Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 25

Memorandum from the Wales European Centre

INTRODUCTION

  1.1  The Wales European Centre is pleased to be invited to submit evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee. This memorandum sets out to explain the role of the Centre in promoting Wales in Europe and how this links to activities by other Welsh and UK bodies.

BACKGROUND

  2.1  The Wales European Centre has had a presence in Brussels since 1992. Set up originally by the Welsh Development Agency and Welsh Local Government, the partnership which contributes to the Centre has grown to over 70 public bodies in Wales. Since 1998, when the Centre became a company limited by guarantee, the sponsors who made up the partnership have been members of the WEC. The Centre is run by a Board of Directors composed of three Directors appointed by each of, the WDA, WLGA, and the National Assembly for Wales, four Directors appointed from the other members and the Managing Director.

  2.2  Devolution has had a profound impact on the Wales European Centre. The creation of the National Assembly for Wales has provided the impetus, the rationale and the means for a transformation in the organisation. The decision of the National Assembly for Wales to join the Wales European Centre has demanded an expansion in the organisation. New premises not only provide space for the expansion but they also provide a more visible, high profile presence in Brussels. A new business plan has refocused the organisation on its mission and outputs. Staff reorganisation provides the means for delivering the business plan. The new corporate image and new logo signal the changes with an image which is contemporary, dynamic and in tune with new Wales.

  2.3  Unchanged, however, is the Team Wales approach, where the Centre works for the benefit of a partnership of public organisations.

  2.4  Finally, the Wales European Centre provides a base for the National Assembly for Wales's own Brussels Office.

PROMOTING WALES IN EUROPE

  3.1  The purpose of the Wales European Centre is the promotion of Wales in the European Union in particular to the institutions of the EU, but also through the development of relationships with regions of the EU and countries applying for membership of the EU.

  3.2  This purpose is expressed in our mission statement—"to give Wales an edge in Europe". Our activities towards the achievement of this purpose are:

    —  providing information and intelligence on funding opportunities on relevant policy developments;

    —  presenting Welsh needs and proposals to relevant EU institutions;

    —  raising the profile of Wales in Brussels; and

    —  encouraging and assisting in creasing strategic transnational partnerships.

PROMOTING WELSH INTERESTS TO THE EU

  4.1  A major part of the work of the Centre is in protecting Welsh interests in the legislative and policymaking processes of the EU. This involves:

    —  in consultation with the partnership, identifying annually a list of major items on which active lobbying will take place and a list of items which will be monitored;

    —  for individual items on the active lobbying list, and approach to the Commission may be made at an early stage in order to influence a proposal at its inception;

    —  following publication of the Commission document, WEC will inform the relevant partner organisations and produce, in consultation with them, a position paper;

    —  at this point WEC may assist the Welsh partnership with their lobbying efforts by arranging delegations from Wales to meet with relevant Brussels policymakers;

    —  it may be possible to secure Welsh or UK rapporteurs on priority items being dealt with in Parliament and/or CoR;

    —  WEC will alert relevant members of the Welsh partnership at critical points in the legislative process; and

    —  WEC will advise on amendments to the Parliament's Opinion and make appropriate contacts with MEPs and EU officials as necessary.

  4.2  This work requires an effective relationship with UK Rep. The Centre values the regular briefings provided by UK Rep and the good relationship between desk officers and the Centre's policy managers. The National Assembly for Wales's office has a direct relationship with UK Rep, as its staff are formally accredited as part of the representation.

PARTNERSHIPS IN PROMOTING WALES IN THE WORLD

  5.1  The Wales European Centre works with a variety of partners in promoting Wales in Europe; the majority of whom are Welsh bodies. The UK bodies with which the Centre has most contact are the UK Permanent Representation to the EU, the bilateral embassy to Belgium, the British council and the Welsh Office.

  5.2  The Centre is particularly grateful for the interest taken in its activities by the Welsh Office and the support shown by the Secretary of State for Wales.

  5.3  In the case of the Welsh bodies, most of these are members of the Centre and the relationship is largely focused on the promotion of their interests in the European policy and funding questions. For example, although the Wales Tourist Board is one of our members and we are alert to their interest in EU programmes which affect tourism, the Centre plays no part in the promotion of tourism in Brussels.

  5.4  The aim of raising the profile of Wales in Brussels is achieved with the support of both member bodies and other organisations. The main focus for this is the annual Welsh Week around St David's Day. Key partners are the WDA, the National Assembly for Wales, the Arts Council Wales and the British Council.

  5.5  For the WDA Wales Week provides an opportunity for its food promotion activities, and its general marketing. (Last year the WDA provided a supplement in a European weekly to coincide with St David's Day.) For the Arts Council and the British Council the week provides an opportunity to draw attention to Welsh visual and performing artists.

  5.6  The overall impact of the week and similar events at other times of the year is to change perceptions of Wales held by key Brussels decision makers and so change the relationship between Wales and Brussels. The aim is to move beyond being a supplicant for EU funding to being a partner in policymaking.

  5.7  Despite past involvements, the British Council programme this year has had little Welsh involvement or representation. We understand that the British Council in Brussels and the British Council as a whole is reviewing its operations. This has meant a hiatus in programming and planning. It has been unfortunate that this has meant there is unlikely to be joint projects in this financial year. It is also unfortunate that, with the exception of an introductory meeting, there has been no formal consultations with Wales European Centre in the future of the British Council in Brussels and Luxembourg despite, we understand, some quite fundamental changes. We hope that the review will not mean that the Wales interests are undermined by default or that the distinctive Wales contribution to the British context could be lost.

APPLICANT STATES

  6.1  The Centre's role in the commercial promotion is limited. However, a particular focus of work which involves the private sector lies in building relationships with regions of those states applying for membership of the EU. The Centre is in the process of developing a strategy, with the partnership, to ensure that Wales can take advantage of the benefits of EU enlargement. A consultation process has just come to a close and a strategy will be launched in the early part of next year.

  6.2  As part of the consultation initial contacts have been established with the Department of Trade and Industry. These contacts have been encouraging and we hope to develop a productive relationship both in finalising the strategy and in its implementation.

CONCLUSIONS

  7.1  Wales in the world is a timely subject for investigation and the Wales European Centre is pleased to be asked to contribute evidence.

  7.2  The majority of bodies with which the centre co-operates are Welsh organisations, many of whom are members of the Centre.

  7.3  The Centre benefits from effective co-operation and support from a variety of bodies and are particularly happy to have the support of the Secretary of State for Wales.

  7.4  We have found the British Council a helpful partner in the past but are concerned that recent changes could lessen the specifically Welsh dimension of their work.

  7.5  We are looking forward to collaboration with the DTI, as well as our members who have responsibilities in the fields of trade promotion and inward investment in our future work with applicant states.





 
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