Friday, 19 December 2008

Montenegro applies to join the EU

Montenegro's Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovi, was in Paris this week to submit an application from Montenegro to join the EU. The Prime Minister met with the President-in-Office of the European Council, Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom Montenegro's EU application was submitted. This will be sent to the European Commission which will then assess whether Montenegro meets the conditions of membership and make its recommendation to the Council as to whether or not Montenegro should become a candidate country. It is then for the European Council to vote unanimously on the Commission's recommendation and in doing so open formal negotiations.

Having achieved its independence on 3 June 2006 and now two and a half years later has lodged an application to join the EU. I wish Montenegro well in its application and look forward to the day when an Independent Scotland joins Montenegro at the top table not only in Brussels but also in the UN in New York and in other international organisations and is able to have its own distinctive voice, take its own decisions and work together with the international community in addressing such key global challenges as international development, climate change, economic governance.

I've met with the Montenegrin Ambassador to the EU on a number of occasions in Brussels to find out how Montenegro is faring since achieving its independence and have also helped Montenegro mark its national day on 13 July by holding out a hand of friendship from Scotland

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

EU's major boost for Scotland's climate change effort

The European Parliament finally adopted the EU climate change package today - I watched the vote from the office in Brussels. There was a sense of achievement when the climate change package went through and from the Parliament's side all those who worked on the details of the deal should be commended for the effort that went in. Out of all the legislation, MEPs passed today the most crucial one for Scotland was the adoption of the renewables package. With the setting of a 20% renewables target by 2020 the boost this will bring to Scotland's renewables industry will be massive. It will see increased EU funding and research resources for energy infrastructure projects, including the North Sea supergrid, cut red tape for renewables and ensure there is priority access for connecting renewables to the grid.

The carbon capture and storage package is also key for Scotland not least because of the support it will provide to the CCS industry in Scotland in terms of giving the industry legal certainty for investments. Once again, the EU's support for carbon capture and storage in Scotland is well recognised which is in complete contrast to the attitude in London which pulled the plug on Scotland's opportunity to lead on CCS technology through the Peterhead power station project. Scottish Power's Longannet coal fired power plant is currently bidding to win the UK's CCS pilot competition- I hope this time round all parties will back Scotland's bid to lead in this area.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Tougher EU action on climate change?

So EU leaders finally reached a deal on climate change. I did wonder if the EU leaders would manage it with Italy and Poland having earlier in the negotiations threatened to veto the package but the stakes were too high if the EU had failed - what signal would this have sent out to the US, China, India and the developing countries if the EU hadn't been able to reach a deal. For one thing it would have certainly weakened the EU's hand and its position in leading the world in the run-up to the negotiations for a new international climate change agreement in Copenhagen next December.

While the 20/20/20 targets by 2020 remain intact and while there are significant improvements, the compromise deal has been seriously weakened with the winners heavy industry (supported by Germany, Poland and others) in that some industrial sectors will be exempt from the full auctioning of emissions permits and able to receive up to 100% of allowances free from 2013 until a new international agreement on climate change is concluded. A review is scheduled in 2018. This applies to those industries most at risk from "carbon leakage" concerns - i.e. that manufacturing industry could pull out of the EU and relocate to countries where their polluting laws are less stringent. Sectors exposed to carbon leakage are to be identified by the Commission by the end of December 2009.

Free allowances will be allocated on the basis of best-in-class technology benchmarks. The Commission has estimated that more than 90% of manufacturing emissions would qualify.

The number of emission allowances will be capped in order to deliver a 21% cut in industrial emissions during the whole period 2013 to 2020 compared with 2005. During the trading period EU allowances will increasingly have to be auctioned rather than being distributed free-of-charge.

The power sector will have to buy 100% of allowances from 2013. But Poland and some other eastern states managed to win concessions enabling some of their power stations to receive up to 70% of allowances free in 2013, declining to zero in 2020. Eligible plants will be those poorly integrated into the European electricity grid or those that individually provide more than 30% of national electricity in countries with relatively low GDP.

