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29 April 2019
In a post-Brexit world Wales will need to position itself, redefine its priorities for international relations, and develop new mechanisms for international engagement. In this context, the Assembly will debate the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee’s report into Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the World on 1 May.
The Committee found that while there has been much to celebrate over previous decades, the overall Welsh approach to international relations has too often been patchy and incoherent. Following the commitment made in the First Minister’s leadership manifesto to develop a new international strategy, the Welsh Government has started work to take this forward led by the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language.
What are the latest developments for the upcoming international strategy?
The Committee has called for the Welsh Government’s new international agenda to be developed at speed, with particular urgency needed given that the UK will now leave the EU by 31 October 2019. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government develops a bold new international strategy that sets out the scale of its ambition for Wales. During evidence to the Committee, the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language highlighted her interest in developing key performance indicators (KPIs). The Committee consequently recommended that the Welsh Government should publish a number of KPIs so that progress against headline commitments in the international strategy can be monitored.
In its response to the report, the Welsh Government stated that the forthcoming international strategy will set out the scale of its ambition for Wales in detail, and will outline what success looks like over the short and longer-term. As part of this, there will be KPIs where these can be measured.
The Committee also concluded that more can be done to utilise Wales’ soft power – using attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives – by using distinctive Welsh assets such as the Welsh language and culture. It recommended that the new international strategy identifies areas of soft power where Wales can demonstrate international leadership. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation, and its strategy will also look at developing Wales’ soft power, as this is an area that it considers requires greater attention.
Which key relationships should Wales prioritise after Brexit?
The Committee has heard concerns that civil society may need help transitioning from current arrangements within the EU to a post-Brexit future. It recommended that the Welsh Government should outline details of its work to support Welsh civil society, including its assessment of any additional funding needed in priority areas. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation, highlighting that it has allocated £150,000 for its work with the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action to better understand the third sector’s needs during EU transition.
The Committee also highlighted the need for Wales to look creatively at ways to continue participation in EU programmes. It recommended that the Welsh Government explores the possibility of Wales’ continued participation in EU programmes in devolved areas, and updates the Assembly on this by autumn 2019. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation in principle, stating its preference for the UK Government to negotiate a future relationship with the EU that includes a range of programmes. Should this not happen, it would explore the possibility of Wales participating in programmes with other UK nations even if England decided not to participate.
The Committee heard evidence on good practice used by countries and sub-state governments such as those in the Basque Country and Québec to prioritise bilateral relationships with other countries and regions. It called on the Welsh Government to review the bilateral relationships it has with other countries and sub-state areas, to assess which of these can be strengthened in the future. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation, and stated that it is undertaking this work as part of the development of its international strategy.
How effectively does Wales engage with its diaspora?
Based on evidence from a number of witnesses, the Committee found that the “disappointing truth is that Wales has been far less successful than other, comparable nations at engaging our citizens overseas.” The Committee called for the Welsh Government to look at successful examples of how this has been done by Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand. It recommended that the Welsh Government draw up an action plan for engaging with the Welsh diaspora including details of which countries would be prioritised and how it will seek to achieve this.
The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation in principle. It recognises the need to develop a more coherent approach to engaging with the Welsh diaspora, and notes that its international strategy will involve working with diaspora groups to ensure better co-ordination. However, it also wants to consider the engagement that is already taking place, and to identify where the gaps are.
How can the Welsh Government use governmental levers to maximise its influence?
Since the EU referendum the Welsh Government has expanded its overseas offices, and now has 21 international offices across the world. These include its Brussels office which the Committee found should be retained and resourced to ensure maximum benefit after Brexit. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government commission an independent baseline analysis of these offices, with these acting as a starting point for measuring progress following the development of the international strategy. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation in principle. It considers that a baseline analysis and future progress of offices cannot be measured in isolation, however it will consider the recommendation further.
The Committee also concluded that closer working with the UK Government is another way to achieve increased Welsh influence, particularly through UK Government departments taking greater account of Welsh priorities in their work. The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should set out the steps it is taking to increase its presence and influence in London, and an assessment of its staffing resources to achieve this. The Welsh Government accepted this recommendation, stating that “a central part of delivering the new international strategy is likely to include an understanding of the need to increase our influence and give clear messages to UK Government departments in London.”
What are the next steps?
A number of the Welsh Government’s responses to the Committee’s recommendations reference the forthcoming international strategy. The Welsh Government has developed an independent task and finish group to help take this work forward, and published questions online and on social media so that the public can help to shape Wales’ image to the world. It aims to publish the strategy by summer 2019, so by then we should have greater clarity on the Welsh Government’s plans.
Article by Gareth Thomas, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales