Looking ahead to 2012: Wales must remain an integral part of the EU

Carwyn Jones says the Welsh Government’s priority for 2012 is to steer a generation of young people away from the dole queue

‘Eventful’ is the word that I would use to describe 2011 and two events stand out for me in the political world. First there was the referendum on Thursday 3rd March. The result saw a day where an old nation came of age. The people of Wales voted overwhelmingly in favour of further direct law-making powers for the National Assembly.

The turn of the year

In a special feature this week the four party leaders in the National Assembly reflect on their achievements during 2011 and prospects for the next 12 months. Tomorrow Welsh Conservative leader Andrew R.T. Davies says the centre right can lift Welsh politics from the doldrums. On Thursday we hear from Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, and on Friday from Plaid Cymru’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones.

The result was a positive showing of our growing confidence in the National Assembly. The result was a vote of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of doing.

When people ask me if we can change the law in an area that we are responsible for, I now have a simple answer  –“Yes we can”, rather than “we might be able to, but we’ve got to ask Westminster first”.

Then only two months later I hit the campaign trail once again as Wales went to the polls again to elect members of the National Assembly. By taking 30 seats in the National Assembly, the Welsh Labour Government I lead has been able to set our own, distinct course for Wales over the next four years. Our Programme for Government sets out what actions we will be taking over the current Assembly term, how progress will be measured and what results we want to see for the people of Wales. Some of the priorities include giving employment hopes for our young people by increasing apprenticeship opportunities, getting to see your GP much easier, introducing health checks for the over-50s and funding 500 new community support officers.

I don’t want to lose another generation of young people to the dole queue. That’s why we have already set up a £75 million Jobs Growth Wales scheme to create 4,000 jobs a year for three years for young jobseekers across Wales. We have announced five new enterprise zones for different industries and announced a £55 million expansion of our Flying Start programme to double the number of children who will benefit from it. The Programme for Government is an ambitious agenda for Wales and directly translates the manifesto on which we were elected into action – and my Government is determined to deliver it in full.

Away from the political battles there was one event that certainly united Wales as one – the performance of Wales at the Rugby World Cup.  Every tackle, every kick, and every try tested our nerves every step of the way. The Welsh team may not have brought home the Webb Ellis trophy, but they did Wales proud.

The Welsh Government’s focus for 2012 is the economy. We will continue use the levers we have to stimulate economic growth and take action to protect the people of Wales against the cuts from Westminster. At the start of December AMs voted on our Budget with the principal aim of creating jobs and growth. This includes speeding up major infrastructure projects and improving training for our workforce. In recent weeks we have announced how £90 million of capital funding will be spent, a £1.4 billion programme of investment in schools, a £38 million economic stimulus package and funding for new social housing.

Selling Wales to the world will be central to how we boost our economy. In 2011 I led trade missions to New Zealand and China and in the New Year I will continue this with visits to New York and India. We need to showcase to the globe what we have to offer. Certainly, the world isn’t going to come to us.

The recent decision by the UK Government to exercise its veto in the Brussels negotiations at the start of December was not in Wales’ national interest. By using the veto, the Prime Minister excluded the devolved administrations from policy development and decision-making on European matters that are of direct interest to the Welsh Government. This cannot be good for our country. That’s why I am determined that Wales continues to be an integral part of the EU, our single biggest export market and that’s why I’ll be working hard to strengthen links in the New Year.

For 2012, my message to the rest of the world is simple – Wales is open for business and I will continue to encourage other countries to invest here, and showcase the talent, skills and innovation that we have to offer. Whilst the next twelve months will be very tough, I promise that the challenges we face will be equalled by my determination to support the people of Wales throughout the coming months and years. Of that be in no doubt.

Carwyn Jones AM is First Minister for Wales.

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