The Welsh Government offices are but a stone’s throw from the back door of the University’s Law Building. For many of us in these two institutions, the European Union (EU) is a daily feature – if not focus – of our work. “EU Exchange Wales 2014”, a pilot initiative hosted by the Cardiff Jean Monnet Centre, brought together such people from Cardiff University and the Welsh Government, for regular and varied EU-focused discussions throughout 2014. The aim of this blog post is to share what we’ve been up to over the past year or so. In turn, we hope to catch the interest of future participants as EU Exchange Wales launches into 2015.
The principal aims of EU Exchange Wales 2014 were knowledge exchange and mutual learning amongst a group of interested participants who undertake work which is related to the EU or who have EU-related experience. These have been achieved. Indeed, over the course of seven sessions, five policy-makers and five academics have been involved in exploring a range of texts and topics together, exchanging knowledge and developing an increased understanding of the different ways in which issues and ideas are addressed in contrasting policy, institutional and research contexts. Participants took it in turns to select texts for discussion, two weeks before the session was due to take place. As such, the topics went some way to reflecting the varied interests represented in the group as well as the ebbs and flows of the political current over 2014; and all participants at some point entered uncharted territory in terms of the policy areas, level of governance and concepts addressed in our sessions. Our 2014 discussions encompassed a range of topics: the State of the Union 2013; the EU as an international actor; Wales and the EU; the EU’s social market economy; the European Parliament; the “narrative” of the EU; and freedom of movement. The types of texts upon which these discussions were based were also diverse, and deliberately so. They included speeches from EU actors, a debate from the National Assembly for Wales, policy pieces from a think tank, academic blogs and more. This variety encouraged us to think about the different ways in which we (as academics on the one hand and policy-makers on the other) approach, engage with and interpret different texts.
Reflecting on the past year, it is certainly the case that EU Exchange Wales 2014 has provided multiple benefits to the policy-makers and academics involved. These have accrued through the sessions themselves as well as the preparatory and post-session work. Notably, it is not only the substantive knowledge exchange that has been valuable; the process of thinking and sharing with each other over an extended period of time has been formative in and of itself.
Importantly, we were well-supported in pursuing EU Exchange Wales 2014, both by the Welsh Government and Cardiff University. We were delighted to receive a letter of support from the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones in May 2014, who welcomed the initiative. From Cardiff University, the Jean Monnet Chair, Prof. Stijn Smismans, supported EU Exchange Wales from its inception in 2013, for which we are grateful. We are also very appreciative of the Cardiff Jean Monnet Centre for its financial support, and Cardiff School of Law and Politics for hosting our sessions.
So, after a successful year, we are now taking EU Exchange Wales onwards into 2015, having held our first session on Tuesday, 10th February with the next on Tuesday, 24th March. We are all set for another year of engaging discussion and debate, throughout what will surely be a critical time in terms of Wales’ relationship with/in the EU. If you would like to express an interest in participating or would like further information about EU Exchange Wales 2015, please get in touch (MintoR@cardiff.ac.uk).