Welsh Gov to retain ‘strong presence’ in Brussels despite Brexit, Drakeford tells EU President
Mark Drakeford has told the EU President that the Welsh Government will retain a strong presence in its Brussels Office.
In a letter Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, the First Minister set out his “vision” for “constructive engagement” despite Brexit.
Mr Drakeford said that “Wales has been an outward-looking, European nation since its formation” and pledged to “deepen and build” on “established partnerships with Member States”.
He described the UK Government’s decision to pull out of the Erasmus Plus student exchange programme as “deeply regrettable” and said the Welsh Government was “urgently investigating” how Wales could “continue close engagement” in this area.
The First Minister also said he was “relieved” at the signing of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), even though it was “more limited” than he would have wished.
Mr Drakeford said: “We will retain a strong Welsh Government presence in our Brussels Office to work with all the EU institutions, in conjunction with the UK Mission to the EU.
“The European Parliament has established an EU-Wales Friendship Group that we will actively support.
“We expect to run a number of events at our premises in Brussels to support our engagement with the EU once Covid restrictions allow. Unfortunately, that will not be in time for our traditional national day celebrations for Saint David’s Day this year on 1 March, though we shall be promoting Wales through online events that week.
“We intend to deepen and build on our established partnerships with Member States, in particular, our close ties to our near neighbours in Ireland.
“We would also like to retain, as far as is possible given the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, our excellent relationships with the EU institutions.
“We are pleased that our excellent higher education and research institutions from Wales will be able to continue to participate in Horizon Europe and are urgently investigating how we can continue close engagement with exchanges of students, learners and young people following what we regard as the deeply regrettable decision by the UK Government not to participate in Erasmus Plus.”
He added: “Wales has been an outward-looking, European nation since its formation over a thousand years ago. It always will be. Our economic, social and cultural histories are intertwined with Europe’s and predate the creation of the modern United Kingdom by many centuries.
“Our distinctive identity is founded upon that history. A year ago we launched our International Strategy to support and emphasise our engagement around the world.
“Wales shares fundamental values with the EU covering human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. I strongly believe Wales needs a very close working relationship with our European neighbours in the EU.
“These have been nurtured over the 20- plus years of devolved government in Wales, and embedded as a result of the very significant benefits, which we have derived from the European Structural and Investment Funds.
“Of course, we are relieved the EU and the UK Government were able to negotiate that Agreement, even if it is more limited than we would have wished as a result of the UK Government’s choices.
“In particular, given our responsibilities for Welsh ports, we are working with ports, transport operators and the Irish authorities to sustain the flow of goods as part of the important supply chain in both directions between Ireland and Wales.
“I want to assure you that the Welsh Government will work very constructively and positively with the UK Government, the EU and our partners and stakeholders in Wales to support the effective working of the TCA, reflecting our devolved policy responsibilities.
“Wales is, of course, a bilingual nation with the two languages, Welsh and English, having equal status, which is part of our unique identity.
“In addition, our experiences of this bind us positively to the EU as a multilingual organisation that respects and supports linguistic diversity and recognises the fundamental importance of language in all aspects of its business.”