Local and regional politicians from the United Kingdom have, for the first time, met members of the European Committee of the Regions in a Contact Group intended to ensure that lines of communication developed over the course of the UK's nearly 47 years of membership of the European Union remain open at regional and local level beyond 2020. After its creation in 1994, the European Committee of the Region became the principal point of contact between regions and cities from the UK and other EU member states.
The United Kingdom left the EU on 31 January 2020 and the transition period ends on 31 December. At that point, the legal agreements that underpin the relationship between the UK and the EU and its 27 member states will lapse, unless a new deal is struck within the next six weeks.
Loïg Chesnais-Girard (FR/PES), President of the Regional Council of Brittany and chairman of the CoR-UK Contact Group, said: "Politicians from the United Kingdom and from the EU have forged strong ties through 25 years of contacts through the European Committee of the Regions; and nearly five decades of EU membership have tied the UK closely to the regions and cities of the 27 EU member states. We want ties to remain close beyond 2020, and the CoR-UK Contact Group will work to maintain good lines of communication and will seek an EU-UK relationship that includes close and effective cooperation at regional and local levels. Deal or no deal, there will be significant changes from 1 January 2021, and local and regional politicians on both sides share an interest in limiting the damage to their regional and local economies."
He continued: "Speaking as an EU politician, I call on the UK government to recognise that the relationship between the EU and the UK – including those of its devolved administrations, regional and local authorities – cannot be put on the same footing as other relationships. Today's very constructive meeting with a diverse set of UK counterparts shows that we have long-standing and strong ties at the local and regional levels, and these relationships need to be maintained and further developed into the future."
The CoR members of the CoR-UK Contact Group have a fixed mandate, while the UK representatives of local authorities, devolved parliaments and assemblies will vary from meeting to meeting according to the topics being discussed.
At this initial meeting, the representatives came from England, Wales, Scotland, North Ireland, and Gibraltar. The Welsh perspective was provided by the chair of the Welsh Parliament's external-affairs committee, David Rees, and by the Anthony Hunt of the Welsh Local Government Association. The Local Government Association, which represents English authorities, sent the chairman of its EU Exit Taskforce, Councillor Kevin Bentley. Angela Constance, member of the Scottish Parliament, and Councillor Alison Evison, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), represented Scotland, while Cllr Matt Garrett spoke as President of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA). The Gibraltar Parliament was represented by Joseph Garcia MP.
In a part of the meeting limited to politicians from the EU, the Chair of the European Parliament's EU-UK Coordination Group – David McAllister (DE/EPP) – updated CoR members on the Parliament's perspective on the progress of negotiations. CoR emphasised the need for the new Brexit Adjustment Reserve, a €5 billion facility for member states and sectors worst affected by Brexit, to be operational as soon as possible.
The EU's Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, who addressed the inaugural meeting of the Contact Group on 22 September, is scheduled to address the next plenary meeting of the CoR, on 9 December.
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.
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