|David Rees AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Jane Hutt AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Michelle Brown AC|
|Steffan Lewis AC|
|Suzy Davies AC|
|Syr Albert Bore||Arweinydd Dirprwyaeth y DU i Bwyllgor y Rhanbarthau|
|Leader of the UK Delegation to Committee of the Regions|
|Tom Jones||Aelod o’r Pwyllgor Economaidd a Chymdeithasol Ewropeaidd|
|Member of the European Economic and Social Committee|
|Elisabeth Jones||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Gerallt Roberts||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Perthynas Cymru ag Ewrop yn y dyfodol—rhan dau: sesiwn dystiolaeth||2. Wales’ future relationship with Europe—part two: evidence session|
|3. Perthynas Cymru ag Ewrop yn y dyfodol—rhan dau: sesiwn dystiolaeth||3. Wales’ future relationship with Europe—part two: evidence session|
|4. Papurau i'w nodi||4. Papers to note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:01.
The meeting began at 14:01.
Good afternoon. Can I welcome members of the public and of the committee to this afternoon's evidence session of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? Before we go into our formal business for the afternoon, can I do a few reminders? Can I remind Members that the headphones are available because we are bilingual: channel 1 for simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, and channel 0 if you require amplification for any purpose. There are no scheduled fire alarms this afternoon, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers to ensure safe departure from the building. Can I also remind Members and everyone else to turn their phones onto silent—or other equipment—so that they do not interfere with the broadcasting this afternoon. We have received apologies this afternoon from Jenny Rathbone and Jack Sargeant, and there are no substitutions.
We now move on to our business for this afternoon, where we will continue our investigation into the future relationship of Wales with parts of the EU following Brexit. This afternoon, we have two evidence sessions. Can I welcome to the first session Councillor Sir Albert Bore, leader of the UK delegation to the Committee of the Regions? Thank you for your attendance this afternoon.
Clearly, it's an important aspect of our work, as to the relationship that we currently have with the Committee of the Regions and the future relationship that the Committee of the Regions may have with parts of the UK, following Brexit. Perhaps, to start off with, you might give us an introduction as to where you see the discussions have been going over the last 12 months, as to where the Committee of the Regions sees the future relationship with regions in the UK. Obviously, as a non-EU member state, that's going to be a different position for us. What discussions are the UK delegation having as to what type of proposals they think will be workable?
There are perhaps one or two aspects in response to that question. The position that the Committee of the Regions currently has is one that arises from discussions that we've had over a period of time with representatives of local government and the devolved administrations here in the UK, but also, over quite a considerable time, discussions that we've had within the Committee of the Regions itself, through the cabinet of the president of the Committee of the Regions and what is called the Conference of Presidents, which is where the presidents of the political groups come together on a monthly basis with the president of the COR. So, it hasn't simply been a view taken by the COR at the UK delegation; it's a been a view influenced by those parallel sets of discussions—people representing the UK and people representing the EU-27 within the Committee of the Regions.
We started this discussion with these various bodies or individuals on the basis that there was probably going to be a two-phased approach that we might take. It appeared to us that, in looking at what is currently in place, there might be an opportunity in the period between 29 March and the end of the transition period where we could engage through what we've called a joint committee: a joint committee of members of the COR—the EU-27 members of the COR—and representatives of local government and devolved administrations here in the UK. We thought that might be possible and very much at the behest of the Committee of the Regions itself—in other words, not requiring external agreement with member-state governments or others. There is a question mark there, which will probably get answered this Wednesday, because representatives of the COR are meeting with Michel Barnier in order to discuss one or two issues with Michel Barnier: questions around, for example, will the withdrawal agreement specify what can be done or cannot be done? So, we will, on Wednesday, or following Wednesday, have a set of answers, I hope, to some issues that we still need to think about perhaps in terms of what I've called the 'interim joint committee'.
We were then looking at a period beyond any transition period where we had a more lasting arrangement, which picked up on where the European Commission have been moving things, and that is in terms of macro-economic regions. 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. It's going to take rather longer to set up a macro-economic region if that is to be, if you like, the nature of phase 2.
So, the discussions have been going on for a long while. The discussions have been in terms of the UK but also with the EU-27, and specifically with the president of the Committee of the Regions cabinet, and it has a two-phased approach to it.
Thank you. I think you reiterate what was said to me when I met with Karl-Heinz Lambertz two weeks ago, with a particular concern over the withdrawal agreement and whether that would possibly block any possibility or leave the doors open, as we say, to an agreement in a sense.
But can I clarify the macro-economic regional strategy you've mentioned as one option for phase 2? If I'm right, the last time that was mentioned it was only the UK that opposed it, and, in fact, other member states were actually in favour of it previously. So, there's a very good chance that that might be acceptable.
I think we're in a fluid state at the moment.
And particularly after the last 12 hours or so. I think my answer would be, in short, 'yes', but I'm not at all sure that we can entirely comfortably and safely predict where we're going to be either in the short term or indeed the medium term.
I just wonder, with the macro-economic region, what exactly that would try to achieve. I'm trying to think of other precedents—the Mediterranean union and other macro-economic unions that involved member states and non-member states. Is this trying to establish a European free trade association without the UK joining an EFTA? Or is this something completely—?
Well, if I give you two examples, there is a Baltic Sea macro-economic region and that's been in place for quite some while now, and more recent is the Danube. The macro-economic region is an area along the Danube and, of course, that does bring in non-EU members as well as EU members. So, a macro-economic region is a way of bringing what would be the EU-27—or parts of the EU-27—in a relationship with the UK and possibly also the likes of Norway and Iceland. It's a recognised strategy for the European Union—it's acknowledged. It's something that the Committee of the Regions itself has supported in the past, and we felt that, given that there is precedent here for macro-economic regions that cover more than EU states—for us to look at that as a longer-term solution. No, it doesn't replace EFTA or anything like that—those organisations would remain—but this provides for the opportunity to look at a wider regional strategy covering a number of states, or parts of a number of states, where the economics of the agenda made that sense.
Right. So it would very much be within the confines of any withdrawal agreement that a macro-economic region of this nature would have to operate, rather than be an add-on to one. Would that be the right way round?
I'm not sure it would be necessary to have it within the withdrawal agreement, because, as I understand this, a macro-economic region would need to be signed off by the member states who are affected by it and, therefore, could be subsequent to any withdrawal agreement or Brexit itself. So, it's something that can come down the line, if you like. We're concerned to start the discussion on both what I've called the first phase, as well as the second phase, as early as possible. It will take some time to put in place a joint committee. We think we need to move on that and we should have that in place sooner rather than later. It will take even longer to bring in a macro-economic strategy for north-west Europe, but if we don't start these discussions now, then we are going to be well beyond Brexit before any such strategy is adopted, if that is to be the way forward, if you like, for the longer term.
What kind of teeth can you expect a region of this—? Is it purely a co-operative region, where economic strategies are integrated or is this something with far more—? Because, for example, when we're talking in terms of our separation from the European Union and a future relationship, we're talking about things like the four freedoms and the fundamental principles of the European Union. Presumably, it wouldn't be as fundamental and as significant—if I can use that term loosely—an organisation or a model as that. It would be more or less trying to bring some level of consistency across the different states and regions within that area of co-operation.
I think, in terms of what you've spoken of latterly there, you are correct. We have a European regional policy, we have a cohesion policy, if you like and, therefore, a macro-regional strategy is but part of that longer term cohesion policy for an area, which may include regions of non-EU states and, therefore, is about progressing the economic agenda of those regions specified within that macro-regional strategy. So, as I see it, it's not about putting in place organisational structures; it's about putting in place an agenda that deals with the economic needs, if you like, of a wider area. I am very certainly of the view that we cannot continue without having an arrangement with parts of north-west Europe that will sit within the EU-27. Our future depends upon the nature of the economic arrangements that we will have with parts of north-west Europe.
And it is, in your view—. Your vision is not for a general north-west European co-operation area, but for specific regions of north-west Europe to enter into co-operation. Because it wouldn't make much sense, would it, for west Wales and the Valleys to be in the same economic region as the City of London—or would it?
I think I would probably differ with you if you were to say that. There are a number of aspects to this. This is not a sector-by-sector arrangement. In other words, it's not a financial services arrangement, nor is it a manufacturing sector arrangement. The economy of regions is made up of a number of different economic sectors and it's how they balance out across the wider region. I think west Wales and the Valleys has as much to gain from being in a north-west economic strategy, where those economic issues are balanced out within that wider geographical area of north-west Europe. So, we don't envisage this proceeding on a sector-by-sector basis, but on a wider economic strategy basis.
