“Soft power”essential to Welsh foreign relations after Brexit

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

External Affairs Committee
Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the World (pdf)
Published: 21st February 2019

“A new strategy for how Wales engages with the world needs to be bold and set out the scale of the Welsh Government’s ambition. This, in essence, is what we are calling for in this report. Whilst there has been much to celebrate in terms of the relationships that Wales has built over previous decades, the approach all too often has been patchy and incoherent.”
– Committee Chair, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon)

1. Wales needs a refreshed international relations strategy in light of Brexit

The current Welsh Government international strategy was published in 2015 – before the Brexit referendum. Aberystwyth University’s Dr Elin Royles said it lacked a sense of direction. Sir Emyr Jones-Parry also told the Committee that Wales needed “a louder voice” to push our own interests – something he believes isn’t happening at the moment.

Minister for International Relations & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales), confirmed that a new strategy was being developed, with the values of the Future Generations Act at its heart.

The Committee believed that for this new strategy to work, there needs to be broader buy-in from Welsh society (including businesses and universities) and formal coordination between different Welsh Government departments, particularly where responsibilities overlap with the Minister’s.

2. With Welsh influence in Europe expected to decline after Brexit, new ways of working with EU institutions need to be found

AMs were told by the head of the UK’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) delegation that EU institutions were unlikely to want to have formal direct relations with a “sub-state actor” (a non-independent state), particularly in light of concerns from the Spanish Government that this would fan the Catalan and Basque independence movements.

Informal networks (i.e. business and cultural organisations) would, therefore, become more important to Wales after Brexit. However, witnesses said it was vitally important for the Welsh Government to maintain an official presence in Brussels.

Nonetheless, the Committee expects the devolved legislatures to have a role in any inter-parliamentary arrangements between the UK and EU institutions after Brexit; the Senedd recently endorsed a report from Wales’ two representatives on the CoR making the case for this.

3. Quebec and the Basque Country are seen as a good templates for Wales

Wales already maintains a number of bilateral ties with stateless nations and regions (i.e. Flanders, Bavaria, Noord Holland), but Quebec and the Basque Country were singled out as examples of what Wales should aim for.

Both have also set clear priorities for what they want to achieve on the world stage, based on common interests. Both have bilateral agreements (memorandums of understanding) with Wales; the Basques are particularly keen on the protection of minority languages while Quebec has high-level co-operation regarding the aerospace industry. The Committee believes Wales should adopt a similar approach as there’ll be fewer opportunities to work with multiple nations and regions at the same time after Brexit.

4. More could be made of the Welsh diaspora and Welsh Government overseas offices

Walter May of Global Welsh told the Committee there were potentially 3million people around the world who could be considered part of the Welsh diaspora.

Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand have all run successful international relations campaigns based on their respective diasporas. The Committee said it was up to the Welsh Government whether any Welsh scheme should be a privately-led venture (as in New Zealand) or publicly-backed (as in Scotland).

On the subject of Welsh Government overseas offices – which have been criticised in the past as being ineffectual – Emyr Jones-Parry said more could be made of UK Foreign Office assets and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to piggyback on UK foreign policy objectives. The problem there, he said, was ensuring London knows Wales has its own interests in terms of foreign policy.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs’ Auriol Miller stressed the importance of “soft power” – communicating “a nation’s ideals, beliefs, values, political heritage and culture”. The British Council do this at a UK level, while Emyr Jones-Parry cited sport as a good example of soft power being used to Wales’ benefit.

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