For those industries not at risk of carbon leakage, the auctioning rate to be reached in 2020 is set at 70% with a view to reaching 100% in 2027, bearing in mind that the initial level in 2013 is set at 20%. Germany and Italy were calling for 80% of free quotas right the way through. A deadline for the introduction of 100% of paid quotas has been set as 2025, five years later than what the Commission had originally proposed.

There is to be a financial solidarity mechanism. 88% of the total allowances to be auctioned each year will be distributed among the 27 EU Member States with the revenue from the remaining 10% of carbon allowances auctioned by EU Member States being allocated to many of the central and east European countries to help them modernise their energy infrastructure. An additional 2% would be distributed among those that had reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2005 relative to 1990 levels.

Between 2013 and 2016, Member States will be authorised to use money raised at auction to provide up to 15% of the investment costs of building high performance electric power stations.

Pre-allocation of part of auctioning revenues: The European Council notes the will of Member States to devote at least half of all auctioning revenues to finance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in Europe and the developing world, but without a binding commitment. So there is only a voluntary earmarking of 50% auction revenues for climate purpose with it left very much up to the Member States to decide.

A greater number of smaller industrial installations will be excluded from the EU ETS under the compromise text where the threshold for exclusion has been raised from 10,000 tonnes CO2 emissions per year to 25,000.

The Commission must propose including shipping in the scheme from 2013 if there is no international climate agreement by the end of 2011.

Allowances will be allocated centrally by the European Commission, rather than by Member States through national allocation plans.

When it comes to funding for carbon capture and storage EU leaders agreed that up to 300 million allowances in a new entrants reserve (the European Parliament was calling for 350 million) can be used to fund CCS measures until the end of 2015. Plants fitted with CCS will be regarded as not emitting any greenhouse gases.

We are all now looking to the European Parliament to keep the pressure on for ensuring there is tough EU climate change action and that the 20/20/20 deal stays on course during next week's crucial vote. Scotland of course is already leading Europe and the rest of the world with the publication last week of the Scottish Government's ambitious climate change bill.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Ireland made to vote again

EU leaders are in town today for the end of term European Council meeting - the constant hovering of helicopters outside the office window and blaring of police sirens is always a sure tell tale sign of their arrival and movement across Brussels.

On the agenda is some hefty dossiers - the climate change package which we need to see a deal reached on and the EU's response to the economic crisis with its economic recovery plan. But before that there is the issue of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last June to sort out. I genuinely feel for Ireland - being made to find a way out of the impasse when its people have already said, in a democratic vote, to the government, no we don't fancy this Treaty.

I'm not going to say much on this as we already know that Ireland has been given a number of legal guarantees on those issues of concern expressed by the Irish, i.e. neutrality, tax policy, social, ethical and family issues. There was also agreement about each Member State being able to keep its own Commissioner in future European Commissions. These are to be written into a protocol together with Croatia's accession treaty to the EU in 2010 or 2011.With these guarantees Ireland can now proceed to asking its people again to vote in another referendum on the Lisbon Treaty before November 2009. This is no way to do business in the EU and is frankly disappointing.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

EU renewables boost for Scotland

The EP and Council are still in the midst of negotiating the EU's climate change deal and from what we are hearing and seeing the negotiations are proving to be ever more difficult with the financial crisis being seemingly used by many member states to 'backtrack' on commitments they made previously. The deal comprises a number of legislative proposals including the revised Emissions Trading Scheme, sharing effort in reducing greenhouse gases with developing countries and carbon capture but for the moment concerns remain over the issue of carbon leakage (i.e. where there is some concern that polluting industries could relocate to other countries that have less stringent emissions regulations), the redistribution of revenues of auctions, solidarity and funding of carbon capture and storage pilot projects.