But what about regional wealth coming into play? You don't think it would make sense to have a co-operative area that covers areas that have a GDP of less than 75 per cent of the European average, for example, as has been the traditional model; that it should just be a carte blanche—if you're in the north-west Europe region then you are part of the strategy, regardless of your relative wealth.
You're talking about where priorities might be, and you're correct that the focus has been on less than 75 per cent of EU GDP as to where the structural funds have, in the main, been directed. In any use of EU moneys, I'm absolutely certain that the EU-27, in this case, would want to see EU moneys spent in line with economic priorities, and therefore much of what we currently have in terms of cohesion policy—albeit now, of course, we're looking to 2021-27 rather than 2014-20—much of what we currently have in terms of that policy direction would remain in place for a macro-economic strategy. This is an issue about priorities, isn't it? It's not an issue about the whole agenda.
And can I just clarify—? Because as Wales, we're exploring opportunities for Wales and the institutions of the EU, but in this type of macro-economic strategy, it would be the requirement of the UK Government to partake in the strategy, rather than just individual national Parliaments, such as the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament.
We've got, perhaps, one or two issues here. The COR, certainly, and I think I could say the EU-27, in terms of the Council of Ministers and therefore the Commission, are always reluctant to have an EU/sub-regional member-state-type arrangement. It's objected to, in some respects, with some of the Spanish regions, for example, and the fear amongst the former Spanish Government that that would simply encourage the separatist agenda. So, there has been a marked reluctance within the EU to set things up that are bilateral, if you like, between the EU and a region of a Member state. The opposite way around, you will find examples of where, for example, Quebec or some of the American states have got their own EU office, and therefore you've got it the other way around, but of course the EU can't prevent that—not from the point of view of EU looking outwards of the EU. I think there's that reluctance to engage with a specific region of a state, because of its potential impact—if it was with the UK or a region of the UK—because of its potential impact upon the EU, in terms of a region of a member state within the EU. So, I think there are issues there. There's no-one saying it couldn't happen, but I think, from what has happened in the past, I personally believe there might be a reluctance to move in that direction.
And because the Committee of the Regions is a formal EU institution, it therefore abides by the EU rules and regulations, basically.
The Committee of the Regions is an institution, of course, that was set up by the Maastricht treaty and then further amended by the Amsterdam treaty in terms of its remit. It's part of the institutions of the European Union, and therefore has to operate with respect to the guidelines and modus operandi that the other EU institutions operate, and the EU operates.
Mark, you wanted to ask questions on the interim arrangements, which I assume will be phase 1.
Yes. If I could just ask one additional to this, and then move into the interim, if I may. Notwithstanding your comments about Wednesday's meeting with Mr Barnier and forthcoming discussions with the EU-27 on the north Wales macro-economic region, what, if any, other potential models of co-operation between regions and nations of the UK and the Committee of the Regions exist, if any?
There are other bodies. My own city, if I can use this as an example, of Birmingham, is part of a network of European cities called Eurocities, where the agenda is along both economic and social policy matters, and you will find that there are a number of areas of the UK, there are parts of Wales, there are towns and cities in Wales, that are in one or other of the networks that currently exist. So, those would continue—no one's advocating that those should disappear—and therefore Wales and Welsh bodies need to maintain their interest in those other possibilities, if you like. So, there's not, in any way, a duplication here. What I'm speaking of is something that would have a deeper opportunity, if you like, than will come out of most of those networks, because it is currently a recognised strategy of the EU. So, the EU have subscribed to this notion of macro-economic regions; there is funding then that can be unlocked, one would hope, as a consequence of that. We do not know whether, for example, INTERREG moneys are going to be available to us post Brexit, and whether we can buy into, for example, INTERREG, but that cross-border type activity, that opportunity to, perhaps, open up funding opportunities with the EU, is something that could come with a macro-economic region. That's why we've placed a lot of focus on that, because the potential of a macro-economic region, for us, seems greater than a number of the other opportunities that we could possibly enter into.
Thank you. And then moving on to look at interim arrangements while more lasting solutions are found, what options do you believe or know to exist, particularly in the context of transition and talk of possible extended customs arrangements—and then, of course, longer term?
We spent—by 'we', I mean the UK delegation on the Committee of the Regions—perhaps about six months in a number of different meetings discussing what our short-term arrangements might be. We already have in place committees that exist between an accession country and the COR. Those have been in place for quite some while. So, with the last batch of member states that came into the EU, there were committees meeting between local government representatives, in the main, I would think, of those countries, and the COR, to look at preparations for the eventual accession of that member state to the EU. So, we have, in that sense, precedent, which is turning the coin around the other way, because we're a country that's leaving rather than a country that's joining. So, the example of a joint committee already exists with the Committee of the Regions. It's set up in terms of the rules within which—or the remit within which—the Committee of the Regions operates, which is why we thought we would not require the agreement of member states to the Committee of the Regions setting up a joint committee between the Committee of the Regions and local and devolved administrations in the UK.
The Barnier meeting on Wednesday is for us to try and ensure that our interpretation of these matters is the correct one, because the Committee of the Regions—it comes, David, in a sense, from your earlier comment or question—the Committee of the Regions is unlikely to pursue a particular matter or a particular way forward, if you like, if we are advised, shall we say, by Barnier's team, that the withdrawal agreement is likely to prevent such arrangements happening. That would put a block on the Committee of the Regions proceeding in that way. If, as I suspect, Barnier is going to say, 'Well, I don't see why this cannot happen', that gives us a green light, if you like, to try and ensure that these arrangements are put in place.
Why these arrangements? Because we have looked at alternatives and we do believe, because of what our experience is already, albeit with accession countries, that there is an opportunity that could come from a joint committee. It needs to be set up quickly. The precedent is, in a sense, there. It could be set up quickly. There are issues to be resolved: for example, the Committee of the Regions would obviously meet the expenditure of its own members; who meets the expenditure of the members who are from the UK side? So, there are issues like that that would have to be resolved. How often would a joint committee meet? The remit of a joint committee, surely, would be to replace, in a sense, what is currently there with the Committee of the Regions.
The Committee of the Regions is there to look at legislation as it's coming through or, perhaps, with regulations et cetera that are required for the future, to look at those in advance of these things happening and to give advice et cetera in terms of legislation and regulations. During the transition period, the EU-27 will continue their legislative processes. If we are within a transition period, we will be affected by those changes of process. Therefore, it seems to be sensible for us to try and maintain some of the arrangements we have at the present moment within that transition period.
What the Government are proposing for those matters that are not devolved is to have a joint committee of representatives of the four administrations—if I include Northern Ireland in this one—and Government Ministers, not specified, on a frequency of three times per year. Well, frankly, unless there is work done between those meetings that puts in the sort of detailed consideration that the Committee of the Regions currently puts in, I can't see how that is going to replace the role, if you like, of the Committee of the Regions on behalf of local government and the devolved administrations. For devolved matters, of course, you'll have other arrangements, but I think what we're proposing here in terms of a joint committee could be more meaningful within the transition period than what I think I see at the moment being proposed by Government in terms of a joint committee.
Can I just ask, what consideration have you given to an end date for what you propose and whatever succession arrangements might follow?
That's why I said, I think, in answer to an earlier question or comment that we can try and map all of these things out, but with what certainty, I have a question mark. I'm still trying in my own head to come to an understanding of what the Chequers agreement means. I think, like Barnier and his team, I'm waiting to see the White Paper on Thursday, if it appears on Thursday, because I want to know what the detail of this is. And that's my answer to you, in a sense.
The detail of the final withdrawal agreement is dependent, as I understand it, on other matters that are still being discussed. So, it's the withdrawal agreement and the future arrangements that will give us the necessary detail to finalise arrangements that we might try and make on behalf of local and regional government, devolved Governments, administrations here in the UK and the likes of the Committee of the Regions. Until we've got that detail, it's not speculation but it's in-advance thinking, if you like, about what we possibly need to set up and when. As we progress this agenda, the detail of that will become firmer and firmer is what I'm trying to say to you.
Yes. Can I just come back to the macro-economic regions' point? How do you foresee that working? What restrictions would be imposed on the member states of that region, if we were to go down that route?
Let me start by perhaps answering a question that you haven't posed within that question to me. The one thing that we have already said is that the representation from the UK in any macro-economic region set-up would have to be balanced across the UK. It would have to respect local government across the UK, it would have to respect devolved administrations across the UK. Therefore, just as with the Committee of the Regions—we have that balance in terms of the membership of the Committee of the Regions—any organisational arrangements for that macro-economic region would have to have the same balance from the governance arrangements of the UK.
