The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has launched a UK Contact Group intended to maintain lines of communication between local and regional authorities in the European Union and the UK's cities, regions and devolved administrations. The initiative follows the UK's departure from the EU on 31 January 2020.
The first meeting of the Contact Group, held by video conference on 22 September, was a preparatory meeting for politicians from the 27 member states of the EU. The governors, mayors and local councillors were addressed by Michel Barnier, the Chief Negotiator for the European Union, and by Kati Piri (NL/PES), the European Parliament's co-rapporteur on negotiations for a new partnership with the United Kingdom.
The EU is working towards achieving an agreement on future relations with the UK by 31 October. A deal would then require ratification by the European Parliament. Without an agreement, existing EU-UK legal ties will lapse on 31 December 2020.
The Contact Group is chaired by Loïg Chesnais-Girard (FR/PES), president of Brittany's regional council. Mr Chesnais-Girard said: "The current stalemate between the European Union and the United Kingdom should not close the door to maintaining cooperation at regional and local level, because – whatever the outcome of the negotiations – local and regional authorities will need to work together beyond 2020. We are heartened that members of local governments, devolved parliaments and assemblies across the UK have shown a strong interest in keeping a link with us. Brexit will have major consequences on many European regions and cities, like Brittany. Our voice must be heard and support schemes available to regions, such as the Brexit adjustment reserve, put in place now."
The President of the European Committee of the Regions – Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP), governor of Central Macedonia in Greece – said: "Local and regional governments will be the first to witness the consequences of the final Brexit negotiation on people's lives. At a time when communities need stability, an ideologically and politically driven no-deal will hold back recovery and threaten peace on the island of Ireland. The UK-EU Contact Group seeks to protect close ties built over decades between local and regional leaders so they can share their concerns, cushion the impact of Brexit, and protect cooperation in the interests of their citizens."
The Contact Group will meet up to three times a year to discuss issues linked to trade, the movement of goods, persons and services, and methods of continuing cross-border cooperation.
It is a unilateral body comprising 12 full members from the CoR, plus an observer from the CoR's newly formed Green group. The UK Contact Group will invite representatives of UK local government and devolved parliaments and assemblies to its meeting, based on the agenda of each particular meeting. The Contact Group may also take up invitations from UK local governments, devolved parliaments and assemblies to host meetings in the UK.
Prior to the UK's withdrawal, the outgoing UK delegation of the CoR urged the creation of a body to maintain and foster good relations between local and regional authorities in the EU and in the UK.
In addition to Mr Chesnais-Girard, the CoR members of the Contact Group are: Ellen Nauta-Van Moorsel (NL/EPP), head of the Dutch delegation and mayor Hof van Twente; Michael Murphy (IE/EPP), head of the CoR's Irish delegation and member of Tipperary County Council; Ximo Puig i Ferrer (ES/PES), president of the Valencia region; Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), mayor of Gdańsk; Erik Flyvholm (DK/Renew Europe), mayor of Lemvig; Pehr Granfalk (SE/EPP), mayor of Solna; Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), vice-president of Bremen City Parliament; Michiel Rijsberman (NL/Renew Europe), member of Flevoland provincial council; Maria Gomes (PT/PES), mayor of Portimão; Karl Vanlouwe (BE/European Alliance), member of the Flemish parliament; and Oldřich Vlasák (CZ/ECR), city councillor from Hradec Králové. Henrike Müller (DE), member of Bremen City Parliament, is the observer for the Green group.