On 19 February a group of 26 Civil Servant representing all NICS Departments travelled to Brussels for a two day study visit. The annual visit is designed to provide participants with an understanding of how the EU works and to increase Northern Ireland’s engagement within the EU. Since last year the study visit has focused on the UK withdrawal from the EU, and this year it coincided with the start of phase two of the negotiations.
The Brussels Office organised an intensive programme for the participants to deepen their understanding of the EU Institutions and its legislative processes, and to develop their insight into the exit negotiations happening in Brussels. The participants heard from representatives of the Article 50 teams from the UK and Irish Permanent Representation to the EU about their respective roles in the negotiations. The participants also heard from the Head of the Welsh office in Brussels about how they engage with the UK Permanent Representation, the EU and others as a Devolved Administration in Brussels. A representative of the Swiss Mission to the EU explained to the group about engagement as a third country, which reflects ongoing work in the Brussels Office to develop understanding of how third country missions engage with the EU.
The programme included a visit to the European Parliament, where the group received a very informative overview of the EU, with a focus on the UK withdrawal. They then met with Northern Ireland’s three MEPs, Jim Nicholson, Diane Dodds, and Martina Anderson, who explained the role of the Parliament in the UK exit negotiations as well as setting out their own views on the current political developments in the EU. Wednesday afternoon was given over to individual meetings where participants met with their counterparts in the European Commission, the UK Permanent Representation or from another Member States to discuss specific policy issues.