Beyond that we haven't gone in terms of thinking. We can start by exploring what currently happens, and what has happened for a while, in terms of the Baltic macro-economic region, the Danube one, which is much more recent. There are others—there are other bodies that the COR has been operating in terms of the Mediterranean, for example. We can look to see what have been the arrangements in some of these other areas, what has worked and what has not worked. That is an agenda we have not yet got to, but if this macro-economic regional strategy is a goer, there is another phase of work that needs to be done—and it will have to be done—in order to put that macro-economic strategy in place with some sort of administration framework, which will make it work.
Who would set—? I know you're saying that it's—. You may well answer me—I don't know—but I have to ask the question. As an educated guess, what's the most likely means of setting an economic policy and trade policy in that macro region that's going to be most acceptable to the EU states?
Trade policy I'll take out of the question for just a moment, but I'll come back to trade issues.
The EU has been, for me, exemplary in the way that it's looked to the future in terms of cohesion policy, and by that I mean that there are three pillars to this: there's the economic pillar, there's the social pillar, and there's the territorial pillar. So, we're talking about economic cohesion, territorial cohesion and social infrastructure cohesion. That has been the basis of a great many of the funding opportunities that the EU has made available, meeting the remit, if you like, of cohesion policy.
A macro-economic region is, in a sense, doing the same but not within the member state. There is more and more indication that border regions, for example, have their own particular issues and problems, and therefore a cross-border policy has become more and more a discussion point within the likes of the Committee of the Regions. We're talking about a rather larger example of a cross-border type of relationship. We're talking about something that is much bigger geographically, but would be trying to take forward some of the priorities that we need to address within that wider macro-economic region. But the EU would see it as part of their overall regional policy—something that would extend from a member state into another member state, or from an EU member state into a non-EU member state.
Trade is something else here, and maybe if I go off on a tangent just a little bit, one of the things I'm trying to get my own city to do is to properly set down what the potential economic trade impacts are going to be of Brexit. Of course, it's of different shades of Brexit, if you like. Why am I interested in that? Well, we know what the answer is because this work has been done; the academic work has been done for the EU-28. And that academic work points out clearly that the most affected regions in the EU-28 are the UK regions. After that, it's Ireland, and after that, it's Germany. But it's asymmetric in terms of impact, or potential impact. But it's also sector dependent, and so, what I'm trying to get my own city to do—for Birmingham and the west midlands—is to take that geographical area and work out what the sector impact is likely to be. Now, I know what it's going to be. Advanced manufacturing, for example, is going to be one of those hardest hit because of not being able to, without a customs union, not being able to operate on a just-in-time system.
Why do I want that information? And this is something, I think, the Welsh Assembly should be doing, if it's not doing it already, is actually identifying which sectors of the economy are going to be, potentially, hardest hit. Once you've got that on a regional basis within Wales, once I've got that on a regional basis within Birmingham and the west midlands, what I want to do is approach those businesses themselves, the firms themselves.
We did this work about 15 years ago, when BMW moved out of Rover in Longbridge, Birmingham—you may remember that. What we did was an analysis of what the product line was in terms of component manufacturers, et cetera—the supply chain; we looked at the supply chain, top down and bottom up. Once we got the supply chain identified, we could then go to those firms and say, 'Wait a minute, how much of your turnover is based upon Rover?' And you've got these firms who were 100 per cent dependent on Rover.
You'll have SMEs and businesses in Wales—I'll have SMEs and businesses in Birmingham and the west midlands—who will have a dependency on trade that is above a particular figure and, therefore, we ought to be looking at those, we ought to be now trying to do work with those companies to see how we can mitigate what the potential impact of Brexit might be.
So, I think on the trade issue, there is another agenda here that doesn't quite—. Yes, it has a relationship with that macro-economic agenda, because what we've been wanting to do is safeguard our economic position, but there are a set of issues around trade that I think are going to cool down another agenda. But, of course, it may be about the diversification of some of those businesses; it may be about putting in additional support in terms of trading measures, and so on and so forth. There are lots of different responses that perhaps we can make. So, I see the trade one as a slightly different agenda than the overall economic agenda, which we've so far been talking about.
Thank you. You've talked very much about the macro-economic regional strategy, but when we met, there was also another opportunity, and that was the European grouping of territorial co-operation type of approach, which apparently didn't rely upon council approval because that's already built in. The UK has not been part of any of that so far. Is that something that the UK delegation is now looking at as another opportunity, in addition to the macro-economic regional strategy?
The answer is 'no', but the answer is that in developing this agenda, we will have to revisit what is currently in place. And you're quite correct, EGTCs have been a growing aspect of the agenda of the EU, and have found their way into budget lines—all to the good. So, if we are to go down the route of a macro-economic region, and we have precedents for that—I've given you examples of that—then we need to look at what other opportunities there are, or facilities, if you like, that can be brought into play in taking forward a firmer version of a north-west Europe macro-economic region. So, I'm not dismissing it out of hand, I'm saying we haven't yet got into the detail that would be needed around this, and EGTCs are part of the agenda that would have to be considered.
Okay. Obviously, you've mentioned Michel Barnier's meeting with senior officials from the Committee of the Regions on Wednesday. Does the UK delegation have its meetings with the UK Government? Because how do we influence the UK Government's position on the negotiations to ensure that this aspect is not blocked off in the withdrawal agreement, if we get one?
Two comments, I think: (1) local government across the UK and the devolved administrations have been engaged on a Brexit taskforce. For example, the arrangement that Government have proposed—. Because I think they were very clever here in pointing out to Government that the Committee of the Regions had a particular remit, and, if Government were going to bring back to the UK all that was part of that EU infrastructure, what they also had to do is bring back something that local government and devolved administrations had, in terms of the remit of the COR. Out of that has come the Government's proposal for this joint committee. But just to think it through in that way I thought was quite a clever way of trying to bring the issue onto the table. Because the Government made it quite clear that they are not going to reinvent a Committee of the Regions in the UK—they've said so quite clearly. There will be no dismantling of the COR on a EU-28 basis and the reinstatement of that role through a wider committee, involving local government and the devolved administrations. So, what we have here is an agenda where we've been through that Brexit taskforce, trying to influence the way in which the UK Government has been behaving, or operating, and its own agenda as far as Brexit is concerned.
With the COR, there are a number of things that I could say here. We have had a series of meetings, for example. The president of the Committee of the Regions has visited the four nation states. The president of the Committee of the Regions has addressed the Local Government Association conference—it happened to be last year in Birmingham; that happened. The Committee of the Regions itself has debated Brexit matters several times. There are now several resolutions—two resolutions that have been adopted by the Committee of the Regions, one which expressly mentions the future collaboration between local government and devolved administrations within the UK and the EU-27. Now, therefore, we have been trying to influence, if you like, the debate, both locally, i.e. within the UK, but also within the EU-27, to try and make sure that the voice, if you like, of local government and the devolved administrations is known about within the UK Government. I gave you the example where there has been success. I'm not saying that the joint committee is something I was looking for, but at least it's something that has come out of that discussion that there has so far been with the UK Government.
On that point, based upon last week's meeting of the JMC(EN), which is the joint ministerial committee of Ministers, and where both the Scottish and the Welsh Government's Ministers were exasperated by the fact that they didn't have access to information they needed to discuss before this, does that give you confidence that any joint committee we discuss will actually deliver?
I think the answer to that question I've already given. If you're going to replicate the opportunity you have with the Committee of the Regions to influence the legislative process, then it requires rather more than three meetings a year. It requires a great deal of work being done in between meetings, to look at what the agenda might be, what the legislative agenda might be, what it's impact is likely to be on local government, on the devolved administrations, and it requires people at that level of local government and the devolved administrations to be working through those issues so that very pointed questions can be put to Government, and, if there were only to be three meetings a year, it can only be a tick-box type exercise, but the work has to happen between meetings. That's, in fact, what the Committee of the Regions is doing—it's working between these so-called meetings, trying to understand where the legislative process is going and trying to understand what the impact might be and, therefore, what can be done, if you like, about that. Now, that goes on now—I spent three days in Brussels last week, in the plenary of the Committee of the Regions, and there were a number of so-called opinions that were addressing a number of issues around the EU-27 agenda, because it has now got to that. We're now looking at beyond 2020.
