By Jamie McKay
With UKIP expected to make huge gains in this Thursdays Assembly elections, and voters asked to decide on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union in the referendum taking place at the end of June readers may wonder what EU membership has done for Wales. Those arguing for either a Leave or Remain vote have made use of arguments spanning all those issues regarding our membership of the Union from matters of economics, business, agriculture, immigration and security. But just what benefits does membership bring Wales? And what downsides would there be if June sees a Leave vote?
Cardiff University itself receives a large amount of funding from the European Union across a range of subjects. CUBRIC (Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre), which opened just under a month ago, boasts of being one of the best facilities in Europe for brain imaging. Those students who pass the new building may have noticed the billboard advertising the new centre, along with its main sources of funding. The £16.2 million needed to construct this state of the art facility came from the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund (or ERDF).
Though the University’s net gains from the EU don’t end with this new addition to Cardiff’s range of facilities. Europe invested £4 million in CUBRIC but £10 million in Bangor’s new Science Park, £20 million in Aberystwyth’s Innovation Campus and £40 million in the new Swansea Bay campus. Two months ago, the Science section of this paper listed the benefits that European funds have brought to researchers based in the United Kingdom. Funds from Europe make up 16% of Britain’s science funding, between 2007 and 2013 the UK won five and a half billion pounds in grants, proving that despite regularly finding ourselves at odds with our neighbours, Britain is remarkably successful at winning EU grants. Last year Cardiff University secured funding for 26 projects under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. Especially useful at a time when government science funding faces harsh cuts from Westminster.
Benefits to EU membership don’t end with science funding. The Welsh government estimates that since 2007 EU-funded projects in Wales have been responsible for creating 11,925 enterprises, an estimated 36,465 jobs and assisted 72,600 people into work. Other projects have assisted Welsh students in their education, with 227,670 with new qualifications and 55,780 of those in further learning able to thank EU funds for assisting them.
Welsh agriculture would also take a serious hit in the event of a leave vote. The common agricultural policy provides around £200 million a year to more than 16,000 Welsh farms. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, funded by both the EU and the Welsh government, provides £957 million to farms and businesses across the rural regions of Wales.
Last January, First Minister Carwyn Jones clashed with UKIP leader, and Britain’s leading Eurosceptic, Nigel Farage. The First Minister citing his experience in Welsh politics, stated that leaving the union would prove a catastrophe for Wales. Farage claimed that over regulation from Brussels was to blame for the difficulties faced by British industry, an argument that grabbed the audience’s attention with the difficulties faced by British Steel. Farage came out on top in that debate, but neglected to mention Welsh Government figures showing Europe providing billions to their overall budget. Eurosceptics argue that this money would still be available thanks to the money saved by cancelling EU payments that come with membership. But with both the British and Welsh government’s warning against a Leave vote, readers are asked to carefully consider how they’ll vote this June.