Wales's First Minister encourages sub-national governments in UK and
EU to take the initiative as CoR-UK Contact Group meets to identify ways
of building new bridges between the EU and UK.
government is focused on "opportunities that we can create for
ourselves" as it seeks to develop new ties with regions in the European
Union, First Minister Mark Drakeford told members of the CoR-UK Contact
Group on 18 March at a meeting in Cardiff that focused on ways to
re-shape relationships between EU regions and the UK's local authorities
and constituent nations following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom
from the EU. Many speakers at the meeting – which brought together
politicians from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well
as from the CoR – expressed the hope that new relationships could still
be fostered within the framework of the international treaty under whose
terms the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020.
Minister Drakeford said that "we have a series of relationship at the
regional tiers – with Brittany, the Basque Country, Flanders – where it
is our efforts that make the difference", but drew particular attention
to Wales' decision to establish a youth-exchange programme as an example
of an opportunity it has created itself. The Welsh government had been
"very disappointed indeed that it was not possible to negotiate
continued membership of Erasmus+ – a student-exchange scheme established
in 1987 by the EU under the management of a Welsh EU official, Hywel
Ceri Jones – and had felt that, in the absence of one, however, it had
an "obligation" to help Welsh people learn more about other parts of
Europe as swiftly as possible. "You are only a young person once", he
The Welsh Taith scheme, which was created in February,
will provide 15,000 young Welsh people with learning opportunities
abroad and enable 10,000 young people from the EU and the rest of the
world to visit, volunteer and study in Wales. Taith, as a five-year
programme (2022 to 2026) programme with Welsh Government funding of up
to £65 million, means that Wales and its international partners can
continue to benefit from exchanges in a similar way to the opportunities
that flowed from Erasmus+.
The scheme was praised by several
members of the CoR, with Oldřich Vlasák (CZ/ECR), councillor of the city
of Hradec Králové, noting that he and other representatives of Czech
universities view the programme as "very important for the future".
EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which sets out the terms on
which the UK left the EU, ended existing cooperation between regions,
created no mechanism to enable future cooperation between regions, and
did not foresee any structured role for local and regional authorities.
Loïg Chesnais-Girard (FR/PES), president of Brittany's regional council
and chairman of the CoR-UK Contact Group, told the meeting that it was
"absolutely necessary to formalise the role of local and regional
governments". In particular, the CoR is currently advocating for the
EU's regions and cities and for local governments and devolved
administrations in the UK and Northern Ireland to be associated to the
EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. The leaders of both
delegations – Sir Oliver Heald from the UK parliament and Nathalie
Loiseau (FR/Renew Europe) from the European Parliament – spoke at the UK
"What has been agreed", Mr Heald said is
that "there will be observer status for the devolved legislatures" and
"provision for EU sub-national authorities to be observers, meeting by
meeting, depending on the topic".
Ms Loiseau said "we will make
sure that stakeholders are invited or consulted" and said that it been
agreed to "share documents ahead of meetings".
CoR-UK Contact Group, which was meeting in the UK for the first time
since Brexit, also discussed an opinion on "strengthening the EU-UK
relationship at sub-national level and remedying the territorial impact
of the UK's withdrawal from the EU" that the CoR is currently drawing
up. The opinion, whose rapporteur is Michael Murphy (IE/EPP), mayor of
Clonmel, explores new avenues of cooperation as well as calling for a
greater institutional recognition of the sub-national dimensions of the
EU-UK relationship. The recommendations are scheduled for adoption at
the CoR's next plenary, in late April 2022.
the Contact Group also discussed the crisis in Ukraine, energy
independence and the importance of a collective effort to reduce carbon
emissions. During his speech, First Minister Drakeford described Wales
as a "Nation of Sanctuary" and promised that Wales will show refugees
from Ukraine that "hope for the future is still possible", just as it
has recently to Afghans.