Culture capital legal threat to European Commission

Dundee has spent four years preparing a bid to become a European Capital of Culture in 2023.
Dundee has spent four years preparing a bid to become a European Capital of Culture in 2023.
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Dundee wants to challenge the “legitimacy” of a ban on the UK hosting the European Capital of Culture title over Brexit.

Dundee wants to challenge the “legitimacy” of a ban on the UK hosting the European Capital of Culture title over Brexit.

Bid leaders are seeking a legal challenge against the European Commission decision, which emerged after the final bid had been submitted.

Dundee is joining forces with the other cities which were bidding for the crown to urge the UK Government to pursue legal action on their behalf.

The move emerged after crisis talks in London, which were held in the same week when a final shortlist had been due to be announced.

A joint statement said the bidders were “encouraged” by a commitment from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport officials to try to resolve the dispute and agree “a clear way forward.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has already been urged to “reverse” the European Commission by MPs representing the five cities which entered the contest instigated by the UK Government a year ago.

Dundee, Leeds, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Belfast and Derry-Londonderry discovered last week that the European Commission had cancelled the UK’s right to host the title due its decision to withdraw from the EU, declaring: “The selection process should be immediately discontinued.”

City Council leader John Alexander has already insisted Dundee’s ambitions were not “dead in the water."

He added: “The whole ethos of the Capital of Culture has been done a disservice by this decision. The situation is abysmal — it’s almost like being jilted at the altar. I imagine the judges are scratching their heads wondering why the process was allowed to go to this stage. Why do all of that and then, three days before our pitch, tell us we are no longer required? It’s short-sighted, disrespectful, and a pitiful way to handle the process.”

The joint statement, released today by the five bidders, said: “Firstly we want to acknowledge the huge and passionate support we have all received locally, nationally and internationally since the receipt of this letter.

"In particular we appreciate the support from previous and future European Capitals of Culture, and from members of the independent judging panel which itself had expected to be interviewing our teams this week as part of the formal shortlisting process.

“It is further evidence of the power of arts and culture to bring the peoples of Europe closer together.

“The five cities were united in their desire to find solutions which will enable them to realise their cultural ambitions and further develop their cultural integration with people across Europe.

“The meeting with DCMS was positive and we were encouraged by their commitment to try and resolve this issue with the European Commission and agree a clear way forward for the cities involved.

“We urged the department to continue its negotiations with the European Commission on the legitimacy of its latest decision. In particular we wish to highlight that the announcement by the European Commission counters a very recent decision of the European Parliament in June 2017 and of the Council in September 2017 which includes a calendar confirming the UK as the host country in 2023.

“In addition we are seeking clarity given that the United Kingdom has not yet left the EU and the terms of that departure are not yet agreed.

“We have collectively therefore requested that DCMS takes further advice on the legal status of the announcement as a matter of urgency.

“The meeting also allowed us to consider jointly how we ensure the local energy, enthusiasm and work done by our cities and partners to date can be positively harnessed and recognised even if the European Commission maintains its position.

“This sudden change of heart has the potential to disrupt well over 100 cultural collaborations across the continent which bidding cities have been developing in good faith.

“We all recognise the urgent need to reach a conclusion in a timescale that allows us to harness the momentum in our cities. Therefore intensive and constructive discussions will continue over the coming weeks.”

A spokeswoman for the DCMS said “urgent discussions” with ongoing with the European Commission.

She added: “We remain committed to working with the five UK cities that have submitted bids to help them realise their cultural ambitions.”

Scottish culture Fiona Hyslop said: "I'm extremely disappointed at the decision of the European Commission given that the amount of time, effort and expense the Dundee team (and the other four areas) have put into developing their bid could now be wasted as a consequence of the UK Government’s Brexit policy.

"Last week I spoke to Dundee City Council’s leader to offer my full support and I wrote to the UK Government and European Commission to understand the potential implications of this situation and to establish what action needs to be taken in order to address it.

"It is right that DCMS explore all options available and my officials remain in contact with them and Dundee’s bid team about this."