Candidates for the second bidding round of ECoC 2026 announced 

On 24th June, the panel for the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) 2026 announced the cities to proceed to the second and final bidding round, after two days of intensive discussion.

Tampere Region 2026 (Tampere), Oulu2026 (Oulu), and our associated partner Saimaa-ilmiö 2026 (Saimaa Phenomenon 2026) represented by Savonlinna are the three applicants. 

 “The creation and starting position of Saimaa Phenomenon 2026 is the word “phenomenal”. This may well be the first time in the history of The European Capitals of Culture initiative that larger cities of one region have come together to support the smallest city as a candidate for ECoC. At the heart of Savonlinna’s application to become European Capital of Culture are the central themes and elements which bring the people in eastern Finland together: the Power of Water, Connecting Bridges, and Eastern Joy.”

Source: 2020 Saimaa-ilmiö 2026
Photo credit: Saimaa-ilmiö 2026

The decision was made on a clearly-defined set of six criteria (as described also in ‘A guide for cities preparing to bid’ by the European Commission):

  • contribution to long-term cultural strategy and city development,
  • the Programme’s cultural and artistic contents,
  • European dimension,
  • capacity to deliver,
  • involvement of local organisations and civil societies (outreach), and
  • management.

The panel did not take into consideration the financial proposal, normally included in the assessment of project management. COVID-19, hitting these cities just before they submitted their bid books after a year of intensive preparation, has changed both how society perceives culture, and how the cultural sector functions. Hence it is only for the second round that the selected cities are required to show their financial commitment, including national and regional strategies. This brought about an opportunity for cities in the course of the next 12 months to actually prepare and design their programme in terms of the “new normal”.

The main aim of the two-day selection process was to put forward those cities able to benefit from ECoC title and to deliver this complex project. On behalf of the selection panel, Jiří Suchánek announced that all three applicants from Finland could proceed to the next bidding phase. The panel will publish a report on their assessment of the applications, including some recommendations, from which cities will prepare the final versions of their bid books.

Reflecting on the EU Cohesion Policy after 2020

We have reasons to believe that Pandemic resilience will be a benchmark of not just the ECoC 2026 final round, but also of the EU’s Cohesion Policy 2021-2027. The new Cohesion Policy will transition from 11 former thematic objectives to 5 policy objectives, envisioning a Europe of innovativeness, carbon-free, connectivity, social development and equality, and closer to citizen.

The qualities of adaptability and resilience – the enablers of quick and adequate responses to pandemics, also often mentioned in the efforts against the adverse impacts of climate change, are highly relevant to cohesion and need to be embedded in all of the objectives. It is even more crucial to the overall mission of Cohesion Policy now than ever, as COVID-19 is expected to and is already increasing economic and employment disparities between EU’s more and less advanced regions.

How ECoCs are dealing with COVID-19

European Capital of Culture (ECoC) is anticipated to draw visitors, revenues and employment to crown cities. However, since March, travels are restricted, resources are remobilised, and employment plummets. Representatives from Matera, Rijeka and Timisoara – on behalf of ECoC 2019, 2020 and 2021, shared their stories at our Open Seminar “Continuing, restarting and adjusting amidst COVID-19”.

Cover photo: Helsinki, European Capital of Culture title-holder in 2000
Photo credit: Tapio Haaja from Pexels