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.

17 thoughts on “Wales needs greater clout in Brussels

  1. Why doesn’t the German government allow all the Lander a seat at the Council of Ministers ? Answers on a post card.

  2. Lots of cliches here like “stronger voice in Europe”, and “playing a full role”. Nevertheless, the author doesn’t say what is actually required. Only political independence can facilitate the strengthening of our presence within the EU. As a member of Plaid Cymru, I’d have thought that Ioan Bellin would put this at the heart of his article. Unfortunately he doesn’t, and it shows how Plaid Cymru have descended from their original aims of achieving Welsh freedom to become what they are today: a British regionalist faction. Wales desperately needs a new nationalist force that puts autonomy on the political agenda.

  3. Wales Labour must loudly make the case that in Europe, as in many things, Wales sees things differently from England, and England has no right to impose its views on us. The prospect of England leaving while Wales and Scotland remain may be unthinkable to London but not to us. The distinction between democracy and tyranny-of-the-majority may be fine on occasions, but it strongly applies here.

  4. Yes, above all, we need Welsh representation in Brussels on devolved matters; it’s bonkers that it doesn’t happen now.

  5. Jeff, your comment is both right and wrong. You are right that EU countries do not allow direct representation by subordinate legislatures at the Council of Ministers, even if they are sometimes fielded at other Ministerial meetings. But you are wrong if you think the status quo is satisfactory. One of the big issues that needs addressing urgently within the UK is the question of inter-governmental relationships, now that we are no longer a simple unitary state. The UK has to find ways of developing a more nuanced approach to Europe that takes into account the views of the devolved administrations. Not easy, but necessary.

  6. I agree that we (Wales) need our voice in the EU (Brussels and Strasbourg),and also NATO (Brussels) the UN (New York),and all other intergovernmental bodies that affect our right to peace,and prosperity.The powerful nations like USA/Germany/China/Japan would quake in their boots should we get full rights,as our a)self importance; b)self rightousness could liberate the world,as we’ve been liberated since devolution. I’d like to nominate Jill Evans MEP for NATO as she is clearly of very sound mind and body as she opposed a development in St.Athan which MIGHT have given 10,000 jobs to welsh people because the project was part of the WAR department. Jane Hutt AM for world economic/fairness whizz bang as she’s an expert on both, particularly in getting other people to fund things,so as to speak. What other greater evidence of our own self worth could we have,other than taking our own place in the world? However sceptics would scoff and deride with comments like 1)whose going to pay? 2) We dont have enough people etc etc. We can show ’em’ by 1) increasing income tax by 10p in £ for everyone; 2)cutting state benefits by 10 pr cent. If PC put this forward I’ll vote for it,and so would at least one other voter. Has April 1st 2013 yet taken place?.

  7. Sorry Geraint, the really big issue which will make or break Europe is not whether Wales or any other region has direct representation at the top table I’m afraid.

    The real issue is the growing gulf that now exists between the Euro elite and many of Europe’s citizens. Those who support the UK’s continued membership of the EU cannot just sit back and argue for the status quo in a project which is clearly seen to be failing in the eyes of many voters. There is a real need for politicians to start to reconnect with the voters when it comes to Europe. For a start tt requires reform of the present anti democratic closed list system for electing MEPs which has effectively handed power to the party machines. It also requires politicians that are prepared to attack the present Euro elite mindset which is dominated by the thinking of the Austerians even when it is clear that the policy of austerity is just not working .

    From a UK perspective both the Common Agricultural Policy and structural funds also have to be reformed in a way which will benefit the vast majority of people who live in areas such as Wales. At the moment CAP is just an out of control welfare system and millions of pounds of structural fund money have been wasted without adding one percentage point to GVA. There is also, as far as I can see, no evidence to suggest that views on European issues are any different in Wales than they are, for example, in Yorkshire. In fact in my opinion on so many issues there absolutely no difference in political attitudes between someone who lives in Yorkshire of the north East, and someone like myself who also lives in a former coal mining area. The problems we face in a post industrial society and the solutions to those problems are exactly the same. Our only difference is that we speak English with a different accent.

  8. Jeff,

    Recent polling doesn’t support your case that there’s no difference between Wales and the rest of the UK on attitudes to the EU. The most recent ones I’ve been able to find – for February 2013, show the following:

    Harris poll in the Financial Times for the UK: 50 per cent would vote to leave the EU in an in/out referendum; 33 per cent to stay in; and 17 per cent don’t know.

    YouGov for ITV Wales: 42 per cent of Welsh electorate would vote to stay in; 35 per cent would vote to leave; with 22 per cent don’t know.

  9. Jeff, I would not disagree that the issues you list are crucial and even more important than the representation issue. I was merely attempting to comment on the issue that Ioan Bellin raised in his article and on which you commented cryptically.

