Europe’s local politicians want a bigger role in establishing the future relationship between the EU and the UK. This was the overwhelming feeling among members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) at Monday’s meeting of the CoR-UK contact group. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The contact group was set up last September to maintain the exchange between local decision-makers in Europe and the UK. At that time, it was not yet clear whether Brexit would be orderly or chaotic.
“The current stalemate between the European Union and the United Kingdom should not close the door to cooperation at the regional and local level, because regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, local and regional institutions will have to work together even after 2020,” said then Loïg Chesnais-Girard, president of the local parliament of Brittany, whose coastline is separated from the United Kingdom by only 300 kilometres.
In its meeting on Monday (11 January), the group discussed the significance of the withdrawal agreement specifically for local politics for the first time. And there were a few things to criticise.
“The agreement lacks any regional dimension,” said Antje Grotheer, deputy president of Bremen’s parliament. Oldrich Vlasak, former vice president of the EU Parliament, agreed, saying he was disappointed.
Maria Prazeres Gomes Isilda, the mayor of Portimão, Portugal, emphasised that in the future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom, decisions need to be made close to and with the people on the ground. This is what local politics can do, she said.
Just basic guidelines
One concrete example is support for small and medium-sized enterprises, said Joan Calabuig Rull, responsible for European affairs in the Valencia region.
Local authorities maintain a close relationship with regional businesses and advise them on bureaucratic issues, for example. Brexit has created a lot of these. Therefore, local authorities should be more involved in the negotiations on future relations, Rull said.
Mick Antoniw, a parliamentarian from Wales, expressed his frustration. In his so-called “devolved parliament,” politicians act as local administrators. These bodies were not involved in the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, but are now supposed to make it a reality, for example in health checks in the port city of Holyhead.
The current agreement should be seen only as a basic guideline, Antoniw said, and any future changes must include regional parliaments at the negotiating table.
Creating alternatives to EU programmes requires creativity
The meeting also lamented the discontinuation of some EU programmes for UK citizens, frequently mentioning the Erasmus student exchange programme.
Antoniw suggested that Wales could continue to participate in the programme independently.
However, the political will to do so is lacking, interjected Fabian Zuleeg, head of the European Policy Centre think tank, who also attended the contact group meeting. Even the UK’s planned further participation in the Horizon Europe research programme is therefore not secured, Zuleeg warned.
Another program now facing an end in the UK is Interreg, which facilitates cooperation between local institutions across borders in the areas such as research, climate protection or support for businesses.
London currently has no interest in continuing to participate in it, said Kieran McCarthy, a councillor from Cork, Ireland. In the long run, he said, regions of the United Kingdom could try to get back into Interreg as a “third party”.
[Edited by Vlagyiszlav Makszimov/Zoran Radosavljevic]