The Committee of the Regions is, at the moment, working out opinions on the multi-annual financial framework. That's the budget for the EU-27. Yes, it's the EU-27—they've forgotten about the twenty-eighth member; we don't appear in any of these discussions. But they've got a draft budget for 2021-27. It's there. No-one speaks about it, but there is a draft budget already there. The Committee of the Regions is, at the moment, putting its own views together on the MFF for 2021-27; it's putting its own views together on the regulations that will sit alongside that budget.
So, this is the sort of in-depth work that goes on, which, at the moment, the UK Government doesn't envisage in terms of its future relationship, shall I say, with local government, in terms of legislative processes within the UK Government. So, for me, the UK, and UK local government particularly, will be losing a great deal that it currently has because of the existence of the COR. It's not going to be replicated. That opportunity will not be replicated by British Government back here in the UK.
And the interim proposals you've talked about, which may be accepted, may not be—we've yet to hear of that—. The joint committee to have those discussions with the COR—I'm assuming they'll meet more regularly, because we will still want to have an influence upon legislation making within the EU, particularly during a time in which, during transition, we need to be abiding by EU law.
Absolutely. The legislative process within the Commission is one that churns. There was a period two years ago, with the current President of the Commission, where the legislative process had almost come to a halt. If you ask Members of the European Parliament, they will tell you that the work that they had to do two years, three years ago had collapsed in terms of the amount of work that was required of the European Parliament. It was the same with the Committee of the Regions. There were fewer and fewer legislative proposals coming through the European Commission. But that has changed—it's changing because we're now moving into a new multi-annual financial framework period. There's a lot more activity, therefore, which is now before the institutions of the EU, than there has been for some while now. We just need to be—. There'll be an impact of that in any interim period, in the transition period, and we're not going to be there. The withdrawal agreement makes it quite clear that there's going to be no Committee of the Regions, there'll be no economic and social committee, there'll be no British membership of the European Parliament, and so on and so forth. We are simply not going to be at the table. Yet the processes within the EU-27 will continue and will, undoubtedly, in some cases, have an impact upon the UK, even if the UK is, in due course, to leave after a transition period. So, I find it regrettable that, in the draft withdrawal agreement, that British representation on the institutions of Europe is taken out. I don't quite understand why Government have done this. There are others I could mention. I don't see the logic in taking us out of the European Investment Bank. The European structural investment fund has become as important to us as the European fund for strategic investments—that Juncker agenda. In financial terms, the EFSI spend now is many times greater than the ESIF spend, albeit they're loans, not grants. But the economic impact of EFSI is now something that we have to look carefully at, but the UK Government are taking us out of the European Investment Bank. Why? There are so many issues here and so many questions. The withdrawal agreement doesn't really give you the logic for the proposals that lie within that draft withdrawal agreement.
And perhaps—. I also want to try and find out—. Obviously, we've not had representation on the Committee of the Regions from the Assembly for various reasons, and we understand perhaps that our nominee has now been approved by the UK Government, but is still to go to the Council for confirmation. How is Wales's voice being heard on the UK delegation on the Committee of the Regions?
I have the paper that presumably was signed off on Friday. I was sitting at Brussels Airport, trying to get back to the UK, and I got an e-mail telling me that they'd found that the document was about to be signed off on Friday—unfortunately not all the vacancies. All the Welsh vacancies are being filled but not all of the vacancies, I'm afraid, which is a bit of a shame because I doubt that any of those other vacancies will now be filled. It's been very difficult for us because the number of vacancies—I can't remember it offhand, but there are—. I asked for some work to be done just last week, once I was across there. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15—17. There were 17 vacancies across the full-time members and alternate members. That's 17 out of 48. It varied, political grouping by political grouping. If I just show you, because this is the work I asked the LGA to do for me last week—that's the ECR membership, the Conservative membership, and you can see there are 12 people in place; there were four vacancies. This one will horrify you: that's the Labour side. There were nine current members and nine vacancies. It was impossible for the work to be spread out and done.
The European Alliance is the next one, and they had only one vacancy—seven current members and one vacancy. The ALDE grouping—that's the Liberal Democrats—they had one out of three. But you see—17, if that was the number I counted, out of 48 meant that it was very difficult.
We've had, since the inception of the COR, a policy whereby—. Well, go back a step. The Committee of the Regions allocates two commissions—committee places, that is; you use 'commission' instead of 'committee'— to each full member, and the UK delegation has had a policy from the very inception of the COR that the full member would not take on the work of two commissions but would pass the work of one of those commissions onto an alternate member. That was a way of engaging the alternate member, but, under the rules of the COR, that's an internal arrangement of the UK delegation, which has meant that, where you've got a full member who has resigned or has stepped down or whatever, the alternate member has not been engaged because the commission place is assigned to the full member and, if the full member isn't there, isn't on the list, then there is no assignment of a commission place. That has meant that a number of alternate members have simply not been engaged, nor could they be engaged, and that vacancy rate has made it very difficult for there to be proper representation within some of those commissions. So, I think the work has not failed, but the work hasn't been as easy to accomplish, if you like, because of the large vacancy position that has been amongst the UK delegation. Why it takes so long to actually fill vacancies I don't understand. It doesn't take the other 27 member states the same time as it takes them, but it's always been the case with the British Government. I go back over several Governments, and they've always taken a huge amount of time in deciding to fill those vacancies.
So, I think the work has been undermined. Hopefully, now, in terms of the Welsh Assembly, but also Welsh local government, you have your three vacancies filled, and therefore at least you'll have that representation at the table, and that will start from September onwards.
Before I bring Jane in, has the Welsh Government been involved in discussions with you at any point whilst we've had no representation? Have you had any sort of representation from Wales to sort of help you influence your thinking and policy ideas?
I'll go back to the Brexit taskforce, which is hosted by the English Local Government Association, but has representation from elsewhere, albeit in an observer capacity. That's where there has been representation. For example, just so that I knew what I was talking about, I've got the Welsh Local Government Association briefing, and that's a briefing that goes into that Brexit taskforce. So, there has been an input. We use whatever channels there are in order to try and keep people engaged, but those channels are not particularly open in some cases, and the vacancy issue around the COR has been one of those problems.
Yes, I just wondered if—. There have been delays that haven't been of our own making here—those 17 vacancies really weaken your position for you as the UK delegation, but it will be important to know whether those other vacancies that you read out are where the delay lies, so that some action can be taken.
One of the problems we have is that a number of those vacancies that haven't been filled by the Council on Friday arise as a result of members either not standing in the elections in May or losing their seats in the elections in May, and the bodies that are the nominating bodies have not got round to putting forward nominations. I can understand that because if it's taken over a year to get other nominations filled or accepted, we'll go beyond 29 March before any consideration is given to appointing to those vacancies. I doubt whether, in fact, the nominating bodies will actually attempt to do that—attempt to bring forward nominations. It hits particularly the English members, and in particular it hits the Labour members in the English delegation because two full members actually stood down at the May elections.
Yes, they stood down as local government representatives—
—and therefore their position on the COR automatically goes. So, we are carrying a number of vacancies into the period to 29 March. I doubt those vacancies will be filled. The process is ridiculous, isn't it? It's labyrinthal. You, in Wales, through the Welsh LGA and the Welsh Assembly put forward nominations. It's the same as the Scottish Parliament and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. You balance it out between local government and the devolved administration. It's the same in Northern Ireland, but we don't have an Assembly there yet, or now. But it's the LGA in England who does it for England as a whole. But then the nominations all go into Government. As I understand it, every department of state has to sign off. It's not just the Foreign Office or whatever, or the Cabinet Office. Every department of state has to sign these things off. It's labyrinthal. It's unbelievable.
Thank you. You just spoke about the need for a body to operate between the three annual, more currently, JMC meetings. There has been a ministerial forum now created. Has local government been invited to be engaged in that in any way? My second question, very briefly: one of the issues that's been raised with us in a different context has been what dispute resolution arrangements might exist in the future, either in terms of breach of regulatory alignment with the EU, or in terms of breach of whatever UK frameworks are agreed for a UK internal market. What role, if any, has the Committee of the Regions played in dispute resolution, cross-border, to prevent things escalating? And my final question is in terms of the European Investment Bank. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that only member states can be shareholding members, but is there any precedent for non-EU or European Economic Area states to be members of the EIB?
Well, if we start with your final question, the answer is 'yes': non-EU member states do draw down from the European Investment Bank, but the sums that are drawn down are very insignificant, in many respects, to what is drawn down by EU members. So, I think, yes, we will have access as a non-EU member state, but I think it will be rather more limited than what we have at this present moment in time.
