Welsh international affairs strategy due by the summer

(Title Image: National Assembly)

Another report discussed yesterday was the External Affairs Committee report on Wales’ future relations with Europe after Brexit – summary here.

Set out the scale of our ambition

Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said it was crucial for the inquiry to have an international dimension and the Committee held discussions with representatives from a number of nation states and stateless nations. He was pleased the Welsh Government has accepted, or accepted in principle, all of their recommendations.

“….it’s abundantly clear that Wales needs a new strategy of how we engage with the world after Brexit, or how we engage with the world full stop. Brexit is just an example of why we need to do it. This new strategy needs to be bold. It needs to set out the scale of our ambition as a nation. We must not be frightened of going perhaps that one step further than we would conventionally do.”
– Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM

He highlighted one of the key recommendations – that Wales learns from stateless nations (like Quebec and the Basque Country) which have successfully forged bilateral relations based on common interests.

The impression Mark Reckless AM (Con, South Wales East) got on the Committee’s visit to Brussels is Wales’s office there didn’t need as much of an overhaul as he first thought. He added the Basque Country was taking a hard-headed economic approach to external affairs and were well positioned to promote exports – something Wales needs to do.

Brexit makes this work far more urgent

Ambition and urgency (or a lack of) on the part of the Welsh Government were common themes in all AMs’ contributions.

Plaid’s International Affairs spokesperson, Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East), was particularly concerned at what she considers to be the Welsh Government’s lack of ambition on engaging with the Welsh diaspora; there wasn’t much detail on how they intended to do it. She was also critical of delayed timetables regarding the development and publication of the “Global Welsh” strategy; Brexit has surely made all of this work far more urgent?

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) stressed the need to change the political culture of the Senedd. There’s been too much criticism of Welsh Government spending on its overseas presence whilst ignoring the overall vision. He was supportive of efforts to maximise Welsh “soft power”, citing a Wales-Mexico international football friendly in California last year which drew an 80,000 strong crowd.

“….can I commend the British Council’s soft power barometer, which compares us with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Flanders and Quebec, amongst others? I think that’s a good indicator because there’s good and not-so-good news there, but there are some really interesting insights. We are rated sixth out of those 10, so we are behind Quebec, Flanders and Scotland, but ahead of Northern Ireland.”
– David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) was pleased the Welsh Government has created a cabinet-level post for international affairs. He called on the Welsh Government to make more of the international-minded organisations which already exist in Wales and have built up relations over a great many years.

International strategy “ready by the summer”

Minister for International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales) provided an update on her international strategy:

“Work on the strategy is ongoing, and I do hope that by the end of this month I will be in a position to present the first draft to the Cabinet, but the final document will be available by the beginning of the summer.”
– Minister for International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan

International affairs crosses several cabinet portfolios and discussions have been held with different departments. Brexit, of course, still looms and the Welsh Government are exploring whether Wales, as a constituent nation of the UK, can still take part in certain EU programmes like Erasmus in our own right.

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