However, the EP did manage to get a compromise on the renewables package, which contains a number of key points crucial for Scotland and our renewable industry:

Mandatory renewable energy targets: the 20% binding target for EU energy consumption to be produced by 2020 has been retained and there is to be interim targets fixed for each Member State but these will be non-binding. The EP did manage to strengthen the requirements around the National Renewable Energy Action Plans that each Member State has to submit to the Commission by 30 June 2010. Member States are obliged to submit an amended action plan if they miss the interim or 2020 targets. The Commission can also initiate infringement proceedings if a Member State fails to introduce "appropriate measures" to meet its interim targets or if its national action plan is judged to be inadequate. This is supposed to ensure Member States do actually deliver their targets on time. Measures for improving energy efficiency are to be included in the action plans. Progress reports are to be submitted to the Commission every two years detailing their shares of renewable energy, support schemes and progress on tackling administrative and grid barriers.

Flexibility and cooperation mechanisms whereby Member States work together under such mechanisms enabling them to help each other meet their national targets. Such cooperation could entail the statistical transfer of renewable energy between countries or taking part in joint renewables projects. National support schemes for renewables can also be joined up between various Member States to help achieve targets. The European Parliament managed to strengthen transparency requirements for "green electricity" with an online transparency platform for Member States to access and exchange information on the new renewables directive. EU countries can also meet their targets by importing electricity from non-EU countries under certain conditions, i.e. that the electricity must be consumed in the EU.

When it comes to the use of renewables in buildings Member States will have to introduce measures to increase the uptake of renewables in the building sector.

The Parliament was also successful in cutting the red tape and reducing the administrative burdens for investment in renewables and in ensuring legal guarantees for priority access of renewables to the electricity and gas grid with the importance of developing central district heating and cooling systems using renewables highlighted.
Not all of the deal is good - on biofuels the position retains the 10% target for renewable fuels in road transport by 2020. Although disappointed, it has at least been watered down and made more flexible. One third of the target will be made up through electric cars and trains, not biofuels, and the target will be reviewed in 2014. The Commission will bring forward proposals in 2010 to limit indirect land-use change, and biofuels from non-food sources will be promoted with a "double bonus" scheme.

On the whole I think this compromise is probably as good a compromise as we are going to get and we now await to see the outcome of the ongoing wrangling with the other climate change dossiers. With the mini session last week in Parliament, MEPs had the opportunity to hear from the EU Energy and Environment Commissioners and the French EU Presidency about the state of play with the rest of the negotiations. EU Energy ministers met yesterday in Brussels and the EP is supposed to vote on the whole package on 17 December, so we can only hope a deal is reached at the European Council in Brussels next week.

If the EU is to be taken as a serious global player in the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen next December then it needs as strong and united a position as possible.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Opening of Fionna Carlisle’s energy exhibition

Scotland’s Minister for Europe and Culture, Linda Fabiani MSP formally launched Fionna Carlisle’s North Sea oil portraits exhibition this evening at a reception hosted by Alyn, the Scottish Government EU Office, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Highland Council.

I had gone down to the exhibition earlier in the day to see what the portraits looked like hanging up as a collection. With EU energy ministers having met on Friday and EU environment ministers meeting today to continue negotiations on the EU climate change package and EU leaders meeting at the end of the week the timing of the exhibition could not have been better. Combining Scotland’s unique culture with our energy industry worked extremely well and being able to help showcase a Scottish artist right at the heart of Europe was certainly well worth doing, exposing EU officials from 27 Member States, Ambassadors and other visitors to the EP to the significance of Scotland's oil and gas industry.

Of course the recent publication of the McCrone report (1975) under the 30 year rule showed the lengths successive UK governments went to to deprive Scotland of access to our own North Sea resources and Scotland's independence. According to the McCrone report, an Independent Scotland with her oil and gas reserves would move from being Europe's 10th wealthiest nation to Europe's third wealthiest nation.

