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Exclusive, Sylvain Pasqua: 'We are working on the ecoc's future"

Bruxelles, The European Parliament Bruxelles, The European Parliament Photo by EcocNews

If there is one person who knows the world of European cultural capitals better than anyone, it is Sylvain Pasqua. And not only because of his professional role, but also because he cares about the future of a united Europe and its cities.

Sylvain Pasqua is a senior expert in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture since 2002.
Sylvain worked for a few years in the “Culture Policy” Unit of this Department, where his main tasks were to explore how best to support the European cultural and creative sectors and to relaunch statistical work on culture at European level.
Sylvain is now the team leader in charge of coordinating the “European Capital of Culture” Action. In this capacity, Sylvain is responsible for the coordination of the selection, monitoring and evaluation of the European Capitals of Culture in the European Union.
In parallel, Sylvain is involved in the implementation of the European Union’s Creative Europe programe (2014-2020), which financially supports cooperation between cultural operators in Europe and beyond. He is also working on the new Creative Europe program 2021-2027 and following the negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Unwilling to show off, Pasqua often works in the shadows while trying to maintain the direction of what happens and will happen in the world of ecocs and over the years he has become a true, sincere and passionate point of reference for the world of European capitals of culture..

And this is one of the rare interviews given by Sylvain Pasqua.

After almost 40 years, what are the main strengths and main weaknesses of the European Capital of Culture programme?
On the whole, the European Capitals of Culture are working well, attracting large audiences and a great deal of enthusiasm. It is also gratifying to see the extent to which the cities holding the title are showing imagination and creativity in adapting this initiative, which is based on the same principles in each of the Member States of our Union, to their own needs and realities on the ground. For cities, the initiative is a fantastic tool for rethinking their cultural activities, inventing new ways of working with the arts, reaching out to new audiences - including those who are 'excluded' - and raising the profile of their cultural community.

It is also an opportunity for the cities to reflect on the place of culture and Europe in their long-term development, and to show that this Europe is not only to be found in Brussels, but that it begins in each of their streets, by tackling cultural themes with a European dimension in the title year's cultural programming, or by helping to forge closer links between their residents and cultural operators and those of other European countries. However, I also see that certain problems are repeated from city to city, such as the project not being given enough of a long-term perspective, too much political interference or lack of continuity, which often slows down the smooth running of the project, the difficulty of finding partners beyond national borders, or the challenge, rarely fully met, of starting to think seriously about the sustainability of the project after the year of the title. The transfer of experience between European Capitals of Culture currently takes place on an informal basis, and is clearly sub-optimal.

In 2033 a cycle ends. What is being done to give the programme a future?
Indeed, the current cycle, included in the legal basis adopted in 2014 by the European Parliament and the Council, ends in 2033. The last calls, for 2033 in Italy, the Netherlands and a third country, will be published at the end of 2026 at the latest. If the European Capitals of Culture are to continue on their successful path after 2033, the Commission must propose a new legislative framework to the European Parliament and the Council, the two co-legislators of the European Union, in the second half of 2025, so that the text can be adopted during 2027 after the period of inter-institutional negotiations.

Of course, we've already started thinking about this internally, within our small team working on the European Commission's 'European Capitals of Culture'. Over the coming months, this process of reflection will gradually be extended to include various stakeholders. We are going to organise a public consultation, which I hope you will relay to ensure that it is widely circulated. But we are also going to take advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves, and encourage others, to bring together a wide range of voices and opinions. And of course, the year 2025, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the initiative, will provide opportunities for debate, particularly in the context of the events that will be held to celebrate this anniversary. The basic idea, of course, is to ensure that the European Capitals of Culture remain fully relevant for decades to come.

The pandemic has probably also deeply affected cultural programmes. What topics should the next candidate cities work on?
Of course, it's up to each candidate city to find the theme or themes that make sense for it, and resonate with the concerns of other European cities. But some trends are emerging. For example, it is striking to see the extent to which candidate cities are now willing to tackle the issue of the link between culture and mental health, and this is no doubt linked to the effects of the pandemic on the well-being of our citizens and our communities.

Similarly, there is a concern to use culture for its potential to reconnect with others in fragmented societies where the social bond has been undermined by the isolation made necessary by the fight against covid. I could also mention the need for culture to be physically embodied, as opposed to culture experienced through a television or computer screen. But other themes are also coming to the fore, in connection with other needs linked to current events: the role and responsibility of the cultural world in the fight against global warming; support for the fundamental values on which the European Union is founded, such as freedom of expression, tolerance and the promotion of peace, in a world where they are under threat from all sides; and the question of the digital transition and its corollary of artificial intelligence.

Is it possible to imagine a stronger relationship between national cultural capitals and European cultural capitals?
It's great to see these national initiatives, some of which are directly inspired by the success of the competition for the European title in certain countries, such as Italy and more recently Portugal. At our level, the most important thing is to encourage movement at European level and exchanges between European cities, particularly between cities that have already won the European title. It's important for Europe's citizens to meet up across the borders of our countries, and be confronted with cultural expressions from elsewhere, in order to appreciate the richness and importance of European cultural diversity. It is also essential for them to meet and discuss our shared values together, or ask questions about issues that concern us as Europeans. This is the way to strengthen the feeling of belonging to a common cultural area for each and every one of us.

Ecocnews has launched a petition for Ukraine to be the third ecoc country in 2030. What are your ideas?
Since the start of the war unilaterally unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, against all the conventions of international law, the Commission has been keen to show the richness and specificity of Ukrainian cultural expression, and to give it its support. The Creative Europe programme has financed several projects specifically devoted to Ukraine, and encouraged partnerships between Ukrainian cultural operators and their counterparts in other countries taking part in the programme.

And the European Capitals of Culture have not been outdone, demonstrating their solidarity with the Ukrainian cultural world, following the example of Kaunas and Tartu. With regard more specifically to your question, the Commission follows the rules laid down by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. These rules specify that in 2030, in addition to Belgium and Cyprus, there will also be a European Capital of Culture in an EFTA country that has signed the European Economic Agreement, a candidate country or a potential candidate. The Commission is responsible for organising the competition between cities in third countries, and published a call for applications in November 2024. Ukraine is one of the eligible countries. Interested cities have until 16 October 2024 to submit their pre-selection applications. More information is available on our website here.


Serafino Paternoster

Ecocnews Founder, Journalist, repentant jazz guitarist, music critic and film lover.