Every year, the Council of the European Union designates two cities as European capitals of culture. They have been doing so since 1985, and so far 60 cities have acted as cultural capitals. In 2018, it was our turn. Our beautiful city of Valletta was designated. What does it mean, being cultural capital? In this blog, we explain.

Cultural capital

By designating two cultural capitals every year, the Union highlights the diversity of different cultures. It tries to connect as many countries as possible. Leeuwarden (Holland) was named in 2018 along with Valletta, our beautiful capital of Malta.

As capital of culture, you get a sum of money (Melina Mercouri Prize) to set up a cultural program. This amount is 1.5 million euros. The cities that become Capitals of Culture in that year therefore gain prestige and attract tourists. The inhabitants of the chosen countries also feel more involved in the culture of other countries; it creates togetherness.

How to become a Capital of Culture

As a city, you have to submit an application to become Capital of Culture. You submit these to the Union through the Ministry of Culture. A jury examines these applications. A few cities are then chosen and asked to send more details about the application. The European Commission ensures that everything is done according to the rules. It also composes the jury.

What do you need to be able to demonstrate as a Cultural Capital?

As a European city, you must be able to demonstrate which cultural movement you have been important to as a city. You must also be able to show that you plan to develop sustainable partnerships with other European cities in that year and be able to show how you involve your citizens.

You should strive to upgrade your cultural heritage and improve the quality of life in the city. As a country, you should broadcast cultural events through the media with a positive image and this should also be multilingual so that it is accessible to multiple countries.

The final confirmation comes four years before you actually become a city because you need those years to plan the right infrastructure, involve residents and establish connections with other European countries.

Melina Mercouri prize

When the initiative to choose the Capitals of Culture began in 1985, it was at the initiative of Greek Culture Minister Melina Mercouri. This cultural project became one of the best cultural projects funded within the European Union.

What the future holds

In 2030, Belgium is expected to be allowed to select two cities. Simultaneously with the 200th anniversary of its independence, Brussels may decide whom to put forward. This will be around the year 2025.

Valletta 2018

It was a vibrant year for Valletta in 2018. Valletta hosted a collection of 140 projects and 400 events. The city had invested well with hundreds of artists, workshop leaders, filmmakers, designers, and writers. €10 million was immediately invested in the cultural sector. We got to experience it! The various infrastructure projects were supposed to develop after this year.


The initiative to pick cultural capitals brings countries together. Culture is something we can all enjoy and if it also connects us, you kill two birds with one stone.