Union Jack, EU flag and Welsh flag on a table together

The Welsh voluntary sector voice in the UK – EU relationship

Published: 14/09/23 | Categories: Influencing, Author: Charles Whitmore

Charles Whitmore, coordinator of WCVA and Cardiff University’s joint Wales Civil Society Forum project discusses the Welsh voluntary sector’s participation in the governance bodies underpinning the UK – EU relationship.

As divisive as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU has been, if there was one aspect most people would agree it has been synonymous with – it would be uncertainty. That said, we do have a clearer picture now of some changes and impacts that have taken place – for instance on immigration and the economy.

However, for a variety of reasons – uncertainty in many areas will likely continue to linger on. Indeed full border controls for trade are still being phased in, funding structures, including for youth mobility, cross-border volunteering and strategic partnerships are radically different now and more generally, stakeholders have yet to adapt to fully adapt to these and other changes.

Like other modern EU agreements, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), the text which underpins the new UK – EU relationship, provides for statutory institutional bodies for different groups of stakeholders to discuss and raise issues about the implementation of this relationship.

WCVA is represented on two such bodies – the Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) and the Civil Society Forum (CSF). We are hosting an online event 5 October from 10:00 to 11:30 to provide an opportunity to hear more about these structures, and for organisations to voice any thoughts, issues or themes that you think might be usefully raised in these discussions (registration and further information here).

What structures are there for civil society’s voice in the relationship?

The TCA has a relatively straightforward institutional structure at its core (the Senedd has an excellent guide here for those seeking a more comprehensive overview):

  • At the top – there is a partnership council for the UK and EU executives.
  • The core is comprised of a variety of committees on trade and non-trade issues (like social security coordination for example) with the Welsh Government able to observe some proceedings.
  • Alongside this core there is:
    • A Parliamentary Partnership Assembly for the UK and EU Parliaments to discuss and issue recommendations to the partnership council. Again the Senedd’s role has been limited to observer status with participation in any breakouts.
    • Two bodies for civil society: the DAG and CSF.

The DAG provides a space for UK civil society to talk to the UK Government and its European counterpart (the EU DAG), while the latter provides a transnational space for UK and EU civil society to dialogue jointly with the UK and EU executives (albeit so far, on a more restricted agenda than the DAG).

Over the summer, the UK DAG has established subgroups looking at several themes: regulatory cooperation and the level playing field, climate change and environmental issues, trade and customs, mobility, as well regional and devolved issued.

Where are we now and what next?

Ove the summer WCVA gave evidence to the Senedd on the functioning of these structures to date and noted that the first cycle of the DAG and CSF had focused on process and was invariably impacted by the political tensions arising from the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol.

This has led to quite a narrow focus on trade and left comparatively little space for discussing voluntary sector interests which lean more towards strengthening UK – EU cooperation in areas of shared interest. The challenges of sector resourcing for participation in these bodies also came through, as did the need for coordination, consultation, and strategy at the Welsh level.

We also learned that the second annual CSF is being led by the UK this time and is taking place in hybrid format in London on 7 November 2023. Organisations are free to express interest in participating or observing and WCVA will circulate more information as soon as it is available.

Meanwhile WCVA and the Wales Governance Centre’s Wales Civil Society Forum Project, with participation from colleagues involved in the PPA at the Senedd, is hosting an informal online discussion for organisations in Wales to hear more about these structures and to gather views that might inform the work of the devolution sub-group (which is open to non-DAG member organisations to participate).

The remit of the DAG is substantial – the entire TCA. So there are many topics that have so far been, and can be raised: from retained EU law, managing divergence and human rights to horizon Europe, employment rights, touring artists, youth mobility, energy and climate change regulation etc…

In the longer term, the first overarching review of the TCA is due 2025-2026, though whether this will be a light touch check or something more profound is – unsurprisingly – another uncertainty. With an upcoming general election in the UK, there may be a desire for a more comprehensive exercise on the UK’s part. However, it remains unclear whether the EU would be interested in pursuing this direction.

If you would like to know more about these structures and opportunities, please join meeting on 5 October from 10:00 to 11:30 – you can register to attend here.