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Written Statement - Visit to Brussels 27 February 2012
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The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales
On Monday I went to Brussels for a series of meetings on the Welsh Government’s European interests. I met Commissioner Hahn (Commissioner for Regional Policy) and Commissioner Lewandowski (Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget) to discuss the context of future of European Commission finance and its potential impact on programmes in Wales.
The financial settlement for the European Union as we move towards the next budget period (2014 - 20) will clearly be challenging. Major increases in Member State contributions would clearly be unrealistic in the current economic climate. Equally, the economic impact of EU programmes, in Wales and elsewhere, is massive and now is not the time to starve hard-pressed communities of the investment support they need to be competitive and to pursue prosperity.
The overall size of the EC budget is one issue of concern; the distribution of monies within the budget is another. For long-standing political and historical reasons the Common Agricultural Policy enjoys wide support across the EU. This is welcome news for our farmers and our rural communities. The Structural Funds are politically more vulnerable and it’s important we take nothing for granted; this Government will continue to make a robust case both within the UK and in Europe.
In any future round of Structural Funds the Government’s approach will be to pursue fewer, more strategic projects. This will help lagging regions get themselves into the best possible shape for future growth.
Innovation is at the heart of our economic strategy and we aim to work hard to benefit from Horizon 2020, the Commission’s innovation and research budget. This budget is accessible through project bidding, on a trans-national basis, and complements our approach to science and linking academic research with commercial exploitation.
During my visit, I took part in a Welsh lamb promotion, organised in conjunction with Hybu Cig Cymru, at a suburban branch of Delhaize, Belgium’s premier supermarket chain. Delhaize sells PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) Welsh lamb, in season, across its chain and as a premium product. It’s a tribute to our farming community that we’re able to produce meat of internationally renowned quality and it was my pleasure to participate in the recognition of this. I hosted a St David’s Day reception in Brussels for our contacts in the EU community which also promoted our excellent range of food and drink produce. This Government will continue working with the industry to promote Welsh food and drink produce around the world.
I was delighted, at our reception, to meet the Mayor of the Langemark-Poelkapelle. This is the municipality of West Flanders where our illustrious poet Hedd Wyn was killed in 1917, just outside Ieper. The Mayor informed me of plans to build a monument commemorating the contribution and sacrifice of all Welsh soldiers fighting on Flanders soil. I was moved to hear of this project and promised to draw it to the attention of Members of the National Assembly at the earliest opportunity.