Headlines: February 10th, 2005

The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have already established strong bargaining positions for their territorial interests in the development of European policy, according to a study by researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.The study shows the new administrations have already created a strong position, particularly in agriculture, which is likely to affect how the United Kingdom handles areas such as rural development and the approach to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The research, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through its Devolution and Constitutional Change Programme, says although English regions have offices in Brussels, as do each of the devolved administrations, the new bodies have acquired greater policy-making resources and a clearer sense of priorities with which to influence EU policy in their territorial interests.

Martin Burch, Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, says the new administrations do face some disadvantages because their civil servants are outside the informal Whitehall network that plays an important role in forming UK policy. The devolved administrations, he says, are better placed than English Regional Assemblies and Development Agencies, most of which have far less impact in Brussels than the better-resourced offices set up by the devolved administrations. “We have found growing concern with European issues in the RDAs and the Assemblies, ” he adds.

Professor Burch says this is particularly true over EU structural funds that support regional development and it is becoming increasingly the case with rural and trade policies.

The researchers identified four new networks of influence that they see operating in place of the old Whitehall network. They are a formal, exclusive Whitehall network, as before, an evolving network between the devolved administrations and Whitehall, one that works between the devolved administrations, without Whitehall and finally a more diverse network linked to Britain’s Permanent Representation in Brussels.

Devolution, the researchers conclude, has begun to change the details of the UK’s EU policy, and they believe its influence is likely to increase. Prof Burch says, “There have already been changes in agricultural and rural policies, reflecting the interests of the devolved administrations, and there has been some input to environmental and fisheries policies. So far, such examples are limited, but they are likely to increase, and this could have a significant impact on the UK’s approach to the Common Agricultural Policy and on rural development policy. “