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  • Strengthening the Role of Nations and Regions in the Recovery Strategy
    EFA/EA Seminar, Brwsel
    Medi 9fed 2012

    Rwy'n falch iawn o siarad yn y seminar pwysig yma ar y cyfraniad y gall rhanbarthau a gwledydd bychain ei wneud i adfywiad economaidd cynaladwy.

    It's a great pleasure to speak at this first joint seminar between the European Free Alliance group in the EP and the European Alliance group in the CoR. Our groups have very similar aspirations and political programme - the only difference in our names being that we are free! I only wish that was the case for all of our nations!

    Seriously, I believe that the more contact there is between our parties and our countries, the more effectively we can progress our common agenda for a different kind of Europe. As parties, our precise goals and aims may vary, but we share a common belief in a democratic Europe of the peoples, regions, and historic nations.

    I am President of the European Free Alliance Group in the European Parliament.

    We have seven members from Wales, Scotland, Flanders, Latvia, Galicia and Corsica. We work in a joint group with the Green parties in Europe and some others, as we have done very successfully for the past thirteen years.

    The economic crisis is happening against the backdrop of massive popular protests against public sector cuts and job losses - not least, of course, in Catalunya where a million and a half people were on the streets calling for independence. It was not just that the Spanish state had led them to the brink of ruin, but that Spain then had the temerity to try and lend them back their own money to bail them out - with interest. This economic conflict with the Spanish state has given huge impetus to the independence campaign which was already rapidly gaining ground as the popular referenda held in towns and villages across the country showed a few years ago. The election in November will be a crucial moment constitutionally as well as economically.

    European governments have chosen only one way to reduce their debts - stringent austerity measures. But these cuts will lead to more job losses, social unrest and economic stagnation. We cannot overcome problems using the same policies that created them. We have to invest in the future to rebuild our economies and restore peoples' trust as well as showing solidarity with people across Europe. We need truly sustainable long term growth.

    In this respect the role of government in nations and regions in economic recovery is today in sharper focus than ever.

    Of course, when President Barroso made his State of the nation address on 12 September, calling for a new federation of nation states, it wasn't our nations - Wales, the Basque Country, Scotland, Flanders - that he was talking about. It was the 27 EU member states. And that is a big problem. I can explain why using the example of Wales.

    Wales's economic problems are the result of UK economic policies and the inability to develop our own potential. We are now the poorest of the 12 UK regions (Scotland and Wales are not regions, of course, but are referred to as such for UK government administrative purposes). This poverty is not inevitable and has not always been the case. The massive wealth created by the coal, steel and slate industries were taken out of the country and were not re-invested in our economy. We suffered badly from de-industrialisation - the promised inward investment to replace the jobs which had disappeared with the heavy industries never came. Successive governments - Labour and Tory - were always looking elsewhere for solutions to our problems.

    Manufacturing was deliberately run down by the UK government in favour of support for the financial sector which benefitted the south east of England. The UK had their plan but their priorities were not Wales's priorities and damaged the Welsh economy.

    One of the apparent outside solutions to our problems was Objective 1 funding. West Wales and the Valleys - three quarters of the country - had one of the lowest GDP figures in the whole of the EU and so we got the billions that came with convergence funding. We still get it and we will almost certainly still get it after 2013 because our economy has still not improved.

    I believe that one of the main reasons for that was that Wales did not have a vision for its own economy and identity. The Welsh government since 1999 did not look at our distinct potential, both in terms of human and natural resources. Wales did not try to find its own path to recovery.

    That work did start when Plaid was in coalition government with Labour 2007 - 11. The Economic Renewal Programme did identify areas where investment could be focused to create real jobs. We also used EU funding to set up financial schemes to help companies retain workers during difficult times and to retrain those who had lost their jobs. We are calling on the government now to adopt innovative ideas such as Build4Wales, and not for profit company which could raise finance from pension funds, for example, to invest in major infrastructure projects - schools, hospitals, housing and transport - and by doing so create an estimated 50,000 new jobs.

    We have declared that one of the first acts of a Plaid Cymru government will be to establish our own national powerhouse for green energy, investing in national infrastructure from tidal energy to community-owned wind and hydro power, focussed on our own energy needs and exporting where appropriate but re-investing the profits for the benefit of the people of Wales. We won't allow all of the wealth to be taken away again.

    We have promoted a buy local policy of public procurement to source as many public sector contracts as possible within Wales. This is a comparatively simple but effective way of boosting the economy and boosting the confidence of smaller companies too.

    And we want to support and promote our own innovators, like the company in Cardiff which is the first in the world to use renewable energy to produce renewable technology. That's real sustainability. There is so much that can be done.

    Last year I published a report entitled "The Flotilla Effect: Europe's small economies through the eye of the storm". This showed that small countries working together could weather the storm of recession as successfully as large states because their economies were more flexible and more easily adapted to changing circumstances. "Small open economies are like rowing boats on an open sea. One cannot predict when they might capsize; bad steering increases the chances of disaster and a leaky boat makes it inevitable. But their chances of being broadsided by a wave are significant no matter how well they are steered and no matter how sea worthy they are". The report shows, as the economic crisis shows, that no country - large or small - is insulated from the global economy. But it has also highlighted that political independence is a real option for emerging nations within the European Union.

    What that means is having our own voice and our own vote in all the institutions which will determine the course we take.

    A new debate is opening up on the future of the EU which will take place in the run up to the European elections in 2014. We are already hearing some of the old entrenched positions. What we have to offer is not only new but it is a new way forward for our economies and for a better stronger partnership between all the countries of Europe.

    Jill Evans ASE

    Photo: Jill Evans