The United Kingdom and the European Union should be aiming for an "ambitious agreement" that enables a "genuine and continuous partnership" after the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, a delegation from the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) told Northern Irish politicians on 23 May at a meeting focused on the implications of Brexit on the peace process, business, and cross-border cooperation on the island of Ireland.
At their meeting with the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA(, the President and representatives of the five political groups in the EU's assembly of local and regional politicians underlined that maintaining peace and smooth trade on the island of Ireland are central concerns for the EU's cities and regions. Other priorities for the EU's relationship with the UK after Brexit, they said, should be continued cooperation in research, innovation, education, culture, research, and security. The visit to Newry, which included a meeting with local businessmen, came a day after the CoR delegation met the joint committee on EU affairs and the Irish minister for European affairs, Helen McEntee, in Dublin.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz , the President of the CoR, said: "There will be no winners from Brexit and we are now in a process of damage limitation. First and foremost, this means ensuring a deal that does not jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland. Supporting peace has been the number-one preoccupation of the EU's local and regional governments. We need a border that is transparent We need a deal that looks long-term protecting, not unravelling, decades of close cooperationWe want regions, communities, farmers, fishermen, and small businesses in the Republic of Ireland to receive EU support to help them cope with Brexit which would also benefit Northern Ireland, by limiting damage across the border."
The Vice-President of NILGA, Councillor Seán McPeake said: "Without an Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland providing any sort of clear voice in London and those negotiating the Brexit deal, our engagement with our European colleagues has never been more important. Councils in Northern Ireland are now front and centre in the delivery of a vast array of civic services and it is up to us to not only anticipate legislative and regulatory change but to shape it in its formative stages. Local government in Northern Ireland simply can’t be an afterthought, reacting to what others do or don’t do in terms of the Brexit next steps.”
The UK will cease to be a member of the EU on 29 March 2019. Transitional arrangements intended to enable an orderly withdrawal will remain in place until December 2020, if a final withdrawal agreement is reached. The UK government has said that it will outline proposals for future customs arrangements ahead of a summit of EU leaders on 28-29 June. In December 2017, the UK agreed to a 'backstop' that stipulates that, unless and until another solution is found, Northern Ireland will maintain full alignment with the rules of the single market and the customs union, which support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy, and the Good Friday Agreement.
Notes to editors:
The CoR's " Resolution on the implications of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union for the EU's local and regional authorities ", adopted by the CoR on 17 May, stresses the need to maintain the EU PEACE and Interreg programmes with the UK. In early May, the European Commission proposed a long-term budget that foresees continuing support for cross-border programmes supporting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland.
The CoR's 17 May resolution suggests that UK local and regional governments could participate in cooperation programmes in the same way as counterparts in Norway and Iceland do, and that that some existing EU mechanisms – such as macro-regional strategies and European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation – could be used to ease cooperation with UK cities and regions. It also notes that EU27 cities and regions "have an interest" in the UK being able to take part in some programmes – "in particular in the fields of education, culture, research, innovation" – and to cooperate with related EU agencies, and in maintaining a "close relationship with regard to security, border and migration management". It drew particular attention to some regions, notably Gibraltar and "outermost regions" of the EU, whose "huge dependence" of the British economy may require "special measures"; and it urged the EU to prioritise "connectivity of people and goods", highlighting "in particular the critical role of ports, airports as well as road and rail networks in ensuring this connectivity".
The CoR's May 2018 resolution develops on an initial position adopted in March 2017 , in which the CoR insisted that there could be "no agreement between a non-EU country and the EU that is better than EU membership", called for "temporary arrangements so as to minimise disruption to the current long-standing R&D projects", and pressed for "special attention [to] be paid to possible arrangements to mitigate the consequences for all regions and local authorities concerned".
Over the past 14 months, the CoR has conducted a range of surveys of its members, local and regional authorities and local chambers of commerce, as well as commissioning a study of the implications of Brexit for regional economies. In addition, it held a two-hour debate on Brexit on 30 November, and it has held political consultations with political counterparts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as discussions within the EU27. The CoR, which has created an inter-group for regions most directly affected by Brexit, argues that "the CoR is best placed to devise and implement institutional mechanisms to promote regular consultation and interaction with local government and devolved parliaments and assemblies in the UK".
The CoR delegation to Dublin and Newry included: Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), president of the CoR; Karl Vanlouwe (BE/European Alliance), member of the Flemish parliament; François Decoster (FR/ALDE), vice-president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie Regional Council, chairman of the CoR's Brexit inter-group, and leader of the French national delegation; Michael Murphy (IE/EPP), Tipperary councillor and head of the Irish national delegation; Adam Banaszak (PL/ECR), vice-president of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Parliament; Peter Bossman (SI/PES), mayor of Piran; and Stanisław Szwabski , member of Member of Gdynia City Council.
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