Brexit: EU must show unity protecting the rights of every citizen living and working in regions & cities

23 Mar 2017 10:16 AM

The UK should leave the EU on terms that are not "better than EU membership" whilst ensuring the strong ties between regions & cities are maintained for the benefit of all citizens, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) said.

This message came during a debate with Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, and was contained in a resolution to be adopted by EU local and regional leaders on 23 March. It also calls for regions in the UK and the rest of the EU – particularly local and regional governments in "the Channel and North Sea areas – to be able to continue cooperation through EU platforms and expresses hope that British universities can keep playing an "active role" in educational programmes.

The debate came just one week before article 50 will formally be triggered which will begin the official Brexit negotiations. The CoR – the EU's assembly of local and regional governments - considers that the future relationship between the EU and the UK should be based on a balance of rights and obligations, a level playing field and should not pave the way for dismantling the single market and freedom of movement.

The CoR recognises the financial impact the UK's departure will have and suggests using this as an opportunity to reform the EU's budget so it better takes into account the needs of local and regional governments. It warns that the UK's Great Repeal Bill – where the UK plans to transpose EU law into domestic law "wherever possible" – must be closely monitored so that "fair rules on standards and competition" are preserved.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, said: " Local and regional authorities respect but regret the democratic decision of the British people to leave the EU. Whilst remembering that some regional parliaments will have a vote on the deal, we must work to protect well-established ties between regional and local authorities in the EU and the UK "

During his intervention, Mr Barnier reiterated the importance of having open and transparent talks: " The absence of an agreement for everyone would have even more serious consequences . A 'no deal' scenario is not our scenario". He stated that: "We do want an agreement, we want to succeed, not against but together with the UK ", and highlighted that the key objective of the upcoming negotiations will be "Guaranteeing the rights of European citizens, in the long term . Our watchword will be: "Citizens first!"

The EU's chief Brexit Negotiator added that the uncertainty of local and regional governments delivering EU-funded projects must also be resolved. Noting that the programmes were "approved by 28, financed by 28 and so should benefit" 28 EU members he said. " When a country leaves the Union, there is no punishment. There is no price to pay to leave. But we must settle the accounts. We will not ask the British to pay a single Euro for something they have not agreed to as a member. In the same way, the 27 will also honour their commitments concerning the United Kingdom, its citizens, companies and regions ".

The CoR also calls for an EU-UK deal that would see the UK continue to pledge contributions into the EU's budget up to 2020, to limit the impact on on-going programmes and projects. Among its demands, the CoR calls for "special attention" to fisheries, a deal that addresses the "potentially significant" impact – in particular on the island of Ireland - on the EU's farmers, rural areas and biodiversity, as well as "temporary arrangements so as to minimise disruption to the current long-standing R&D projects, and by extension to local economies".

The statement highlights legacies of collaboration between the EU and the UK that the CoR would like to see preserved. In particular, it states that the CoR "wishes to see a practical solution that recognises the unique context of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland", noting that "the EU has played a major role in cross-border cooperation, not least between local governments in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for more than 25 years".

President Markkula also added: " The CoR will try to provide the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, with a complete picture of the evolving situation at local and regional level over the coming years, and will step up our contacts with regions most affected ".

Notes to editor

Speech by President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula

Speech by Michel Barnier

Photos of the 122nd Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions

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