Today, just a few days after EU Member States approved the withdrawal agreement to be submitted to the British Parliament on 11 December, the CoR's members held a discussion 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, Mr Barnier stressed that "Since the very beginning of these 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 Ireland and Ireland, and opportunities to work together with British cities, regions and universities".
CoR president Karl‑Heinz Lambertz noted that: "The EU must now do its utmost to minimize the damage. All levels of government must be involved in the future negotiations".
Albert Bore, a councillor from Birmingham, a city that has benefited hugely from EU memberships and funding, expressed his desire that people from his city be able to contribute further to the European project and wondered whether, given the present constitutional chaos in the UK, the EU 27 would consider extending Article 50 beyond 29 March 2019.
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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 the 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 its 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 coast of the British Isles. It is important for my region that an agreement on access is reached quickly."
Annette Tabbara, Hamburg's state secretary for European Affairs, observed that "Hamburg is the largest industrial area in Germany, with the third-largest port in Europe. We have traditionally had 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 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 cooperate closely with universities and research institutions in the UK, including as part of EU co-funded programmes. Likewise, thousands of students have taken part in Erasmus exchange programmes in the UK. We must therefore make sure that we continue to cooperate closely in the areas of research, education and innovation, as the exchange of knowledge and the mobility of people are cornerstones of European integration policy."
Peter Kaiser, president of Carinthia (Austria), 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 the challenges created by Brexit.