EU Brexit row ERUPTS: Brussels under pressure as regions demand big role in future talks

Brexit: Ben Habib warns of ‘risk’ of increased EU alignment

This was the overwhelming feeling expressed by members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) at the most recent meeting of the CoR-UK contact group. Loïg Chesnais-Girard, president of the local parliament of Brittany in France, whose coastline is separated from the United Kingdom by only 300 kilometres, had previously warned cooperation between the UK and EU, both at a regional and local level, must continue after Brexit.

He had said: “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.”

This issue was again a key talking point during a meeting on Monday, where the group discussed the importance of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and for the first time, the significance of it on local politics.

But the trade deal quickly came under attack from members, with Oldrich Vlasak, former President of the EU Parliament expressing his disappointment in the treaty.

Antje Grotheer, deputy president of Bremen’s parliament in Germany, also said: “The agreement lacks any regional dimension.”

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Maria Prazeres Gomes Isilda, the mayor of Portimão in Portugal, highlighted the importance of decisions being made close to and with people on the ground in the future relations between the UK and EU.

Joan Calabuig Rull, who is responsible for European affairs in the Valencia region in Spain, said one example is support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

He highlighted the importance of local authorities maintaining a close relationship with regional businesses and advising them on bureaucratic issues, with Brexit creating several on its own.

Mr Rull said, as a result, local authorities need to have a more significant say in the negotiations on future relations.

Welsh Labour politician Mick Antoniw also expressed frustration at the current situation.

In the devolved parliament in Wales, politicians act as local administrators.

These bodies did not participate in the negotiations over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement but are now required to put it into action, such as implementing health checks in the busy port city of Holyhead.

Mr Antoniw argued the current treaty should only be used as a basic guideline, adding regional parliaments should be around the negotiating table if any changes are made in the future.

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Members at the meeting of the CoR-UK contact group also lashed out at the discontinuation of some EU programmes for UK citizens, particularly the Erasmus student exchange programme.

Mr Antoniw suggested Wales may look to continue to take part in the programme independently.

But Fabian Zuleeg, head of the European Policy Centre think tank, who also attended the contact group meeting, argued the political will to make this happen is not there yet.

He warned the UK’s planned further participation in the Horizon Europe research programme is therefore rubber-stamped.

The Interreg progamme, which facilitates cooperation between local institutions across borders in the areas such as research, climate protection or support for businesses, could also shortly be coming to an end in the UK.

Kieran McCarthy, a councillor from Cork, Ireland, claimed London isn’t currently showing any interest in participating in that programme.

He added in the long-term, various regions throughout the UK could re-enter Interreg as a “third party”.

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