EU legislation usually becomes law only after two people have signed it: the president of the European Parliament and a minister of the government whose turn it is to chair the EU. This week the formal signature was a public ceremony for the first time with EP President Josep Borrell and Finnish Minister Paula Lehtomäki signing a law fixing the "European capitals of culture" from 2007 to 2019.
This ceremony only applies to legislation which has been decided by the European Parliament and the Council together, the Council being the forum representing the national governments of the EU. In European jargon this lawmaking procedure is called "codecision" and it applies to some two thirds of all EU laws, primarily in such areas as environment, transport, consumer protection and cultural, educational and health programmes. To date more than 170 co-decision acts have been signed.
Mr Borrell commented that "it is quite fitting that the first EU law signed in public should concern the European Capitals of Culture. It is also an excellent example of the EU's motto 'Unity in Diversity' being put into practice" he said.
Athens to Istanbul
Launched in 1985, the European Capital of Culture has become one of the most high profile of the EU's programmes. As well as a grant of up to €1 million, the award has usually led to the economic and cultural regeneration of the city involved. With the award being allocated in advance, a combination of public and private money flows towards the city involved.
It also generates tourism and puts lesser known cities - as it is not necessarily a nation's capital that holds the title - "on the map" so to speak. Finnish Minister of European Affairs Paula Lehtomäki said it often provided a "renaissance" to the cities involved.
So popular has the scheme proved that from 2009 there will be two capitals of culture each year! This reflects not only the ever-expanding number of EU members, but also the aspiration of more and more cities to hold the honour.
This year's Capital of Culture is Patras in Greece, next year will be Luxembourg and Sibiu (Romania), Liverpool and Stavanger (Norway) in 2008, Linz and Vilnius in 2009, Essen, Pecs (Hungary) and Istanbul in 2010.
Needless to say, competition is intense. The Council of Ministers choose the cities after considering proposals from the European Commission. This is based on a recommendation by a panel of 13 people from the Parliament, the Commission, the Council and EU countries.