Warning that disengagement from the EU is not in Wales’ national interest, the First Minister announced plans to take Wales’ message to the heart of Europe by visiting Brussels early in the New Year to forge closer relationships with the European Commission and key Commissioners.
During his visit to Brussels, the First Minister will reinforce the message that Wales is open for business, encourage other European nations to invest in Wales, and showcase the talent, skills and innovation Wales has to offer.
He said the Welsh Government would remain a key player within Europe and an active participant and partner in the European Union on issues of vital importance to Wales. This includes issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy and European Structural Funds, for which the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes, Alun Davies, has been in Brussels and Strasbourg this week to meet Welsh and other members of the European Parliament.
In Brussels, he is attending the Agriculture and Fisheries Council today, and tomorrow, he will become the first member of the Welsh Government to attend the General Affairs Council - ensuring Wales' voice is heard in negotiating, developing and delivering future European programmes.
First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said:
“The UK Government’s new position in relation to the European Union threatens Wales’ national interest. My fear is that the UK will be isolated at the margins at a time when we should be at the centre of Europe driving economic debate forward.
“As I said in my letter to the Prime Minister earlier this week, since the onset of devolution in 1999, successive Welsh Governments have sought to work constructively with the UK Government in pursuit of those interests which, though devolved, are shaped by decisions made at EU level. Now, for the first time, I am seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively in Europe by the UK Government.
“I am determined to do everything I can to ensure the interests of Wales are voiced loudly and clearly at a European level.”
Over 500 firms in Wales export over £5bn annually to the rest of the EU, with its Single Market of 500 million people - which is around half of Wales’ total exports. 455 enterprises from other EU countries that are active in Wales and employ 54,000 people - which constitute 7% of private sector jobs.
Each year, Wales benefits from millions of pounds of European Funding to assist the sustainable development of the Welsh economy. During this 2007-2013 EU budget period, Wales will receive over £1.9bn of Structural Funds which, linked to our own resources, will produce almost £4bn in total investment.
The First Minister added:
“The other Member States of the EU form our biggest trade destination, with exports from Wales to this Single Market of around 500 million consumers totalling over £5bn. Even in these extremely challenging times, this level of activity supports over 150,000 jobs in Wales.
"Manufacturers have expressed growing unease that the financial sector was defended in Europe by the Prime Minister at the expense of Britain's industrial interests. The manufacturing sector is incredibly important to the Welsh economy. Companies such as Tata steel - who employ thousands of Welsh workers at plants in Port Talbot and in plants across Wales - have made significant investment in Wales on the basis that the UK was a key part of the European community.
" We also have vital rural and agricultural interests to protect through the Common Agricultural Policy while the Structural Funds play a vital part in our economic development strategy. EU projects supported by the current round of Structural Funds have already created nearly 10,000 (gross) jobs and supported 76,000 participants to gain qualifications and over 31,000 into work. And these benefits will continue to increase as projects continue to deliver for Wales.
“Disengagement from the EU, or a weakening of the UK’s position within it, is absolutely not in Wales’ national interest.”