Save region’s office in Brussels

COALTION politics brings good news and bad news. For our region, it is good that a second runway at Stansted has been cancelled. It is bad that the cuts considered to be unavoidable by the new government have stalled the A14 improvements scheme around Cambridge, forcing everyone to endure for more years that slow and dangerous road.

It is good, in my view, that we are to have a chance in a referendum to decide to move to a fairer voting system for the House of Commons. It is bad, again in my view, that EEDA, our regional development agency, is to be scrapped in favour of patchy, vague and uncoordinated ‘local enterprise partnerships’.

It is good, of course, that the Lib Dem presence in government has obliged the Tories to drop their visceral anti-Europeanism. But the collapse of regional politics carries one serious risk for our standing in the EU.

The East of England’s office in Brussels is under threat of the axe. For many years this has been a small bureau of four to six people, situated around the corner from the European Parliament, who have been working to raise the profile of the region in Brussels and to help MEPs transmit useful information about the EU to leaders of our regional community back home.

The East of England staff have been invariably hospitable to legions of councillors, business people, trade unionists, farmers, researchers, students and the like who have made their way to Brussels. Co-funded by EEDA, business and local authorities, the office has punched well above its weight. Its total loss, or even its diminution, would do grave damage to regional interests in the EU and to the EU’s understanding of, and empathy with, our region.

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Despite the pretensions of Lord Hanningfield, when our largest county council of Essex tried to go it alone in Brussels, nobody in the European Commission or Parliament was interested. The smallest perceptible blip on the radar screens of Europe’s integrated political economy is the region. Go smaller and you’re likely soon to be lost from sight.

In the next few days crucial decisions are to be taken by the out-going regional structure about the future funding of the Brussels office. I hope that all political parties, universities, NGOs and business will work to keep the bureau alive, to retain the accumulated know-how and to bat for the East of England in this year’s critical round of discussions on the future of EU funding for social and regional development.

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