Sorry, you'll now have to remind me—can we go back to the second one?
The second one, I think, was the UK ministerial forum that's been established.
It doesn't matter.
One of the things that is not well known about the Committee of the Regions is that, as part of its remit, it can go to the European Court of Justice. If there is a breach of subsidiarity, it can appeal to the European Court of Justice. That's not going to be replicated in any way by the British Government, you can be sure of that. But it is about holding people to account through the processes that you're engaged in. So, in taking resolutions through the Committee of the Regions, taking opinions through the Committee of the Regions, in opening doors to commissioners, which is what rapporteurs on opinions can do much more easily than if you're not a rapporteur. Then, all of that is about understanding what is going on, holding people to account, getting information and giving publicity to that information, which serves the purpose of influencing what is happening at whatever level we're talking about here.
So, that is going to disappear, because what is being talked about at the moment by the British Government is something that will have a small representation from the four—if we include Northern Ireland—nations. They haven't yet specified on what basis that will be put together, and they have not talked about what the behind-the-scenes level of activity is going to be in support of all of that. So, in picking up your first and second questions, you are, I think, going to see a deficit arising here, a local government, devolved administration deficit arising here, as a consequence of matters not now being taken forward in the way that we're able to through the presence of the Committee of the Regions.
And the ministerial forum that's been established, is local government engaged in any way?
Not that I know of, which is another way, if you like, of repeating what I've just said. I'm not aware of the engagement of local government, other than through, perhaps, if there has been engagement, maybe a senior person in one of the local government associations or whatever. But I'm not aware of local government per se being engaged.
A final question from me, just for clarification: the political groupings you've mentioned in the Committee of the Regions, are they mirroring the political groupings in the European Parliament?
Yes [correction: Yes, for the larger groups].
Okay, thank you. Can I thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon? Your experience, both in the Committee of the Regions and the UK delegation has been very invaluable for us to understand some of the issues going on. Please keep up with your work, as we, as a nation, obviously, want to continue our close relationships with the institutions in Europe, and the agreements you can achieve by your work, as to how the Committee of the Regions can interact with us in the future, will be very helpful for us. And hopefully you will have Welsh representation at the next plenary—or you definitely will now—and perhaps sooner than that as well. So, thank you very much. You will get a copy of the transcript to check for any factual inaccuracies. Let us know as soon as possible, please, if there are any. Thank you very much again.
And thank you, David, for the opportunity. I've enjoyed myself.
I now propose we have a five-minute recess before the next session. Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:05 a 15:12.
The meeting adjourned between 15:05 and 15:12.
Can I welcome everyone back to this afternoon's session of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee? We're going to continue our evidence session this afternoon on our future relationship with the EU. I'm pleased to welcome Tom Jones, who is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee on behalf of Wales. Welcome. Perhaps you'd like to give a short introduction as to your role within that committee, and then we'll go into some questions as to the relationships we have.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Can I say a few words in Welsh?
You can. Translation is available from Welsh to English, so by all means go ahead.
Dim ond i ddiolch yn fawr iawn am y gwahodiad i ddod i roi cyflwyniad i chi heddiw'r prynhawn. Rwy'n rhoi hwnnw fel unigolyn efo cysylltiadau â gwahanol fudiadau, ond fel unigolyn rwy'n rhoi'r dystiolaeth. Rwy'n falch iawn fod y pwyllgor yn dyfnhau eich ymchwil i beth sydd yn mynd i ddigwydd ar ôl y cyfnod yma, ac mae'n fraint i mi drio gwneud hynny, gan gofio fy mod i wedi clywed rhywfaint o'r drafodaeth gawsoch chi yn gynharach efo cyngor y rhanbarthau. Fel dwy chwaer, mae'n debyg, mae'r ddau gorff yn cael eu disgrifio—dau gorff statudol, ymgynghorol.
I just wanted to thank you very much for the invitation to come and give a presentation to you this afternoon. I give that presentation as an individual with links with various organisations, but it will be as an individual that I will give evidence. I am very glad that the committee is extending its research into what will happen after this period of time, and it's a privilege to try to talk about that, bearing in mind that I overheard some of the discussion that you had earlier on with the representative of the Committee of the Regions. The two bodies are often described as two sisters—two statutory, consultative bodies.
And I'll now turn to English. The two bodies are described as two sisters but, from my perspective, in terms of participative democracy, we all believe that citizens need to be as close to decision making as possible. So, if you have intermediaries then, obviously, we have to understand what our role is, where, in that sense, the word 'bridge' comes in. We facilitate as we provide platforms for citizens and civil society organisations to influence and to take part in decision making. We try, then, as you do, to collate information and give advice to political decision makers about the way forward when there are often conflicting views. So, that's the perspective that we come from.
But the other difference currently between the two bodies is that, as you've just heard, there has been no representation from Wales recently on the Committee of the Regions, and, if I just explain very, very briefly, my current commitments will give you an example of why, if, after the end of March next year, we leave the European Economic and Social Committee, this will be some of the void that will take place.
So, within this current month, last Friday, I was in Pontypridd with a previous Assembly Member, and we were talking and presenting awards to the Wales cultural heritage schools competition. And I gave a special award there, to bring a school with me to Brussels in September to shadow me, and I do a great deal of that. That's part of my bridge-enabling role. So, I have, for the last three years now, taken the two winners of the Urdd competitions—the public speaking winners—with me to Brussels to shadow me. I had four students from international politics at Aberystwyth with me back in April. I've had other students with me as well over the year. I tend to say to all of them, 'You find your way to St Pancras and I'll look after you then.' And we go to the Welsh Government's office in Brussels, and they're always very kindly welcomed. They're given briefings by the staff there on how they advise Ministers when they visit Brussels. We go to a Commission office, if it's possible, to hear about how the Commission officials work. There's a museum just opened in Brussels—the House of European History—and we take them there, and we go to the Parliament and meet whichever parliamentary member from Wales is available to meet them. And that gives them an experience that I think is extremely important as part of this gathering of information and giving confidence to young people.
I had an e-mail just last week from a young person who I took three years ago to Brussels, and he was saying, 'Just to let you know, Tom, I've just completed my second year at university in Bristol doing politics and economics and I've just won a placement in Sacramento, in the governor's office, for the summer, but it was your taking me to Brussels that started my interest in citizen responsibility and accountability.'
So, that's part of the role, which I love doing and I think is extremely important, and who knows which one of these will actually turn out one day to have the most benefit from it.
Then, the other role that I can play is that, when we have conferences in Brussels, I can propose somebody from Wales to be a speaker. Again, you have to have some influence and you have to be quick on the ball to find an opportunity, but I have done that. I've had young farmer representatives out speaking, I've had Wales Council for Voluntary Action people speaking on social enterprises. So, again, we're able to tell the Wales story to a wider audience by having somebody there and then watching, looking for the opportunity to say, 'We have the best'. Sometimes it's not always provable, but if you get in there, you put your name forward, that happens.
The other thing is that we write opinions, and that's how we provide advice, as you know, and I've done three in the last four years. One was on the rural development programme, one was on the future of villages and small towns across Europe, and the one I'm doing this year is on the European Year of Cultural Heritage and the contribution of rural areas to cultural heritage, and the contribution of culture to the economy and the social side of rural areas. Now, to do that, I have to pitch, as you do here probably, and they do in Parliament in London, to have an opinion as a private Member's Bill. And I came top of the poll this year again, and, in one sense, you think, 'Well, why on earth would anybody want to support a UK, leaving member to become top of the poll to have the next six months of support?' But I did, and I've written the drafts of this opinion. We've had a hearing in Brussels and, in less than three weeks' time, we'll be in the room next door here. I've got a delegation from Europe, because that's the other opportunity you get—you can take somebody of your choice to an area of your choice to look in-depth at the issue. And this is team Wales at play, which is why I just wanted to say it very briefly.
So, I've got 20 colleagues from 10 different countries coming to Wales on 24 and 25 July, and this is the itinerary: we start in Cardiff, and we hope to have a free trip around the Millennium Stadium in the morning; we go to St Fagans in the early afternoon to look at, obviously, the cultural history of Wales, as displayed in St Fagans; we come here—and I'm grateful to the Llywydd for making it happen because you'll have all gone for the summer—and we've got committee room 3 here. We've got a hearing, so I've got one of the schools that were awarded a prize last Friday coming here to do their little presentation on culture. We have an evidence one from Lampeter University on how they're actually using modern technology to re-identify and clarify gravestones and transcripts and so on. So, that's the afternoon.