It is scandalous as it is outrageous to think what the people of Scotland have been denied after 30 years of lies and deceit by successive UK governments. For a copy of the McCrone report and the truth about Scotland's oil rich economy have a look at the following website:

Above: With Linda Fabiani MSP and the First Minister

Above: With the artist, Fionna Carlisle

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Scottish Trad Awards, Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket

Having got back from Brussels late on Friday night it was straight to Perth yesterday morning for National Council. A number of motions were passed not least on trade justice and on the ongoing and worsening humanitarian crisis in Palestine, especially Gaza. I’m pleased to say that MEPs earlier this week had voted to postpone voting on the EU-Israel Association Agreement (essentially the Memorandum of Understanding on Israel’s increased involvement in EU funding programmes) given the escalation of the crisis. Our Group in the Parliament had requested it be removed from the agenda for the time being along with the Socialists and the Group of the United European Left.

At the end of National Council I took part in the European hustings with our other candidates for the EP elections next June chaired by Angus Robertson MP. With the party’s hustings not til February this was a good opportunity for members to see who we all are and to hear from each of us.

Thereafter it was straight down the road to Glasgow with Rob Gibson MSP to the 6th Scottish Traditional music awards taking place that evening in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket for the first time. Once again it was a fabulous night – this was my third Trad awards with the last two years held in Fort William’s Nevis Centre. Tonight was being televised by MG Alba for the first time. Rob had booked a table for us all.

It was great to see and hear so much of Scotland’s own talent and to be part of this cultural experience. The music was as ever just stunning. Tonight was opened by Capercaillie with performances from Lau, Karine Polwart, Session A9, Breabach and Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller. The Trad Awards was where I first heard our Gaelic Ambassador, Julie Fowlis, and it certainly opened my mind to learning more about my own cultural heritage which is played out in so many of the Gaelic songs which are just simply beautiful.

Already I am looking forward to 7th annual awards in Dumfries in November 2009 which will also conclude the Scottish Homecoming celebrations in 2009.

Above: With Linda Fabiani at the Trad Awards after a fantastic evening of music.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Scotland’s North Sea energy portraits in Brussels

I was in early this morning to meet Will Mulholland of Art Link who was delivering a collection of 25 paintings by the distinguished Scottish artist, Fionna Carlise to the European Parliament. This was her Energy: North Sea oil portraits exhibition which has previously been shown in The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Duff House, Shetland Museum, La Defense in Paris and now for the first time in Brussels and the first time in the European Parliament.

The collection focuses on the vital role played by Scotland’s oil industry with portraits of various individuals who have played their part in the history of our oil industry, from oil-rig builders, helicopter pilots to the technical and service staff on the rigs themselves. It also includes a painting of Alex Salmond before he became First Minister of Scotland.

Alyn was sponsoring the exhibition which opens in the EP on Monday for a week. We had booked the Yehudi Menuhin space last December so it has taken us a year to be able to bring such a collection to Brussels – such is the pressure on space in the EP and believe me it is no easy feat. With 27 Member States plus all their different regions wanting to showcase their cultural heritage in the EP (and what a great place to do it in), you need to book key space at least a year in advance.

The exhibition had been organised as a real collaborative effort with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Highland Council and the Scottish Government EU Office.

The works on display are a striking and dramatic interpretation of Scotland's energy resources and provide an interesting cultural landscape to the current debate on the EU's proposed Energy Package.

More information about the artist and her work can be found on her website at

As the office of the MEP sponsoring the exhibition I had to be there in the EP’s garage to meet them and ensure there were no problems with security. Standing at 8.30 in the morning in the freezing cold in a place the size of an airport hangar and where I’d never been before I had a real sense of anticipation as I waited for a collection of Scottish art to arrive from home. After weeks of preparation it was finally here.

