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The Welsh Government has welcomed the agreement on how the next £2 billion of European aid will be spent in Wales. The minister who negotiated the deal, Jane Hutt, says that it will deliver real economic growth and jobs.
This announcement is a significant milestone with the European Commission confirming Structural Fund allocations to Wales of over £2 billion. This is great news for Wales and this new EU funding will have a real impact on the Welsh economy and job creation. It will help us deliver more innovative and inspiring EU-funded projects.
There's been criticism that previous rounds of European aid have been spent on too many small projects, which though worthwhile in themselves did not improve the prosperity of West Wales and the Valleys. The area remains one of the poorest parts of the entire European Union.
Whilst this funding will be welcomed, we must not forget that it has only been granted due to the failure of successive Welsh Labour Governments to improve Wales’ economic performance in previous tranches. Back in 2000, former First Minister Rhodri Morgan described Objective 1 funding as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Well here we are again, and under Welsh Labour parts of Wales remain amongst the poorest areas in the EU, never mind the United Kingdom
One of the main beneficiaries of the new funding will be the South East Wales metro plan to improve public transport, after the Welsh Government successfully argued in Brussels that some of the money had to be spent on transport if the aid programme was to achieve any lasting economic improvement.
With elections to the European Parliament just weeks away, Carwyn Jones is also expected to use his conference speech to emphasise what he says are the benefits to Wales from being part of the European Union.
Wales has always been proudly European. We have always seen the very real benefits of being a part of a wider European ideal – with shared values and principles.
Economically we cannot afford to leave and it’s time we had a proper debate about the very serious consequences that withdrawal would have on the very fabric of Welsh life.
In her speech to Plaid Cymru's conference, the party's MEP is expected to say the European Union needs a shake-up to make it 'more relevant' and 'more democratic.' JIll Evans says she wants to return to Brussels to complete 'unfinished business.'
She's the longest-serving of Wales' current group of four MEPs, having first been elected in 1999. But she faces an uphill struggle for re-election in May with support growing for UKIP.
She's expected to tell delegates,
The European Union is a remarkable achievement. But now is the time for change to make it more relevant, more democratic and more successful.
It has led the way on combatting climate change, but it is losing its nerve at the very time when we need radical and positive action.
As a nation with natural assets and huge potential as a powerhouse for renewable energy, Wales should be working in close partnership with the EU and internationally to develop that potential. We need ambitious targets if we are to tackle this serious problem.
I aim to be back in Parliament after the May election, to continue to work for the Welsh national interest and for EU reforms so that the people of Wales benefit fully from membership. Europe must work for Wales.
Despite the strong showing in UKIP support for this May's European Election, the Wales Barometer Poll shows that supporters of staying in the European Union now outnumber those who would vote in a referendum to leave the EU.
- Stay in EU 41% (38% in December)
- Leave EU 38% (40% in December)
- Don't know/Won't vote 22% (22% in December)
Meanwhile, as the prospect of a referendum on the devolution of income tax powers appears to be receding, support for the whole idea is also in decline.
- Yes 31% (35% in December)
- No 42% (38% in December)
- Don't know/Won't vote 28% (26% in December)
Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans calls for people living in communities which will benefit from European aid to be given more say in how it's spent. Her call follows a vote by MEPs backing EU budget plans which will see more than €2bn of aid granted to Wales between 2014 and 2020.
Labour MEP for Wales, Derek Vaughan, has welcomed a vote in the European Parliament which rubber-stamps the EU budget for 2014-2020 including proposals to give Wales more than €2bn in aid.
MEPs have backed budget plans which will see European aid given to Wales until 2020. Their final vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg follows years of discussions on the distribution of aid money to some of the poorest regions of the EU.
Wales has qualified for the highest level of aid which is expected to mean €2.1bn over the course of the spending period. It's a higher amount than had been expected after the UK Government agreed to cut some funding from parts of England.
It'll be the third round of aid given to Wales. The Welsh Government has been criticised for some of its previous spending priorities. If it gets permission from the European Commission, it intends to spend more of the next batch on roads and other infrastructure projects.
Derek Vaughan MEP has met the European Regional Policy Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, to press the case for an increased aid budget for West Wales and the Valleys. He was interviewed afterwards by Georg von Harrach. The pictures are from the European Parliament.
ITV Cymru Wales understands that the European Commission is close to approving the Welsh Government's proposals for spending €2.1 billion of aid to West Wales and the Valleys over the next seven years. Rough percentages have been given to the different spending priorities.
- Roads, public transport and other Infrastructure 50%
- Small and medium-sized businesses 15%
- Research and development 15%
- Low carbon projects 12%
- Information technology 8%
Although nothing is officially decided until the plans are formally presented as part of the UK Government's submission, the Welsh Government is close to securing half the money for its major priority of infrastructure development. The other four priorities have been set by the European Commission.
In a separate development, Welsh Labour MEP Derek Vaughan says Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn is "receptive" to the UK Government's plan to avoid a projected cut in the aid budget for West Wales and the Valleys to nearer €1.6 billion. Parts of England will lose out as a result.
It just seemed a nonsense that Wales could get a cut of 22%. We have won the arguments with the UK government, now we need to win the arguments with the Commission. The Commissioner is very sympathetic towards Wales. He knows and understands that Wales usually uses the funds well.