Europe's new cultural capitals: Umeå (top) and Riga (bottom) © Vitorio Benedetti & BELGA/IMAGEBROKE/TPG 

Umeå in Sweden and Riga in Latvia are Europe's Cultural Capitals for 2014. Inaugurated in 1985 in Athens, Cultural Capitals highlight the diversity and richness of European culture while also fostering a European identity. More than 40 cities around Europe have already had the honour and since 2011 two cities from two different EU countries share the title each year.

Increase cultural exchanges

Umeå is the first Swedish city to be awarded European Cultural Capital since Stockholm in 1998. Located more than 600 kilometres north of Stockholm, Umeå with its university and 34,000 students is at the forefront of Swedish research. The city’s aim for the year is to show Europeans northern Sweden and to increase cultural exchanges between Umeå and the rest of Europe.

In the early 70s, young journalism graduate Göran Färm, a Swedish member of the S&D group, found his first job in Umeå at the local newspaper. Initially concerned about “ending-up far from civilisation” he quickly realised there was much to see, experience and write about as a journalist in this vibrant city.

“Since then I have been back many times, especially to the university, its Science Park Uminova and most recently its artistic campus – a unique cluster of programmes and activities in the cultural field," he said. "It's very gratifying that much of this was done thanks to European cooperation and EU funding.”

Where modern and historical mix

Riga is the capital of Latvia and the largest city of the Baltic States. Its history goes back more than 800 years and each century has left its mark in the architecture of the city. Its central position in the Baltic Sea region makes the city an important cultural, industrial, commercial and financial centre.

Former  vice-mayor of Riga and MEP Inese Vaidere, a Latvian member of the EPP group, said: “Riga is a city where the modern and historical mix in Art Nouveau and modern architecture, works of contemporary artists and masterpieces of the great artists of the past. Riga's historical centre with its Art Nouveau architecture is listed as UNESCO World Heritage." 

She stressed this year would be a very good time to visit the city: "In 2014 Riga will also become the centre of world’s choral music, as it will host the world’s largest choir competition - the World Choir games. Festivals like Museum night and White nights are very appreciated by the public. Riga also offers a multitude of cultural events for young people, a lot of them taking place in the creative districts around Kalnciema and Miera streets.”