EU debate special 2: Senedd takes a fresh look at European affairs

Rosemary Butler argues that mainstreaming European issues across the Assembly’s committees is proving productive

In an article on ClickonWales yesterday Francesca Dickson, of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, questioned the new approach in the Fourth Assembly to European and international affairs within its Committee structure. In fact, far from having a negative impact, our integrating European and international matters into the work of all committees is greatly enhancing the effectiveness of our engagement.

Only last month, I highlighted in the latest issue of Europe Matters (the Assembly’s regular publication on the European and international activities of our committees and AMs) some examples of how this new mainstreaming is working. It is enabling us to cover a broader range of issues in depth in a way that would not be possible through a specialist European Committee and to draw on a much wider pool of expertise and interests amongst Assembly Members.

So during this term alone, five committees, involving 39 of the 47 AMs that sit on committees, have been directly involved in EU issues, and we expect this level to be maintained and increased during 2012. I suspect that this level of engagement would be the envy of many regional parliaments right across Europe. Indeed, the National Assembly for Wales has been praised by the European Commission for the way it is engaging with European issues, and we are recognised as one of the most active and outward looking ‘regional’ parliaments within the EU.

For instance, the Environment and Sustainability Committee, chaired by Dafydd Elis-Thomas, has set up two Task and Finish Groups (another new way of working introduced in this Assembly) on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. Similarly, the Enterprise and Business Committee, chaired by Nick Ramsay, has established a Task and Finish Group on public procurement, and an inquiry into the future of EU Structural Funds.

These are key strategic issues for Wales and the committees’ approach will mean that there will be tangible outputs from the Assembly’s engagement designed to influence the final outcome. In particular, the committees plan to follow the issues through the EU decision-making process in Brussels, acting as a public forum through which Welsh stakeholders can engage and participate in this debate. They will feed through amendments and other positive contributions to the Welsh Government – so as to influence the UK position in the Council of Ministers – and directly to the European Parliament. Both committees are considering other EU issues as part of their forward work planning for 2012, These include proposals for the new EU Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation framework programme, which is of particular interest to universities, research centres and businesses in Wales.

The Finance Committee, chaired by Jocelyn Davies, is undertaking an inquiry into the effectiveness of the current EU Structural Funds. This is timely as the Welsh Government has launched a new partnership forum to plan for the future programmes after 2013, The results of the Finance Committee’s inquiry will helpfully feed into this discussion. The Health and Social Care Committee, chaired by Mark Drakeford, and the Children and Young People Committee, chaired by EU Committee of the Regions member Christine Chapman, have held EU update sessions this term to identify potential priorities for 2012 and beyond.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee is considering how it will take forward the mantle of monitoring subsidiarity that is required of it by our Standing Orders. Its Chair, Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding, met with the lead unit in the European Commission’s Secretariat General to discuss these issues during a recent visit to Brussels. David will follow these up at the EC (UK)Forum with the other devolved legislatures and UK Parliament in January.

My colleagues in the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies, the EU network of regional legislatures, cast a jealous eye on the National Assembly’s EU Office in Brussels. This plays a pivotal role in ensuring a timely, coherent and strategic engagement by the Assembly’s committees and by the Assembly as a whole in European issues.

Our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, who have also been complimented by the European Commission for their work, have decided to approach European issues differently, including relocating their Brussels representative back to Scotland, which means Wales is the only devolved parliament in the UK with a Brussels presence. Should anyone have any further questions, I would encourage them to contact the Head of our EU Office, Gregg Jones, who would be delighted to speak about our European work in more detail.

Mainstreaming European issues in this way represents a new approach for Wales. As with any change, there will be those who call for a return to the ways of the past. In the Assembly we see things differently. As a new and vibrant institution we embrace new ways of working. We are prepared to take risks and experiment where this can add value and strengthen democratic engagement. We do this in a responsible way, reflected in the one-year review I have built in to the current committee structures. If we have any genuine concerns that our approach is not working as effectively as desired, we will look to change it. I am also convening a meeting of committee chairs in January to discuss and co-ordinate our EU work so that we have a coherent approach at the political level.

As I look at the changes we have put in place in 2011 and the way in which Assembly Members have grasped the opportunities and responsibilities associated with our role in Europe, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that things are working well. I am quietly confident that in 2016 we will look back to see mainstreaming as a positive and refreshing change of approach to engaging with European issues.

Rosemary Butler AM is Presiding Officer of the National Assembly.

3 thoughts on “EU debate special 2: Senedd takes a fresh look at European affairs

  1. I am sure that the vast majority of Welsh people who are coping with the current economic crisis in Europe – and it really hasn’t started yet – will be “heartened ” by the thought of our local masters turning their mind to the “corpse” over the water. It’s like trying to buy tickets on the Titantic just after it hit the iceberg, but never mind it takes their minds of the real problems that no-body is getting to grips with. The Welsh “chattering classes” have created a whole and very satisfactory world out of English taxpayers’ money, whilst the rest of us are facing very chilly winds. There is a very simple solution to Europe, ie. get out and save £9.2 Billion and spend that on our young and old, rather than the waste of space politicians in Brussels who are seeking destroy our economy!

  2. Proposition one: we must get out of the EU because it has taken too much power, is wasting our money and is undemocratic.
    Proposition two: our local democratic representatives should not concern themselves with what is happening in the EU.

    Spot the contradiction anyone?

    It is difficult to argue with Eurosceptics because their spleen overwhelms their common sense and they do not feel they have to respect either facts or logic.

  3. If we get out of it, then our democratic representatives wouldn’t have to concern themselves with it. The EU has become a “racket”, in that fourth rate politicians have seen a “gravy train” and boy are they on it. Is it not amazing that one Neil Kinnock – a tooth and claw “socialist” – saw the EEC as a “capitalistic” club, then fails to become PM, and ipso facto “off we go” and riches beckon. Then followed by Lady Lady Kinnock as our humble representative and we’ve won the lottery again and again. I saw an MEP in a second class compartment on the eurostar, and he/she saw me and both clicked “he/she get first class travel fairs paid autiomatically”, and why are you travelling second class. Our MP’s have ben sent to jail for less, but they were “all at it” in that waste of space over there. I would have thought the vast majority of British people want to get out of it and restore power where it belongs, i.e PARLIAMENT under our SOVEREIGN.

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