I had first met Fionna Carlisle, who comes from Wick, in June when she came across to Brussels with Julie Lawson of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to see for herself the space we had booked for her collection. One of the things that is great about this collection is that Fionna actually went offshore and spent some time on the oil platforms to enable her to get a better understanding of Scotland's oil and gas industry - but it is a fantastic collection.

Ironically, this exhibition has arrived in Brussels just as the Scottish Government published its climate change bill which if passed will ensure Scotland has the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world with all six Greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping included within the ambitious 80% target by 2050. This should put Scotland at the forefront of global and European efforts to tackle climate change.

Here are some of the paintings from the collections on display inthe European Parliament this week:

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Labour's carping on marine renewables

Glad to read this morning the supportive comments from the EU's energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs about the Scottish Government's 'strong leadership' in developing the Saltire Prize. The EU's recognition of the Scottish Government's commitment to advancing marine renewable technology (wave and tidal power) by launching a world-wide competition with its £10 million Saltire Prize shows how far Scotland's relations with Europe have come since the SNP took power in Scotland last May. It also stands in complete contrast to the bizarre and negative carping from the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray (as reported in today's Herald, "Salmond urged to do more on energy front").

This Scottish Government has done far more on the renewable energy front than Labour ever did in its 8 years of power where nothing was done to encourage or incentivise the massive potential sitting on Scotland's doorstep, around its shores.
Scotland has massive marine renewable potential with the Pentland Firth very much the Saudia Arabia of marine power. With 25% of Europe's tidal power and 10% of wave power, the potential for further investment, jobs and opportunities not to mention for Scotland as a whole in leading the world in developing renewables in this area is enormous. Scotland has waited a long time for this potential to be finally realised.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

SNP quiz night in Forth

I was up in Forth last night at the Royal British Legion Club for a quiz night organised by my own local branch, the Wallace Branch, and assisted by Carluke. I met up with Aileen Campbell MSP and other members of the Clydesdale CA and although my team didn't win, we still managed to raise £240 for election funds. It was a good night so a big thanks to all those who helped organise it.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The EU's economic stimulus package - will it work?

With the worsening economic and financial crisis the EU finally published its response today with its European economic recovery plan. I've not yet had the chance to go through all the details of what the Commission is proposing but its clear that this is not a one size fits all- it couldn't possibly be given the differences between Member States in terms of their budgetary and economic situations and outlook and their exposure to the current economic and financial crisis.

Top line is the fiscal stimulus of 200 billion euro (1.5% EU GDP). Most of the money will come from national budgets, with EU Member States asked to contribute 170 billion euro (1.2% of EU's GDP). The rest -around 30 billion euro or 0.3% of EU GDP would come from the EU's own budget and the European Investment Bank.

The recovery plan is based on short-term measures to boost demand, protect jobs and restore consumer and business confidence. It aims to drive a coordinated EU response to the economic crisis and builds on the coordinated EU response to the financial crisis.

The Recovery Plan combines coordinated national action with a number of EU policy measures that have already been adopted by some national governments. There are 10 priority initiative measures:
(1) increased support for the unemployed and the poorest households, which have been hit hardest by the economic slowdown, by launching an employment support initiative through the European Social Fund and the Globalisation Adjustment Fund, increasing efforts to develop skills.
(2) Creating demand for labour by adopting temporary VAT cuts across the whole economy and lowering taxes on labour, in particular VAT on 'labour-intensive' sectors such as hairdressers and restaurants. There are also suggestions for reduced social charges on lower incomes to promote the employability of lower skilled workers but since taxation is a matter for member states the Commission makes it clear that it is up to Member States to decide whether or not they wish to take up any of these suggestions.
3) Improving access to finance for business (e.g. the European Investment Bank has already significantly increased its loans of 30 billion euro to SMEs and the Commission is planning a simplification package to speed up its decision-making on state aid, as well as temporarily, giving member states greater room for manoeuvre in granting companies loans)
4) Reducing administrative burdens and promoting entrepreneurship (including by removing the requirement on micro-enterprises to prepare annual accounts, facilitating access to public contracts and ensuring that public authorities pay invoices within one month);
5) Increasing investment to modernise Europe's infrastructure (in particular, an additional 5 billion euro in funding for trans-European energy interconnections and networks and broadband infrastructure projects, as well as the launch of a 500 million euro call for proposals for trans-European transport (TEN-T) projects)
6) Improving energy efficiency in buildings;
7) Promoting the rapid take up of “green products” (the Commission will propose reduced VAT rates for green products and services, related in particular to the building sector)
8) Increasing investment in R&D, innovation and education;
9) Developing clean technologies for cars and construction (through public-private partnerships for green cars - with total funding of at least €5 billion - energy efficient buildings - the estimated funding for this partnership is €1 billion - and “factories of the future” - with funding of €1.2 billion); and
10) Developing high speed internet for all.

