Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Welsh Society in Brussels

  I understand that the Welsh Affairs Committee is looking into the promotion of Wales abroad by UK institutions. As chairman of the Welsh Society in Brussels and a Welsh exile for the past six years I felt that I should make a contribution. Although the views expressed here are my own and not those of the Society we have nonetheless discussed this issue and were largely in agreement on our conclusions, you may well receive submissions from other members.

  In brief I would say that it is difficult to see what, if anything, UK institutions do to promote Wales here in Belgium. Until a few years ago we were fortunate in having a Welshman as British Ambassador here. Sir John was an enthusiastic supporter of Welsh causes and did much for our country, but without his presence in the embassy little now appears to happen. This is fairly typical in my experience, Wales only benefits when we are fortunate enough to have a Welsh person in a position of influence who has a personal commitment to promoting Welsh interests. This is obviously not a satisfactory situation.

  As regards to other institutions here in Brussels the story is much the same. Wales did have a number of cultural events here to mark the holding of the EU summit in Cardiff and certainly the British Council and the embassy were involved, where the driving force and the funding came from for these I couldn't say. Apart from that particular series of performances and exhibitions during the period of Britain's presidency I can recall little else that has ever been done by the BC for Welsh culture. The Welsh Society has regularly organised St David's Day celebrations here with speakers and music in co-operation with the Wales European Centre and other Welsh bodies, but the BC's role in that has been peripheral.

  Similarly the British Tourist Authority appears to do little for Wales. WTB literature is available in the BTA office and that is about all. The WTB has its own stand at the annual tourist fair in Brussels and for the rest of the year tourism in Wales is forgotten.

  Very few obviously Welsh goods are available for sale here. Almost the only one we could recall was Ty Nant water which is to be found in most supermarkets and in many up-market restaurants. How much official support this has received I wouldn't know, but, if it can sell mineral water abroad, it would indicate that good packaging and marketing plus commercial contacts can work for almost any Welsh product. There is obviously a lesson there for other Welsh companies, but how likely is it that any British official will be sufficiently interested to look into the matter?

  It is my opinion and that of others to whom I have spoken that most official British bodies do little or nothing to promote Wales abroad and it is too optimistic to expect them to. Far more realistic and fruitful for Wales is that its own bodies and organisations do the job themselves. The Wales European Centre has recently been expanded and has new premises, it is the obvious body to promote Wales here in the capital of Europe. The Assembly will have to look into how it promotes Wales in the rest of the world, but, inevitably, if you want a job done do it yourself.

Rhodri Thomas


10 October 2000

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