By Eleni Marianou, CPMR Secretary General
The UK’s exit from the EU will have a disproportionate impact on regions in the UK and across the EU27, affecting trade links, regional economies and sectors such as fisheries and tourism.
In response to this potentially damaging situation, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions has adopted the ‘Cardiff Declaration’, which stresses that strong cooperation and collaboration between UK and European regions after Brexit is more important than ever.
Political leaders from regions in Europe’s North Sea, Atlantic and Channel sea basins, and further afield, gathered in Cardiff in mid-November for a high-level conference to outline their concerns about the disproportionate impact of Brexit on Europe’s regions, and their commitment to strong cooperation between Europe’s regions after Brexit.
At the meeting, they discussed and debated the CPMR’s recently adopted ‘Cardiff Declaration’, which calls on the EU institutions and the UK government to address these issues as a matter of urgency, which to date have been absent from the Brexit negotiations.
The Cardiff Declaration has come out of the work the CPMR has carried out over the past year to assess the implications of Brexit for regions and to consider how cooperation between the UK nations and regions and their European partners can continue after Brexit.
A number of studies by European regions have shown that the UK’s exit from the EU is likely to have a negative impact on their economic growth, investment opportunities and key sectors such as fishing and tourism.
The conference in Cardiff showed there is strong political support for continued cooperation and collaboration between European and UK regions, and in the coming months we will be pressing hard to ensure that this support is converted into robust action at EU-level and in the UK.
The CPMR, which represents approximately 200 million citizens in some 150 regions across Europe, will present the declaration to the European Commission and European Parliament, calling for regions to be fully represented in the Brexit discussions.
In January next year, a CPMR delegation, led by the Pay de la Loire region, will meet with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to convey the Cardiff Declaration’s political messages.
The Cardiff Declaration sends a clear signal to the EU institutions and the UK government: The voice of regions must be heard in the Brexit. Otherwise it will be everyday citizens living in regions that will pay the price.
Impact of Brexit on Europe’s regions
Initial analysis from areas such as Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland shows that Brexit will have a disproportionate impact on many regions and their key economic sectors, particularly if the UK pursues a hard Brexit, or worse if no deal is agreed.
Several regions across Europe, especially those in the Atlantic, Channel and North Sea areas, share close ties with the UK, trading regional good and services, working closely on European projects, jointly managing maritime spaces and fisheries, and developing important links between local businesses and universities.
The UK’s withdrawal from the Single Market and the Customs Union, and the subsequent reconfiguration of trade links will have implications for border arrangements and the transit of goods from Ireland to the UK and the UK to Europe. It will also affect the movement of cross-border workers and lead to increased costs for business and citizens.
These restrictions are likely to have damaging effects on regional economies throughout the EU 27, impacting on regional ports, their maritime economies, fishing and tourism sectors, and university research links.
In the French regions of Normandy and Brittany, which rely on the UK for most of their visitors, there are serious concerns about the impact of Brexit on tourism, as is the case in the Spanish region of Andalucía, where UK visitors account for 10% of total tourism.
For the Spanish region of Galicia, the biggest fishing region in Europe, the UK’s withdrawal could have a bearing on fishing grounds and have a serious impact on its local economy. These concerns for local fishing sectors have been echoed by other regions such as Pays de la Loire and the Dutch province of Flevoland.
In Scotland’s communities, particularly those in remote coastal areas that depend on workers from the EU in a range of sectors, it is predicted that exiting the Single Market would damage the economy and undermine wider social interests, as well as jeopardising research and innovation activities.
For the North West City Region of Ireland, which includes the areas of Derry City, Strabane and Donegal areas, analysis of the impacts of a hard Brexit points to a slowing down in business investment, jobs and growth.
For the Basque Country, the UK is the fourth largest destination for exports, and the third largest for imports, and for CPMR member region Wales two thirds of exports currently go to the EU, so any changes to its relationship with the EU could hit its economy very hard.
The Spanish region of Andalusia is in a unique situation regarding the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, where Brexit could have a negative impact on thousands of local Spanish workers who come to Gibraltar to work and on Spanish businesses who rely on Gibraltar for their incomes.
There are also large expat UK populations in Spain and other parts of Europe, and while the impacts of Brexit will be concentrated around the Atlantic, Channel and North Sea areas, the effects of Brexit will also be felt in regions in Sweden, Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean.
The EU budget will also be reduced, meaning less investment to bridge economic gaps between regions and countries. The lives and livelihoods of ordinary people in regions right across Europe are certain to be adversely affected.
The regional response
In response to these Brexit’s harmful consequences, the ‘Cardiff Declaration’ outlines the commitment of the CPMR and its member regions to ensuring that close links are maintained with the UK’s regions and nations post-Brexit, for the benefit of all citizens.
The UK doesn’t disappear as a result of Brexit, and the historic cultural, social, and economic links binding us together will continue. Brexit will an impact on all European regions, but it must not become a stumbling block to the established strong relations that benefit us all.
From the beginning of the Brexit negotiations, the CPMR has repeatedly called on the EU institutions and the UK government to ensure that the interests of regions are taken into account, and we have urged them to show an understanding of Brexit’s ‘territorial impact’.
We have also called on the EU27 to introduce new financial support mechanisms to alleviate the negative economic consequences of Brexit on Europe’s regions and key economic sectors.
And the CPMR’s Atlantic Arc and North Sea Commissions, which involve the regions that will be most affected by Brexit, have established special Brexit task forces focusing on the potential impact of Brexit on relationships between regions.
Building on these activities, the ‘Cardiff Declaration’ has been signed by leaders from CPMR regions including Wales, Brittany, Galicia, Pays de la Loire, Normandy, the Netherland’s Noord Holland region, North Denmark, Norway’s Ostfold County and Sweden’s Region Skåne, Region Västra Götaland and Region Halland.
The declaration calls for future frameworks for co-operation between the UK and the EU, through future EU territorial cooperation programmes, Horizon 2020 (research and innovation), Erasmus+ (education and training), and Creative Europe (culture) after Brexit.
It also supports the principle of robust transitional and customs arrangements, and for full and unfettered access to the Single Market, and stresses the commitment of the CPMR to a strong EU budget post-Brexit, underlining the central place of Territorial Cohesion at the heart of any future vision of the EU.
Next steps for regions
The aim now for the CPMR is to ensure that the messages presented in the Cardiff Declaration are converted into action.
As well as presenting the declaration’s political messages to the EU institutions, the CPMR is also setting up a unique new cross-Channel Task Force, to be led by the Normandy region, with the aim of fostering cooperation between France and the UK.
Bringing together the French regions of Normandy, Brittany and Hauts-de-France, and the UK regions of Norfolk, Southend-on-Sea, Cornwall and Hampshire, the Task Force will consider opportunities for cooperation on trade, tourism, science and academia, marine renewable energies, fisheries, and new ways to work together.
Let us be clear. The voice of regions must be heard in the Brexit negotiations. Europe’s regions must continue to prioritise our established work and friendships with the UK. Otherwise, it is the everyday citizens in our Europe’s regions that will be face the consequences.