Wales needs greater clout in Brussels

Ioan Bellin says the UK’s attempt to repatriate powers from the EU should include greater devolution for Cardiff Bay


This week our Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies has been in Strasbourg, making the case for Wales. But he will be a mere bystander when it comes to the vote. Wales is not allowed to play its full part in Europe. We lose out in influence – and hard cash – and this must change.

Assembly Minsters dealing with agriculture have expressed their frustration. As First Minister Carwyn Jones, said, “There are four Agricultural Ministers in the UK and yet, at the Council of Ministers, the English Agricultural Minister casts a vote on behalf of all of us – whether the other three of us agree or not.” Is this fair?

Elin Jones was the first Plaid Cymru Minister to attend a European Ministerial meeting. She said: “At least Wales is in the room, but the rightful place for Wales is at the table in our own right.”

Progressive Europeans should not be afraid of the UK Government’s talk of a referendum. We should be clear it is not an ‘in or out’ referendum, but an ‘out or reform’ referendum. It is time for us to say ‘yes’ to Europe, but a reformed European Union to ensure it survives and thrives.

Plaid Cymru once proudly proclaimed the slogan ‘Wales in Europe’. Now our aim should be far more ambitious. We should say that ‘Wales can lead in Europe’.

The fact that Wales is a small nation is not a problem. In fact, it’s the opposite. Many small countries perform better economically than larger ones, as has been shown in The Flotilla Effect a report by Adam Price and Ben Levinger commissioned by Jill Evans MEP. Six of the 27 member states in Europe are smaller than Wales.

Wales loses out because it is not an independent member. We do not have a European Commissioner. We have only four members of the European Parliament whereas Latvia, which is the same size as Wales, has nine members. Most importantly, we do not have a vote in the Council of Ministers where European legislation is agreed.  Is it acceptable that a Minister from London speaks for Wales? Our First Minister should have the right to attend the Council of Ministers meetings as an observer with speaking rights.

A few weeks ago the people of Croatia elected 12 MEPs ahead of their accession to the European Union on 1 July. These MEPs will represent some four million people until the European elections next year, when there will be 11 MEPs for Croatia. Their clout as a new member state will be far stronger than ours.

Even without the benefits of being a member state, devolved administrations like Catalonia stand up for themselves far more robustly than Wales.  For instance the Catalan Government is refusing to introduce the austerity cuts being imposed by the  Spanish Government in Madrid. It is arguing for the softening of deficit cutting targets being set for Spain by Brussels.

We can see small nations are gaining an increasingly influential role in Europe. Over the last decade, new countries have joined the EU, many of them smaller than Wales. They may have been poorer than us when they joined, but their EU membership gives them the opportunity to overtake us economically.

Our future lies as part of Europe, playing a full role in and taking full advantage of the opportunities the European Union has to offer. But we must work hard to develop a stronger voice for Wales and a more direct say in the decisions being made in Brussels.

We should strengthen the arrangements for Welsh Ministers to attend the Council of Ministers and we should also ensure the UK position should reflect any differences between Westminster and the devolved administrations.

The UK Government’s on-going Review of the Balance of Competence between the UK and Europe should be used to get more powers for Wales. If there is to be a shift of powers from the European Union, why not devolve those powers to the Welsh Government?

Ioan Bellin is on the short-list to represent Plaid Cymru at the European Parliament elections next year.