As Brexit negotiations get underway, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the Scottish Government’s EU Office are hosting an evening reception in Brussels tomorrow (Tuesday 20 June) to ensure that the voice of civil society is heard throughout the process.

The Scottish third sector has a close alliance with Europe and its institutions, and the event will allow attendees to strengthen existing links, understand the key issues of stakeholders from wider European civil society and ensure their voices are heard on key issues.

A roundtable organised by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) will be held earlier in the day to bring together citizens’ representatives and decision-makers who are going to be involved in the Brexit negotiations to identify the key issues of concern to citizens and look for possible solutions to ensure that whatever deal is reached between the EU and the UK, the rights of citizens are upheld.

The main speaker for the evening reception will be Mike Russell MSP, Scottish Government Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe. SCVO Public Affairs Director John Downie will then chair a panel of civil society speakers – including Maggie Lennon from the Bridges Programmes and Petros Fassoulas, Secretary General of the European Movement International EU – which will discuss the impact of Brexit on the third sector in Scotland and understand the key issues of stakeholders from wider European civil society and institutions. SCVO Deputy Chief Executive Lucy McTernan will also speak at the event.

John Downie, SCVO’s Director of Public Affairs, said: “The benefits to the Scottish third sector of strong working relationships with EU institutions isn’t just about funding. Many health and social care charities in particular in Scotland have strong links with European organisations, enabling them to share best practice which benefits communities across various countries. It’s important we maintain these vital working relationships despite the outcome of Brexit negotiations, and it is hoped that this event will help to ensure that our voices will be heard in these challenging times.

“With no coherent or agreed view as to what ‘Brexit’ will look like, it is essential that all quarters of Scottish society pull together to ensure we can secure the best possible deal for Scotland’s communities, under such difficult circumstances. Certainly, the idea of an ‘All Scotland Brexit Commission’ – as recently touted by former Cabinet Secretary, Alex Neil MSP – is a very interesting one. In this spirit, the third sector would be keen to work alongside politicians from all parties – as well as the private sector, trade unions and other civil society organisations – to share knowledge, establish common ground and find the best way forward.”

Mike Russell MSP said: “The social protections and human rights which make Scotland an open and inclusive country are at serious risk due to Brexit. SCVO’s paper published earlier this year on the impact of Brexit on the third sector provides powerful evidence of the concern felt throughout Scotland. Over 80% of those surveyed believe Brexit will have a negative impact on the economy, on poverty and on human rights.
“The Scottish Government’s approach is focused firmly on securing our future relationship with the EU and protecting Scotland’s interests. Our third sector and wider civil society has a vital role to play as negotiations progress in sharing the stories of what Europe means to the people of Scotland – whether in terms of Charitable funding, world leading research, advancing Human Rights, protecting our environment or freedom of movement.”

The event follows a delegation of third sector organisations to the European Commission earlier in the year, which aimed to encapsulate some of the big challenges facing both Scottish and European civil society.

For more information on the roundtable event, visit http://ecas.org/event/roundtable-brexit-citizens-rights-go/ or follow the conversation live on Twitter using #BestBrexit4U .