organisations and Deputy Mayor of Saint Gilles in charge of Education.
Following Wrocław (Poland) and Donostia-San Sebastián (Spain) this year, Aarhus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus) will be European Capitals of Culture in 2017, Leeuwarden (Netherlands) and Valletta (Malta) in 2018, and Matera (Italy) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria) in 2019. In Croatia, the final selection took place in March 2016 and the city of Rijeka was recommended for the 2020 ECOC title.