- Composition of the Study Group
- Administrator / Assistant in charge: Sveto TRAJKOVSKI / Elisabete DIAS
The EU-UK Follow-up Committee was set up in March 2021 for the purpose of maintaining and strengthening relations between EU and UK civil society organisations, as well as for monitoring the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement. To keep abreast of developments on the ground, and to advise the EU institutions on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Committee has relied on contacts with UK-based civil society organisations and associations. These contacts have taken a variety of forms: invitation of UK organisations at Committee meetings, bilateral meetings of the Chair and members with various interlocutors, and Committee members participating in related EU and UK events.
Some provisions of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, particularly those governing citizens' rights, significantly affect civil society organisations in both the EU and the UK, which makes the Committee's monitoring of the implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement all the more important. In addition to its economic implications, and due to the necessity to safeguard the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, has been particularly complex and politically sensitive. This is because any unilateral changes by the UK government could undermine the peace process and even trigger a trade war between the UK and EU.
In view of this, the Committee is organising a mission in the UK in October 2022 for the purpose of assessing the implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It aims to do so by drawing up an EESC information report in accordance with Rule 49 of the EESC Rules of Procedure. Based on fact-finding missions on the ground in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), the information report will examine and establish the state of implementation of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, and particularly the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as perceived by UK civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders.
The general objective of the information report will be to feed into the political dialogue between the EU and UK and promote a joint reflection on their future relationship. More specifically, the information report will be transmitted to the relevant services in the European Commission, EEAS, European Parliament, and Council, as the EESC's contribution to addressing issues arising from the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol.
Based on evidence collected via a five-day fact-finding mission to the UK, the EESC:
- Highlights the enthusiasm of UK civil society organisations (CSOs) for engagement and cooperation with the EU, its institutions and European organised civil society by fostering civil society links through existing and any future formal structures that facilitate and deepen their cooperation.
- Points out that the EU-UK relationship is heavily burdened by the impasse over implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, as part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA), and that a mutually agreed resolution of this issue could be key to opening the way towards a constructive, mutually beneficial, and wider EU-UK relationship, optimising the potential that lies in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
- Conveys the views of UK CSOs that the domestic advisory groups (DAGs) and the civil society forum (CSF) need to be fleshed out, developed and supported. In this context, UK CSOs point to the composition of the UK DAG, which appears to be imbalanced both in terms of proportionate representation of employers, workers, and the third sector, and in terms of proportionate geographical representation from all parts of the UK.
- Stresses the views of UK CSOs, particularly UK youth organisations, that the loss of free EU movement and people-to-people contacts arising from the UK's decision not to remain in EU programmes such as Erasmus+ is one of the most negative and undesirable consequences of Brexit. In this context, the EESC welcomes the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly's unanimous agreement to raise the issue of a future mobility scheme for young people between the UK and the EU with the Partnership Council.
- Notes that progress has been made towards addressing concerns over the implementation of the provisions of the EU-UK WA protecting the rights of citizens. However, it regrets that so many problems persist. These are causing considerable distress and inconvenience and could have dire consequences in the future. Liberal democracies should not allow individual citizens and their families to become collateral damage of their political differences.
- Underlines that the evidence collected during the EESC's fact-finding mission, based on first‑hand in-person contacts with UK CSOs, clearly demonstrates an overwhelming desire across UK CSOs for a deeper, more cooperative, and constructive relationship between the UK and the EU, which would optimise the potential of both the WA and TCA.