EU must support regions in dealing with impact of Brexit

Plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions

Just a few days after EU Member States' approval of the withdrawal agreement to be submitted to the British Parliament on 11 December, CoR members held today a debate on the impact of Brexit on regions and cities with Michel Barnier, the EU's Chief Brexit Negotiator for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the Union.

In his opening statement, Michel Barnier underlined that "Since the very beginning of the challenging negotiations, we have shown unity, which has been our strength throughout this process. It is in our mutual interest to negotiate an ambitious partnership agreement, which takes into account major concerns expressed by cities and regions, including citizens' rights, a soft border between Northern and Southern Ireland, and cooperation opportunities with British cities, regions and universities.

CoR President KarlHeinz Lambertz underlined: "The EU must now do its utmost to minimize the damage. All levels of government must be involved in the future negotiations".

Albert Bore, Councillor in Birmingham, whose city has hugely benefited from EU memberships and EU funds, underlined the wish that people form his city could further contribute to the European project and wondered whether, given the present constitutional chaos in the UK, the EU 27 would consider an extension of Art.50 beyond 29 March 2019.

He was joined by Mick Antoniw, Member of the Welsh Assembly, who stressed that "We have a new emerging generation of young people who regard themselves as Young Welsh Europeans and who expect us to continue to protect those valuable social, economic and cultural relations between Wales and Europe".

Birgit Honé, Minister for European Affairs of Lower Saxony, highlighted the need to strengthen citizens' trust in the European Union, its values and principles. "My region has a special historical relationship with the United Kingdom, which is our third most important trading partner. Lower Saxony's deep-sea fishermen are heavily affected by Brexit. They could lose their fishing grounds off the British Isles. It is important for my region to swiftly reach an agreement on access."

Annette Tabbara, State Secretary for European Affairs of Hamburg, who emphasised that "Hamburg is the largest industrial site in Germany with the third largest port in Europe. We traditionally have very close economic and social relations with the UK. A successful settlement for after Brexit can only be reached if the local level is involved in the future negotiations".

Gerry Woop, Berlin State-Secretary for Europe, pointed to the negative consequences of Brexit on research and education. "Berlin is a leading science and research hub and we closely cooperate with universities and research institutions in the UK, also through EU co-funded programmes. Likewise, thousands of students have taken part in Erasmus exchange programmes in the UK. We must thus make sure that we keep close cooperation in the areas of research, education and innovation, as the exchange of knowledge and the mobility of people are cornerstones of the European integration policy."

Peter Kaiser, President of Carinthia, concluded that "In our regions, we must make it very clear to people that there is no alternative to the EU if we want peace, prosperity and security".

In May 2018, the CoR adopted a political resolution calling for the EU to ensure that local and regional authorities are not "left to deal on their own" with challenges created by Brexit.