  10. I wonder who voted for UKIP in the last Euro elections? It will be interesting to see what happens in the real poll next year given the present anti politics mood and particularly if there is a low turn out.

  11. What is also interesting in the You Gov poll is that in four out of the five regions of Wales used in the poll those who want out of Europe and the don’t knows outnumber those who want to stay in. It is far too simplistic in my opinion to argue that on many political issues Welsh voters are somehow different from voters in England

  12. If Welsh people want independence that’s OK by me. What I find distasteful is the have-your-cake and-eat-it attitude of too many of the Welsh chattering classes. We want Barnett reform, i.e. bigger subsidy, more say in external affairs. However, the plan, if we get rich, is not to reciprocate but to leave the union. Women who married on that basis used to be known as gold-diggers. We are mendicants in a union living off our neighbours’ charity. We get the external representation we deserve, which is none. We should stop asking for more, get our house in order and pay our own way. Then we can be independent or legitimately demand more say in a voluntary union of which we are productive members. The present whinging is embarrassing. Have we no self respect?

  13. Mark Jones is absolutly correct. We need independence to put the economy right. We need a national bank and our own currency. We need full representation in the European Parliament, Council of Ministers and the United Nations. Only a national government of an independent Welsh state will put the economy right.
    The union with England has failed. The New Labour Party in Cardiff and London has been a total failure over the last fourteen years.
    The unionists tell us our only future is to be a susidy junky state attached to England. How pathetic are they?

  14. @Keith Parry
    You’re right in your comments, particularly in the need for Wales to control its own money. This will throw up a modest financial service sector around the new Banc Cymru. We are subsidy-junkies because England has made us that.

  15. Paul Roberts: Parry right? Give over. No one can “make” you a subsidy junkie. If Wales had its own currency, you would be complaining about the wicked speculators who forced you to have the policies needed to defend it, preventing everything from being perfect. Blaming others for one’s own shortcomings becomes a habit. Wales needs to snap out of it and take responsibility. If we can’t make any improvement in our lot given devolution how are we supposed to change the world when “independent”? Crawl, then walk then run. Or is it more comfortable to sit on your duff and moan?

  16. We needn’t worry about our role in the EU, as the whole stinking edifice is going to come crashing down in next 10 years. The Germans who historically have been a wonderful force for good will amongst nations are slowly getting fed up of the French who they now regard as the biggest ‘spongers’ in the EU,so what price us? Where has all the EU money gone, except for pet projects by our Leader of the Nation?

  17. Wales can ask for their own national bank and financial independence, but your slave situation will still be the same. National banks are run by private people who print money out of thin air and issue it as national debts. And when politicians object to this they tend to have nasty accidents like president Kennedy of the USA. The EU is no different, the European Central Bank is run by dangerous greedy private people who will make sure you have a nasty accident if you want financial freeedom. Wales has never been a slave to England, but a slave to the Bank of England which is a private corporation, Offa did not build a barrier between Wales and England for fun or for slavery, but he acknowledged you are a nation and gave you freedom in a nation. You were merely slaves of the Romans, possessions of the Romans, they left you behind and the Scots attempted to enslave you instead, Hengist put a stop to that and Offa gave you a nation. But it seems some in Wales are eager to be slaves, slaves of the European Centeral Bank, which is much the same people as the Bank of England, pound or euro it matters not. There is no escape, slaves you now are and slaves you will remain, you have split from England to get a say in the EU? what say do you realy think you are going to have. Are the private bankers going to say “watch out lads the Welsh slaves are here, best behaviour”. Some one from Wales could stand up in Europe and say we can print our own money and not have private national debts forced upon us, see how long such a person lives. Your devolution is ultimately worthless, thats why you got it, behind the scenes you are slaves to the banking elite who rule the world. The ultimate gradualist goal of the EU is to destroy Europe, thats the great secret of the EU, thats what you want to be part of? You will have no say to the contrary, the future destruction of Europe has already been scripted by the banking elite who have their own sinister agenda, which does not care less about Welsh slaves. Ironic realy the English people who Vortigern invited over to help save the Welsh from slavery, and did save the Welsh from slavery. The Welsh will forever despise and stab in the back to the point of volunteering to be slaves of the European Union, which they refuse to see will be a trap, which puts the Welsh into slavery for ever. This time the English will not be able to help, you will have put yourselves into a trap of no return. The EU will promise you Utopia, the private bankers will deliver you Hell, it’s called a Trojan Horse and the Welsh will be taken for a ride. At least in England we can see the real direction of the EU, they call us lunatics and closet racists for seeing evil, thank God for the lunatics and closet racists for they are the wisest people which Wales can only dream of.

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