We have a dinner in Sïo, in the little social enterprise restaurant next door. Peter Davies, my chair at the WCVA, will be the guest speaker. And then we go to the Royal Welsh Show next day—seven o'clock bus—and the Welsh Government is helping me organise. We're going to the food hall, so we'll look at, obviously, the cultural history of food in Wales and its importance. We have a speech from the chief executive of Natural Resources Wales. She will talk about the environment, the landscape and their importance to Wales. Then we have a reception in the Welsh Government building, and, again, I've got guests coming there. We'll have a discussion with Lantra, Menter a Busnes, probably, and the young farmers, about rural skills and the need for them to be maintained. So, if you like, I'm opening the window, and Wales plc is at work, as I say. The Welsh Government is helping me, and these various organisations are making it possible. That will disappear when we leave next March, if everything stays as we understand it to be now.
Also, I've been to many, many places across Europe these last 12 months to speak about social inclusion in rural areas. I've been to Krakow, I've been to Croatia, I've been to the Netherlands, I've been to Spain, and Scotland as well. So, again, currently, because we are members, and because there is a general respect for UK members within the European Economic and Social Committee, because of our strength in democratic organisations and practices—. And that, I suppose, is the underlying thing—if and when we leave the European Union, if we've got something worth demonstrating, if we've got something worth showing, then things will happen. In other words, as we deviate—if we do—in terms of legislation and in terms of practices, as long as we are still ahead of the game and that our democracies and our social enterprises, our businesses, and our social functions still continue to evolve, then I think our European colleagues will still want to come and learn from us and will want to share information. So, that's my optimistic hope about it all. But, as I say, all these things currently happen because we're still part of the team and we're business as usual. So, different to the previous speaker, we've not discussed what's going to happen next year—I try and play it down.
That's what we need to explore a little bit with you, and I'll leave it to Jane to start off.
It's very interesting to know, because you're such an ambassador for Wales and bringing such experience. I have to say it's very good to see you, Tom, in this very important role. But, has there been any discussion at all, for example with your UK members, and the UK members with the rest of the committee, about future options to develop or to maintain or look at future relationships with the European Economic and Social Committee?
The headline answer is 'no'. In one sense, tactically, we thought, certainly up until now, that if we keep business as usual then we will still be able to play a full part, because nobody can throw it back at us and say, 'Oh well, you're leaving, you're going to try and create a different relationship, or whatever, so why should you therefore be involved in our discussions?' So, currently, we haven't. Informally, of course, we're always discussing it; we have a meeting this Wednesday in Brussels with the UKRep representation. But, again, there are no formal attempts. In one sense, it's our relative inertia, in a way, because we don't want to be seen to be campaigning for ourselves. Although, in my case, I always said that my current appointment would have come to an end in 2020, and it was always my idea that somebody in WCVA would shadow me for the last year so that, actually, the third sector would have a voice in Brussels after my terms were up.
Within the UK delegation, there is no agreed point of view either, because we're more individualistic. We're nominated by trade unions, we're nominated by employer organisations, we're nominated by third sector organisations—it's not quite the same thing as probably elected regional Assembly Members can work in that sense. And when we broadly asked amongst ourselves—particularly the Northern Ireland and the Scottish colleagues of mine, and myself—we thought perhaps we should actually be explaining to people like you what the loss would be and whether there would be any wish to continue. Some of our colleagues said, 'No, we accept the referendum decision. We don't want to be seen to be campaigning for our jobs in the future, so we don't want to be part of it.' So, there is no clear view within our committee, currently, as to how it should operate. There is an argument that could be made, of course, that, during the transition period, because we're not an executive body—we can't decide anything; we can only advise—. So, you could argue, as was said previously, that it's in the UK's and Wales's interest to have voices still in Brussels for that two-year transitional period. But, as I say, we haven't made a formal request. I know that all my colleagues outside of the UK in the European committee would want us to stay, and would be very willing to enter into any discussions. So, that's the headline response.
I suppose somebody's got to be thinking about future options for formal or informal relationships, because what you were able to do, just in your opening remarks, was demonstrate to me how important you are, as an individual, and how you've used your post on the economic and social committee—important, particularly, I would say, to young people in Wales, but also important for just raising awareness in Europe. And I think the fact that you've done so many opinions has been very important because you've brought your experience into that and developed evidence, which is important, not just for Wales, but obviously for the rest of the UK, and Europe as well. So, for me, this would be a huge loss of that kind of expertise and you are a representative—you are an individual, but you're particularly bringing your evidence and experience. But, I think, in terms of formal or informal, we know from the evidence we've taken in our review and inquiry into future relationships that organisations, particularly in the third sector in civil society, want to be able to maintain or develop and sustain those relationships that are so important. Do you think you will have an opportunity to consider these matters?
There are almost two issues there, but they are linked. The first one of course is that if it's an informal relationship, an advisory relationship, as you heard earlier, who really wants to be involved in that sort of relationship? We are currently in an equal-basis relationship—we're actually contributing to European policy making and, therefore, decision making. So, that's something worth getting out of bed for and getting fully engaged with, with all our colleagues. The advisory roles would tend to be probably pushed further back, but, as was said previously, who will fund the preparations for meetings?
Presumably, if there were a very, very soft Brexit, with lots and lots of close alignments—. In my field of agriculture, et cetera, given that the European Union will not stop changing—it'll continue to evolve, as we would evolve—in that sense, the rules on health and medicines and animal welfare and everything will continuously need to be reviewed. I look at my Norwegian colleagues, who I have quite a bit to do with in Brussels, and they obviously play their full part in lobbying, in getting involved in decisions, which are a matter of interest to them, although they're not at the final table for making discussions. So, there are possibilities. Within the committee, we have an old pupils association, but, again, that has no purpose apart from friends meeting friends, which obviously is valuable, but it wouldn't contribute much to any future advisory roles in any way.
As again was said previously, the Commission is very, very supportive of would-be members having associate membership and being invited to events and conferences. That's obviously a fairly easy one, I would imagine, to create, although, as the head of the young farmers organisation in Europe was saying to me, we have Serbia and we have the UK as two possible associate members, but you can't really put the two in the same box, because the one is very, very small, and would bring limited resources of policy, expertise, information and funding, whereas the other one, we rely on extremely heavily and have done so over the years. So, actually, you would have to almost have a two-stream associate membership, and nobody's suggested that, of course, but obviously you can see the dilemma of that. And, of course, the European Commission funds that because it wants to bring people in—so, Macedonia and Iceland and so on—as potential new members. In that sense, it's in their interest to make it as attractive as possible.
Because the problem is, as you say—. We've asked the Welsh Government—and they have drawn it up and are still drawing it up—for a list of existing connections at governmental levels and at voluntary sector level, but the list is massive. How do you then actually support that? Because, as I was saying about my young people coming to Brussels, the cost is the thing, isn't it? How do you actually—? Yes, the internet is available, but you do still need to meet people face-to-face from time to time, and the cost of getting there, staying overnight, and so on means money for somebody. So, having had a full list of existing organisations that you would have to add to and drop out of, who then manages any support for that list? Is it politicians? Is it Government officials? Would you have some sort of pyramid structure where every year, or every three years, you'd invite organisations to apply for a pot of money? I would suggest that if you went down that route, then, obviously, you should start at a UK level, because it's the UK that's making the savings by withdrawing from Brussels. So, you could argue that, actually, that money should come there and then needs to be apportioned in some way, so that civil society organisations get their fair share in the nations. That's one way of doing it.
Or, you could have an independent body of some sort that could actually decide on need of organisations. I'm particularly thinking of smaller organisations. The larger ones may well be able to self-fund to a greater extent, but the smaller ones would struggle to actually participate. Because there isn't any point in going to one meeting once a year. I don't think you will learn a great deal from that, but if you're on a study group and on a working group—. I've just been a thematic group now for the Commission on smart villages. We've met probably four or five times in the last year. We've heard evidence from all parts of Europe, not just the European Union, and that's been extremely informative. But, as I say—
Sorry to interrupt, but is that as a result of your being on this economic and social committee, or is that something else? It is as a result of being on that.
Oh, yes, exactly. But stakeholders are also there. So, again, using my previous example, I invited Menter Môn to send a representative to speak about a project they've done very effectively. PLANED in—
They would have been funded by the Commission to attend. Now, then, take that funding away and you might have local organisations thinking very hard about money. And if the moneys they currently have from different funders are for specific projects and none of them reflect any of that wider European discussions—. But there will be so many that we will still want to play a part in—not European Union, but Europe-wide—about justice, about migration of people, about refugees, about health, and so many other things. There will be so many fields that we would still want to be—as a voluntary sector and as small business and so on—contributing to. If governments don't decide to fund, or only fund a small amount of money for this capacity building, then you should also perhaps have words with the lottery organisations, philanthropic organisations. I know in particular that some philanthropic organisations are very keen on providing inclusive opportunities.
