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Written Statement - Visit to Brussels

Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance

I was in Brussels on 6 March to promote Wales and to build on our links with our EU partners, with NATO HQ in Brussels and with our friends involved in the commemoration of the First World War through work on the new memorial to Welsh people who served in the War.

I hosted the annual St David’s Day reception, which was attended by approximately two hundred people drawn from across the EU institutions and by individuals from the wider diplomatic and business communities.

In my speech I affirmed the Welsh Government’s strong commitment to the EU and to continuing to be a constructive partner for our friends across the European Union and within the United Kingdom. I said that we take every opportunity to promote the advantages of the EU, including membership of the Single Market, the funding programmes that support investments for growth and jobs and the opportunities for co-operative research across the continent.

I underlined our commitment to promoting trade and investment, saying that the Wales House office in Brussels has expanded its role, to undertake trade and investment work.

I also outlined the Welsh Government’s international outlook and our focus on being the location of the NATO Summit in September, with reference to NATO HQ in Brussels, the First World War commemorations and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, which was marked by a display at the venue.

At the event I met with individuals including the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, with whom I discussed our programmes to help people into work and increase young people’s skills, and the NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, with whom I discussed the NATO summit. Ms Grabar-Kitarović said that she was keen to promote Wales and that Wales would be the centre of global attention in September.

I also met with the Mayor of Langemark, where the memorial to Welsh people who served in the First World War will be unveiled in August, and discussed the commemoration and its resonance today. I thanked him for the local Council’s contribution to the memorial and members of the Flemish branch of the Welsh Memorial in Flanders Campaign, who were also present, for their work.

In addition, I met with the European Commission’s Director-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Lowri Evans, and the Ambassadors of the UK, Canada and New Zealand, discussing matters including economic development, trade and marine energy.

The reception also showcased and promoted the finest Welsh produce, including beef and lamb (through Hybu Cig Cymru) and Welsh mussels and fish, along with cheeses, beers, ciders and whisky.

Prior to the reception I had a useful discussion on communicating the benefits of the EU with the wider “team Wales” in Brussels, including staff of the Welsh Government EU Office, the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh Higher Education Brussels.

I also had a meeting at the UK Permanent Representation to the EU, where I expressed concern over the delay in the UK Government submitting the UK’s Partnership Agreement on the delivery of the European Structural and Investment Funds to the European Commission. The discussion confirmed that the Welsh Chapter of the Partnership Agreement had been well received and that our detailed European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund Operational Programmes were progressing well. Members can find up-to-date versions of these key draft documents on the WEFO website at:  http://wefo.wales.gov.uk/programmes/?lang=en and http://wefo.wales.gov.uk/programmes/post2013/milestones/draftwelshukpa/?lang=en

Finally, I had a meeting at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture at which I affirmed the Welsh Government’s commitment to increase the numbers of young people involved in the Erasmus + programme, which will, for example, allow them to study or undertake work experience in another EU country. I also stressed the importance of Erasmus + supporting more Welsh language projects.

As I and the First Minister have often stressed, the EU is important to Wales because of the opportunities it provides for increased trade and inward investment, the funding programmes that invest in growth and jobs and the opportunities to study and work in other EU Member States and to conduct co-operative research and innovation.

My visit to Brussels reaffirmed to our EU partners the Welsh Government’s commitment to our membership of the EU and I was also able to demonstrate our outward-looking focus by engaging with NATO HQ ahead of the Summit and by thanking our friends involved in the commemoration of the First World War.