04 December 2018
This week Mick Antoniw AM will attend the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (‘the CoR’), which takes place in Brussels on 5 and 6 December 2018. The agenda includes a debate on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with a statement from Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Mick Antoniw will take the floor during the debate to talk about Wales’ future links with the EU.
What is the CoR?
The main role of the CoR is to act as a voice for local and regional interests in the EU, and to advise the EU institutions responsible for drawing up and adopting the EU’s legislation on regional matters.
The CoR currently has 350 full members (and an additional 350 alternate members) who are regional and locally elected representatives from the 28 EU member countries. The UK has a total of 24 full places and an additional 24 alternate places.
How is Wales represented on the CoR?
Wales currently has four representatives on the CoR: two Assembly Members who are nominated by the Welsh Government and two councillors who are nominated by the WLGA.
Mick Antoniw AM is the Assembly’s full member and Bethan Sayed AM is the alternate member.
Will Wales’ membership of the CoR change after Brexit?
The draft Withdrawal Agreement provides that during the transition period the UK will no longer be part of EU decision making. This means that the UK will not be represented in EU institutions, agencies and bodies after exit day on 29 March 2019. As a result, Wales’ representation on the CoR will come to an end. However, despite not having a formal role in the Article 50 negotiations, there is currently discussion within the CoR about its future relationship with the UK after Brexit.
The CoR unanimously adopted a resolution at its Plenary session on 16-17 May 2018 on the implications of Brexit for the EU’s local and regional authorities. Amongst other things, the resolution highlighted that:
- issues often require local and regional action and therefore continued cooperation with the sharing of best practice at a local and regional level is needed after Brexit;
- some regions and Member States will be more exposed to the potential economic and social impact of Brexit due to the nature and scale of their trading relationship with the UK;
- Member States and EU institutions should not leave local and regional authorities to deal with Brexit challenges on their own and challenges should be mitigated as far as possible through a positive future relationship; and
- the CoR is best placed to devise and implement institutional mechanisms to promote regular consultation and interaction with local government and devolved institutions in the UK after Brexit.
The UK Delegation to the CoR is currently working on the development of proposals for a mechanism to maintain a relationship between the UK and the CoR after Brexit.
What are the proposals for the UK’s future relationship with the EU?
In July 2018 the leader of the UK Delegation, Sir Albert Bore, told the Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee (‘the EAAL Committee’) that a two-stage approach to the development of a future relationship between the UK and the CoR is being proposed.
In the short term, the UK Delegation proposes the establishment of a joint commission, between the UK and the CoR, to ensure continuity between exit day and the establishment of a more permanent arrangement. The proposed joint commission would be made up of 12 members on each side and would include geographical coverage from across the UK.
In the longer term, the UK Delegation has suggested exploring the possibility of establishing a North-West Europe macro-economic region. Sir Albert Bore expanded on this in his evidence to the EAAL Committee in July 2018, setting out what this would involve:
There are a number of macro-economic regions already established and, therefore, there is an opportunity with EU funding sitting in behind macro-economic regions to look at economic issues across the regions perhaps of a number of member states. We wondered whether or not, post Brexit, that we might look at a north-west Europe macro-economic region, which then engaged the UK, not just with the north-west of Europe, but also potentially with the likes of Norway and Iceland. That would be phase 2, but phase 2 would require the agreement of member states. We would have to go down that route.
What is the view from Wales on a continued relationship with the CoR?
In its first report on Wales’ future relationship with Europe (PDF, 9MB) the EAAL Committee acknowledged the “important and beneficial” role that Wales’ membership of the CoR has played in the past and also noted calls for a continued relationship between Wales and the CoR after Brexit.
The benefits of membership were highlighted in written evidence by Dr Rachel Minto and Dr Jo Hunt:
In addition to the formal networks within the Committee of the Regions (for example, in work undertaken around particular legislative proposals), representatives from local and regional authorities build strong informal networks. These specialised networks (both formal and informal) enable the sharing of knowledge, the exchange of best practice and policy learning. This policy learning has significant potential to inform policymaking at a regional and local level. This potential benefit risks being overlooked in discussions around Brexit.
In its response (PDF, 221KB) to the report laid on 16 May the Welsh Government said that it supports the principle of a continued relationship between the UK and the CoR including the establishment of a joint commission as well as the longer term proposal of a permanent political forum for North-West Europe after the transition period. It also says:
…that there should be strong devolved representation in the UK’s delegation to the joint commission and we would expect that the three devolved administrations should each be in a position to nominate one representative onto the committee (subject to the situation evolving in Northern Ireland).
In a letter to Karl Heinz Lambertz, President of the CoR, on 19 June, the Llywydd welcomed:
…the commitment the Committee made in the Resolution to begin internal preparations to ensure the maintenance of relationships between devolved legislatures and local governments in the UK and the Committee of the Regions following the UK’s withdrawal.
Article by Manon George National Assembly for Wales Research Service