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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 17:26 GMT
Wales week in Europe
Iolo ap Dafydd
By Iolo ap Dafydd
BBC Wales' Europe correspondent

Grande Palace, Brussels
Brussels will witness a week of Welsh events
After Welsh St David's Day in New York and Pennsylvania this weekend comes Wales week in Europe.

The event has been a Brussels fixture for the past four years.

But this year's annual promotion of Wales, coupled with seminars and receptions will be the last in its present form.

Before long the Welsh Assembly will be the main shop window for Wales in Europe.

WEC - the Wales European Centre - will lose most of its staff, and have a narrower role, with fewer members after March.

This year the usual Welsh events like a St David's Day Lunch hosted by the British Ambassador to Belgium will take place again, and a reception at the European Parliament which as been well attended in recent years and an attempt to attract more positive attention to Wales.

A Welsh Development Agency food trailer parked at the Place de Luxembourg over the past four days offered delicious cooked Welsh lamb, steaming bowls of "cawl", various cheeses and "pice bach ar y maen" Welsh cakes to hungry passers.

Seminars

Nerys Howell, Ceri Lloyd and Sian Bassett delighted many, handing out food for free while dressed in Welsh red shirts.

It seemed a successful in your face message about wholesome Welsh food, all of it available in selected Belgian food stores.

Welsh food trailer, Brussels
Residents of Brussels get a free taste of Wales
The only worry was that so many punters didn't even know of Wales' existence. One stout Belgian man asked me whether the trailer and the meat was Irish!

There will be a series of seminars: on sustainable and regional development; on health and the environment; a stand of Welsh books and books on Wales in the city's Waterstone's store; and a Dylan Thomas celebration by Clwyd Theatr Cymru - Welshness will be very visible to those who seek it, for a few days a least.

Despite this week's optimism however, all does not seem well.

The prospects of a greater and improved Welsh representation in Europe is crawling rather than bustling along.

It all started a year ago, when on the eve of last year's Wales week - of all dates - Rhodri Morgan's office announced they would withdraw their annual £189,000 grant from the WEC by March this year.

Effectively, the largest contributor started a slide which saw the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), some universities and Forum withdrawing funding and membership of the WEC.

More are rumoured to leave, after serving their 12 month notice.

'Motivated'

To add to an increasingly demoralised feeling at the Brussels Wales Centre these days, six of the 11 staff, with their contracts running out, will leave during or after March.

Some have applied for other jobs, including the proposed new posts in a rapidly enlarged Assembly Office in Brussels.

Redundancy wrangling, union meetings and the slowing down of the Welsh European Centre all points to a stagnation, and a possible, if not probable, haemorrhage of experienced, qualified and dedicated staff away from the WEC.

According to one staff member, "people have worked hard, the best place I've worked in - with motivated and creative staff¿"

When new civil servant jobs have been filled in the Welsh Assembly Office, the WLGA will have their own representation, and while the WEC still fights for an independent survival, two key questions remain.

Neil Kinnock
Neil Kinnock is absent for the main Welsh reception
Will civil servants, and a civil service-led representative body answer Welsh needs, as well as promoting Welsh affairs, better than a creative, skilled staff with all of the contacts already in place?

And if continuity is being sacrificed, who will coordinate all the bodies which will be housed in the WEC's headquarters in Rue Joseph 2 in the future?

That and good clear, leadership must be a priority to avoid repetition and doubling up of policy and advice work which takes up most of the time of the staff representing Wales in the capital of the European Union.

Meanwhile, promoting Wales is harder than the obvious brands of Ireland and Scotland, it is true.

But surely a misinformed and outdated "bluffer's guide" to Wales which appeared in Brussels' weekly English language "Bulletin" magazine last week depicts all the clichés and stereotypes Wales has tried to move away from?

Bizarrely, and unfortunately, it was written a Welshman from Mumbles near Swansea!

Add to that, Neil Kinnock's - Brussels' and the European Commission's vice president and resident Mr Wales - unavailability to talk about Wales at the week's main reception on Monday (he has a meeting in Athens), or attend the St David's Day Lunch or even to shepherd more suspicious Belgians to chew Welsh lamb at the WDA's food trailer - then political and administrative decisions on how to improve Wales's profile in Europe in the future, seem to be quite urgent.


SEE ALSO:
Welsh wisdom wins Nato's ear
11 Nov 02 |  Wales


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