Redwood stifles Welsh initiative in Europe: Minister emphasises UK link to prevent region forging direct contacts with Brussels. Leonard Doyle reports

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The Independent Online
JOHN REDWOOD, the Secretary of State for Wales, has ordered the Welsh Development Agency to drop the marketing theme 'Wales in Europe' from its promotional literature and told it to print brochures emphasising Wales as an integral part of the UK.

Mr Redwood, an Englishman whose constituency is Wokingham, Berkshire, is also reported to have told the agency that the Union Flag should be given pride of place with the Welsh emblem, the red dragon, in its literature on the grounds that potential foreign investors are confused by material emphasising Wales as a dynamic region in a borderless European Union. The new brochures will have a map of Britain on the front, highlighting Wales.

A staunch Eurosceptic, Mr Redwood has reservations about the way Wales and Scotland are seeking to bypass Whitehall by forging direct contacts with the European Commission in Brussels and with other European regions.

The Government has fiercely resisted moves to strengthen the power of regions in Europe and only grudgingly agreed to allow elected representatives to take their seats on the new Committee of the Regions established under the Maastricht Treaty. The trend across the EU is for the regions to become more assertive even as national sovereignty is eroded by political and economic integration of the Twelve.

Mr Redwood's interference in the WDA is seen by critics as a direct attempt to stifle the increasingly self-confident voice of Wales. Mr Redwood was recently accused of having a colonial attitude towards Wales for arguing in a new book that the Welsh should be friendlier to English people.

A Welsh Office spokesman confirmed yesterday that Mr Redwood had ordered changes in the literature, saying that following a trip to the Far East and North America last year he concluded that foreigners were often unsure where Wales was.

'People should understand first of all that Wales is part of the United Kingdom,' the spokesman said. 'Mr Redwood's aim is to continue the success that Wales has achieved in attracting investment . . . there is no question of his downgrading Wales in any way.'

Mr Redwood's antipathy to Wales's strong identity is increasingly being felt at the WDA, which provides most of the funds for the unofficial 'Welsh Embassy' with its staff of nine, in Brussels.

The WDA has also fostered formal links with the most dynamic regions of Europe, including Baden- Wurttemberg, Catalonia, Rhone- Alpes and Lombardy, and helped countless Welsh businesses to develop contacts abroad.

'John Redwood must think that Wales is a suburb of Wokingham,' Rhodri Morgan, Labour's spokesman on Welsh economic development, said. 'It is a different country with its own economic aims and ambitions, let alone language and culture, and John Redwood should not try and submerge us into the Home Counties.'

The suggestion that literature promoting Wales in Europe was confusing to foreign investors was nonsense, he said. 'They come to Wales because it is a bridgehead to Europe,' he said.

Wayne David, Labour MEP for South Wales, said that one of the reasons for the relative economic success of Wales in recent years was that it promoted itself as a distinct part of the UK in its dealings with other European regions, many with decentralised governments.

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