Sorry, you were going to come back in.
I'd like to ask a question. Sorry, Jane. One question: you've talked about all these good schemes and good things that have been going on and about improving civil society and getting civil society engaged with European institutions and European organisations. Most of that, I assume, is funded by the European Commission. Do we have any indication as to how much actually that is? Because, I would have thought that's not included in the figures we get from the EU on the other programmes that we have, but this is an element of civil society that has benefited from our contribution to the EU, per se, but we don't have an idea of how much we—. So, we don't even know whether we'll get a replicate of that figure.
I don't know. I've got no figures to this, but it's probably a combination process, i.e., a lot of the funds I would currently have in Wales through the rural development programme, the agri academy, and so on, would be part funded by Welsh Government and part funded by the programme, which is the Commission, obviously. Which proportion? Well, there are different proportions for different schemes. Sometimes it's 50:50, sometimes it can be higher. And, obviously, organisations themselves will have to find some funds of their own as well, because, obviously, the costs wouldn't be 100 per cent recoverable.
There was a conference of the OECD in Edinburgh now, a couple of months ago. There were several organisations from Wales there, participating very actively. Scotland had organised it, our Scottish colleagues, and people were there from all over the world, but I would imagine that, from the rural development programme, the LEADER programmes, that's where some of that capacity funding came from. So, that will all disappear, unless there is a very, very good relationship in the final settlement between the UK and the European Union, in which both sides agree that a lot of this can still be actually happening.
No, that's very helpful feedback. In terms of your committee at the moment and your experience on the committee, has the committee engaged with, for example, regions of non-member states in any way? Because obviously that's where we're going to be. But obviously there are some who are looking for associate membership, so there may have been engagement as far as that's concerned, but it's kind of going to a regional rather than a member-state level, where we know there's lots of interest. We met with representatives from Quebec, for example, recently in Brussels, because they're so interested in the European relationship for many other reasons. Has there been any engagement of that kind?
Traditionally, the European economic and social committee has been quite active in working with would-be member states. Over the years, the last tranche of member states, and regions within those states, that came into the European Union, the European economic and social committee would have been, for several years, setting up joint working groups, inviting members from those non-European Union states to come and join us, to be observers at our meetings. So, we've done a lot of that bridge-building.
We have a relationship with China, with Russia, and obviously with Africa and South America. I've not been involved with any of those. They work at different levels, so you have summit meetings, where Presidents and so on come together to speak, and then you have, as I say, organisations with similar interests— farming organisations or health organisations would have their bilaterals. That's always been one of the ambassadorial roles of the European economic and social committee. Whether or not that might be fine tuned, in a way, to have—. But, again, they're all about actually building confidence and understanding between organisations. It's not sharing decision making; it's not inputting into decision making, which is a totally different thing. That, I suppose, is what we're going to have to be agreeing, that we will have no decision-making role within the European Union, unless, as I say, the agreements are so close that actually there has to be some joint decision making on some of these issues. Because obviously, trade, et cetera, will have to be badged on both sides.
There's a difference between just pure influencing decision making and influencing individuals involved in the decision making. I think what we're looking at is how the committee might be adjusting to the Brexit period, so that we can have a voice that will be listened to that might then influence those people who influence decision makers. It's a knock-on effect, in one sense.
I appreciate your position in saying, 'We want to get on with the job because that's what we're there for.' I totally understand that, but there's a point at which we also need to say, 'How do we actually continue to have a voice post March 2019?' I think that's the crucial element.
You haven't had those formal discussions yet. Is there anything in the pipeline where those formal discussions might start happening, and you can say, 'How can we continue to have discussions with you afterwards?'
Again, as I say, we've not got anywhere near that position. I think that our plenary in October has something like Brexit as one of the subjects, but I think we're all almost scared of actually having that discussion, as I say, partly because we want to keep business as usual. For me to do my job properly, I need to be treated as an equal. I don't want any whispers in any decision on who goes on which study group, et cetera, to say, 'There's no point having him, he's on his way out.' I don't want to be in that position for as long as possible.
Even yesterday, I was bidding to go on a sub-committee, and obviously I never mentioned that the sub-committee might not have finished its work before I'll have left. My colleagues don't want to fall out about this issue. Of course, with so much uncertainty, we don't really know what we would be discussing. In one sense, I'm glad that the Committee of the Regions seems to be a step ahead, but I didn't really feel that, even there, there is some clarity about it. And whether or not the UK Government wishes to continue having these links is another matter.
Just one point about the regional thing: one of the things that has made my work so enjoyable over the last 12 years is that the European Union has respected regions. Money has been able to come in directly to regions. Obviously, the regions in Germany and in Italy and in Spain lead on these things, so, in terms of identity, people understand what Wales is. And when I speak Welsh in the plenary, when I do from time to time, again, people know exactly where we're from and what we stand for. We need to make sure that that continues into the future and that we don't get lost again in creating the UK framework, which then downsizes the importance and the growth of regionalism within the UK as sister bodies across not just the European Union but Europe.
I'd be surprised if your colleagues weren't aware of the fact that the UK is leaving in March 2019 and understand the consequence of that. Therefore, I think there's a point at which we now need to start asking the questions, 'How can we still be involved? How can we still have a relationship with you post March 2019?', so that we can be clear that the voices you've been expressing, the work you've been doing, can, to an extent, be reflected upon and see how well they can build upon it. So, I hope that you'll take it back to your colleagues to say, 'Look, it's time to have that discussion now. Don't be frightened of Brexit.' Let's take it and say, 'Where do we build on this and how can we ensure that Wales continues to benefit from some of the examples that you've been giving?' Jane.
For example, you're very close to the WCVA—you're a nomination of the WCVA. The WCVA have given a lot of evidence to our inquiries in terms of concern about the future. They're represented on the Welsh Government's European external advisory group. We've encouraged the Welsh Government to develop this list of organisations and networks, but, actually, is civil society—is this being discussed at all, for example for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action to consider the impacts of losing this representation on the economic and social committee?
I've always been indebted to the WCVA, obviously, for all the support I get to do my work, because that gives me strength. Because if I'm representing an organisation that represents all of the third sector in Wales, that gives me a standing that helps a great a deal, and I've always had plenty of support. You'd have to ask Ruth, I suppose, to give a definitive answer as to how the sector feels about its engagement and perhaps loss of engagement in the future. We will need, definitely, to build relationships, and that's why, again, I'm really keen, in this last six months of my time there, to make sure that as many civil society organisations at the European level will keep connections. The internet's a very easy way of doing it. So, as long as we, as I say, have things to give to people, to show people, to share with people, then we will be invited. It's then how do you fund that invitation, that policy development, and that engagement. That's important, particularly for the smaller organisations. There will always be the larger organisations who'll be able to, probably, stay at their European level of representation, regardless of the fact they're not part of the institutions, but there will be plenty of umbrella organisations in Brussels that will want UK organisations to stay as members.
Just on this point of funding. Obviously, there are regions that are members of—I can never remember the full name, but it's the maritime regions organisation—
The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions.
—some of whom aren't, actually, within the EU anyway. Do you know how they tend to fund the delegates that they send to their conferences? Because, obviously, that won't be Commission paid, it'll be whatever their non-EU—
No, I have no idea how they fund that. As I say, the Commission has so many directorates, it has funds for all its working policies and its invites—
But the regions outside the EU wouldn't have access to the Commission money anyway. I'm wondering how they do it.
From memory, I remember going to one event, and there were colleagues there from Iceland, and they were saying, 'It's the Commission who invited us.' But then again, Iceland was a would-be joining member.
Of course, the Council of Europe has its own. Erasmus+ is the key one that we need to be certain that stays. Currently, there is no threat to it, as far as I know. As you know, Hywel Ceri Jones was one of the founders of Erasmus+ and he would die in the trenches to make sure that that excellent scheme continues. But there are others of course: the European Solidarity Corps—i.e. the volunteering corps budget, which is due to be increased now in the new multi-annual framework. That's what I'm saying—the European Commission will keep on evolving in its own way, so it will be increasing its support for social policies et cetera, and for youth organisations. So, how do we match that, and how do we retain links with those sorts of activities? It's extremely important. Erasmus+ has been a fantastic one, and they're trying to build it into a much broader base of people to have experiences. We want to say, 'Come to Wales under Erasmus+' and 'Go from Wales, still under Erasmus+'. So, in that sense, we need to be certain that there are funds from that, and I hope, as I say, that the UK Government itself would see and would be persuaded by our sisters in England and Scotland and Northern Ireland that, actually, it's those sorts of programmes we should be paying into in some way.
