LEEDS risks losing significant investment from a successful European City of Culture bid if Britain leaves the EU, a French politician has warned.
Gilles Pargneaux, a Member of the European Parliament for Lille – the French city twinned with Leeds since 1968 – made the dramatic intervention into the EU referendum debate as he listed a catalogue of reasons why Yorkshire voters should back Remain.
He said: “As an elected official of Lille, which is twinned with Leeds, I would like to stress an example (of Brexit): the bid by Leeds to be selected European Capital of Culture in 2023 like Lille in 2004.
“On the basis of the success of Lille in hosting a year of cultural events back in 2004 that transformed the city, we are sharing experiences and best practices to ensure Leeds is selected.
“Brexit could endanger Leeds’s bid for European Capital of Culture.”
The European Capital of Culture designation is given to a city within the European Union for a period of one year during which it organises cultural events.
Leeds is competing against Dundee and Milton Keynes and will find out if it has been successful in representing Britain in 2018.
When Liverpool was awarded the prestigious status in 2008 it generated £753.8m for the city, and Leeds naturally hopes for a significant financial boost if it wins the bid and to raise its profile.
The European Commission awards €1.5m to the winning city alone and in the past the Arts Council has also provided funding.
French socialist party politician Mr Pargneaux, 59, was elected to the European Parliament in 2009 to the north-west France region, but he has spent years involved in politics in Lille. He is close to the city’s mayor Martine Aubry, who helped oversee their hugely successful year of culture. Lille’s expertise is said to have been of great use to Leeds in preparing its bid.
Mr Pargneaux, who is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said Leeds and Lille have a bond going back decades that should not be damaged by Britain leaving the EU.
He said: “In my constituency, which is the north-west of France, we are well aware of the referendum. A majority of French would like the United Kingdom to remain.
“The UK is our neighbour and one of our main partners in cross-border projects.
“The city of Lille has been involved in a twinning programme with Leeds since 1968. European integration and accession of the UK to the EU in 1975 has allowed exchanges to increase. My constituents are attached to this cooperation.”
He added that Brexit could also be detrimental to UK and EU students alike.
“Coming from Lille, I can testify that the European Union is the best framework for students from Leeds School of Architecture and the National School of Architecture in Lille to exchanges ideas and build common projects based on a shared industrial past and a desire to reinvent their cities,” said Mr Pargneaux.
He is also vice-president of the environment, health and food security committee at the European Parliament and has been a driving force in the UN climate change agreement COP 21.
In recent years Leeds and Lille have collaborated on several arts and education initiatives and each city has hosted cultural delegations. Currently, Lille and Leeds have been working jointly on World War I commemoration activities.