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Sefcovic non-paper

It’s great when a plan comes together. Or as they say, what’s rare is wonderful.

Last February, myself and other MEPs wrote to Maros Sefcovic proposing ways to address the ‘democractic deficit’ associated with the Protocol on Northern Ireland.

I started referring to better links between Brussels and Belfast as ‘connective tissue’ - a phrase that could be described as more vivid than lovely. But it helped to get the point across. Northern Ireland would be impacted by laws of the Single Market, so logic dictated that it should have as much impact on the preparation of those laws as the UK and the EU’s respective constitutional framework would allow.

As far back as 1776, the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’ was enough to inspire the American revolutionaries in the face of unfair British levies - not an exact analogy but instructive nonetheless.

I had spoken to Mark Durkan, former MLA and Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland about these proposals and he pointed out the potential of the Good Friday Agreement to also provide a forum for more connection between the EU and the UK on matters that affect Northern Ireland.

The proposals were not initially well received at EU level. After all, the proposals required a high degree of co-operation from the UK side which as we all know by now is far from guaranteed.

A resolution was passed in the European Parliament which referred to these ideas obliquely as ‘enhanced dialogue’ without going any further.

In May, Sefcovic agreed to meet me and my Parliamentary Assistant who happened to hail from Belfast. My assistant’s local knowledge, insight and common sense were of enormous assistance. So we headed up to the Berlaymont building, home of the European Commission for our meeting. I was aware that Sefcovic had been head of his country’s Permanent Representation office (or PermRep in the jargon) in Brussels when Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.

A few contacts briefed me about him, one saying that he was the best of the new intake at that time of EU enlargement.

It was clear from our engagement that he was engaged and interested in what I had to say. Many times when you meet a Commissioner, they can be quite distracted and anxious to move on to more important meetings.

Earlier this month, myself and more than 20 other MEPs, including Billy Kelleher, Ciaran Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan, again wrote to Maros Sefcovic with further proposals that would address the ‘connective tissue’ idea and which also addressed some of the issues raised at EU level.

So I was delighted to see some of these ideas in one of his non-papers published last week. All of the people I had spoken to in Northern Ireland were happy with these proposals and in fact they went further than most expected which it made it harder for Lord Frost to carry out any further diplomatic vandalism.

The non-paper specifically referred to a ‘sub-structure’ of the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly which would be dedicated to Northern Ireland issues. Back in January, I had proposed that just such a structure would allow MLAs and MEPs to talk through issues of mutual interest.

It also proposed building out the Joint Consultative Working Group associated with the Joint Committee overseeing the Protocol.

To be fair, it is rare enough that proposals make their way into official policy. But the main motivation is that the Northern Ireland Assembly will have to vote on whether to continue with the effective parts of the Protocol in 2024.

I hope that these ideas will go some way to avoiding the use of a phrase like ‘no legislation without representation’ in Northern Ireland.

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