You're highlighting the informal opportunities as well as the formal opportunities that exist, and you're encouraging as many civil organisations as possible to make those informal networks and build up that relationship. Have there been—and I assume there haven't, as you were saying there haven't been—but will you be able to take those discussions back to the committee, in a sense of looking at how it can, perhaps, open up opportunities for the informal networks to be generated so that as we leave and are no longer part of the formal mechanism, they will continue to support informal networks so our society in Wales can actually still have that input? Because I think it sounds as if the committee needs to start looking at that aspect.
Well, I certainly take your message there. As I say, we will have to start thinking very seriously now about how, given that the deadlines are getting closer and closer—that actually the day job has to be sort of put to the side to a certain extent, and that we should actually be focusing on creating relationships. As I said before, there is plenty of willingness within the European Economic and Social Committee. Our current president is from group III, from the third sector. He's Italian. I know he would be very, very keen on having a continuous relationship. But, again, as the previous speaker said, it's about somebody somewhere deciding what are official and what are unofficial relationships. Does the UK provide members formally in some way in an advisory role to the European Economic and Social Committee, or does the European Economic and Social Committee not get directed by the Council of Ministers or anybody else, but itself willingly says, 'We want to retain our links with our UK colleagues, and we are proposing, out of our budget, possibly'—i.e. their budget—'that we will fund and allow observer status'? Lots of my UK colleagues happen to have Irish passports as well, so some of them may well still be around even after we've left.
There is also the role of an expert. It's a small point, but whenever you write an opinion—. So, with my opinion now on culture, I have an expert from Denmark—somebody who I met and I thought, 'Well, she will help me bring value to my writing.' So, again, there will be a question: can non-EU members be seen as experts? I know my fellow colleague from Wales, Brian Curtis, for example, has written several opinions recently, and he's used an ex-UK member from England as his expert, so there's quite a bit of that currently happening. An expert is an expert, rather than an expert is only an expert if he's from within the European Union. So, presumably, these are the sort of margin discussions that you could have if suddenly people said, 'Yes, we are willing to actually be flexible; we are heading for a good agreement with the UK, and in that sense, we will have to be as open and inclusive as we can.' That's the hope, in which case these relationships, then, would build over time again. You have to earn your membership and your inclusion; that's what I'm saying all the time. If we suddenly stop, in Wales, being innovative in our social enterprises and in our businesses and so on, then nobody will want to know us. But if we are creative, dynamic, then people will still want to very quickly say, 'Can we come and see what you're doing? Can you come and tell us what you're doing? Can we share with you in partnerships?'
Given where you are in the timescales you referred to, when will the committee start considering future options for formal or informal engagement?
Well, there's nothing on the agenda that I'm aware of. We're having this lunch with the UKRep—you know what UKRep is, don't you? Yes. Sorry for being insulting. We have meetings with them periodically. It's not always easy, but they are willing to listen and exchange views to a certain level of confidence, and that's happening this Wednesday—
Yes, because UKRep is the UK representation in Brussels. To a certain extent, they were sidelined a bit because of the new Brexit department in London taking over the lead negotiations and representation, but I'm sure I read something last week about them actually being re-strengthened again, and I suppose that Welsh Government have to do the same. We'll have to recreate the presences in Brussels in a different way, so suddenly they become more ambassadorial from a non-EU member state relationship, like the Norwegian colleague I was discussing. He comes to lots of meetings that I attend because he wants to make certain that Norway's not left out in any decisions of interest to them. So, presumably, in that sense, there will be discussion, but as of now, apart from this one line that's on the agenda for the October Plenary—. We have a French colleague who's written briefing papers throughout the last six months, but he doesn't say anything new—and who can say anything new? Because all he can say is, 'This is what the decision was at the last Joint Ministerial Committee meeting, and this is what's come out of the last Barnier and Davis meetings'. So, there's nothing that he is able to tell us that we don't know from the media currently. There is no thinking, as was identified with the Committee of the Regions, about a formal advisory role, because again we don't have an economic and social committee in Wales or in the UK. They have them in other member states, and that would have made it easier, presumably, for that committee, say in France or somewhere, if France was leaving, to say, 'We still want to be members of this wider European network.'
Okay. Clearly, something is going to happen, and I would hope that the committee would start considering options as soon as practicable. I'm conscious that a number of third sector organisations in Wales are engaged with pan-sector organisations. For instance, on housing, I've visited the pan-European housing social representative in Brussels in the past, and it comprises EU and non-EU member state organisations. How could that sort of existing framework, those existing connections, be built upon to consolidate the voice of Welsh civic society?
That is one plausible scenario, isn't it? Because one of the biggest members of the European Union is withdrawing, you could argue that the European Union will have to reinvent itself again in a different way. Perhaps the sort of movement towards everybody from Europe belonging to the European Union might become less practical as you go further and wider. That's a scenario; I'm not saying I buy it, but the point is that we will obviously want to be members of as many organisations that are European-wide, not just European Union-only organisations. And if we, because of the size of the UK, bring an extra dynamic to those organisations, they will be strengthened. It's not a very, very small region that's joining those wider European institutions; it'll be a very, very large body of either UK-wide representation or England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland representation. That's a scenario that may play out, but generally speaking it's obviously in the European Union's interest to make certain that it plays a lead role in all these pan-European organisations and processes.
And my final question for you, if I may: you referred to the formalised engagement with non-member states and regions of the world, and of course one of the stated objectives of Brexit is globalisation or a global Britain. The UK, throughout its EU membership, has continued to be a member of non-EU programmes on student exchange and so on through the British Council and otherwise. What, if any, opportunities might exist if, as appears to be the case, the UK strengthens and Wales strengthens their engagement with some of the non-EU programmes to perhaps align or engage with the EU on a more globalised agenda?
Well, obviously, the United Nations is the United Nations. Whether it will reinvent itself, strengthen itself, become again a more dynamic body—in which case we would want to perhaps be contributing more to that global presence—. None of us want to be confined by either national, regional or European boundaries in how we engage and how we gather experiences. That's not the Wales that I'm aware of. We want to be available and present and open across the whole world. So, who knows how we will build those relationships. What we have to remember is that the European Union is a club. It has a vested interest in getting trade deals with China and with other member countries. It's doing that all the time. So, in that sense, there's an element of competitiveness that'll be exacerbated as we leave, and you have to be realistic about that. You can be friends but you have to accept that there'll be competition as well. You could guess, presumably, that the European Union might be less resistant to New Zealand lamb coming to the European Union without the UK being members of the European Union, than it would be otherwise. So, there will be, obviously, different relationships being created through competition, as well as vested interests into the future. But many of these institutions, as you say, are linked to formal institutions, but also they're dynamic as well. There are many voluntary organisations who don't want to belong to networks, either within Wales or within the UK, because they're campaigning organisations. They want to be completely independent of everybody and, in that sense, they will fund themselves and they will drive themselves according to their beliefs. So, in that sense, you've got a whole array of different interests in this scenario.
Okay. Thank you. Our time has come to an end. Thank you for that. Can we thank you for the evidence you've given this afternoon? You will receive a copy of the transcript for any factual inaccuracies. Please let us know as soon as possible if there are any. Clearly, one of the important things is: take back the message from us, please, that we want to remain influential in the processes and the institutions in the EU, and I think the committee needs to start looking at how we can do that in the future. That's the one message you need to take back for us.
Well, if I can just say, it's reassuring to know that you want that to happen; at least it gives me some element of strength to know that, if I start now saying to my colleagues, 'Look, let's get on. Let's see what we can decide, what we can create'—then at least I know that there's a willingness here in Wales for that to happen.
And you can point them to our part one report, which said exactly that. Thank you very much.
Diolch yn fawr.
If I ask Members now to move on to the next item on the agenda, which is papers to note, the first paper to note is correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford, regarding the Welsh Government's policy paper on regional investment after Brexit, and the second paper is, again, correspondence from Mark Drakeford to the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee regarding section 16 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Are Members content to note those two papers? I see they are. Therefore, we'll move on.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
The next item is a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to do so? I see they are. Therefore, we'll now move into private session for the remainder of the meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:58.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:58.