Member States are also to be given greater flexibility in managing their budget deficits with the temporary relaxation of the stability and growth pact's 3% of GDP ceiling on budget deficits. The pact is supposed to ensure fiscal discipline is maintained and enforced across the eurozone and non-eurozone countries. But key to this economic recovery plan is that it is very much an attempt by the EU to get Member States to coordinate the various actions they are taking to combat the economic downturn and stimulate the EU economy. Ensuring there is a coordinated European response is all pretty much what the Commission can do given that most of the policy levers for dealing with the economic and financial crisis remain the competence of national governments.

The plan is a step in the right direction. Indeed, many of the EU policy measures suggested will be of benefit to Scotland and I will be interested to see further details about this additional 5 billion euro for funding energy and broadband infrastructure. However, first we have to see the reaction of EU finance ministers, then the EU leaders when they meet in Brussels on 11-12 December. Then we will have to how it will be implemented by the Member States and the extent to which it can help Europe's economies get back on track in terms of long-term growth and ensure Europe retains its competitiveness vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

Monday, 24 November 2008


If you are interested in following any of the discussions that are now underway on the future shape of Europe's agriculture, it is worth logging on to a new website that has just been launched by the Institute for European Environment Policy called "CAP 2020". This is providing various policy briefings and other info setting out what the thinking is on the future of the CAP in the Agriculture ministries of each of the 27 EU Member States.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A good result for Scotland

With the EP having sent its view to the Council yesterday it was now the turn of EU farm ministers meeting in Brussels today to reach a final political agreement on the CAP health check.

The deal finally reached was welcomed by Scotland’s Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead MSP who was at the talks. In a press release he stated that this was a good deal for Scottish agriculture because “on key issues our voice has been heard loud and clear given that we have retained the freedom to deliver policies tailored to our needs. "It is in Scotland's interests to have a European farming policy that supports sustainable production rather than over-production and in that context the CAP Health Check moves in the right direction". The deal was also supported by Scotland's National Farmers Union with key issues resolved concerning the continued operation of the Scottish beef calf scheme and the disparity between Scottish and EU rates of modulation being significantly reduced.

In a press release on the DEFRA website the UK Government states that it could not support the final Health check deal because “it allows unused funding from the Single Farm Payment budget to be used to fund payments coupled to production, rather than being returned to the Member States, and because it creates short-term competitive distortions and uncertainity in the dairy sector from a range of measures, particularly through different increases in milk quotas for some Member States and unnecessary reviews of the phase-out process”.

London was also “disappointed that the Health Check was unable to go further in reforming the CAP, and we are concerned about the market distortions created by the increased flexibility in the use of `national envelopes’ which allow Member States to reintroduce production-coupled payments to support specific farming sectors”.

The UK government has already set out its stall on the future CAP reform backing a position that wants to see the phasing out of spending in pillar 1 with payments under a reshaped pillar 2 of CAP focusing on delivering environmental benefits that the market wouldn’t otherwise deliver.

Detailed implementing regulations will be drawn up by the Commission in 2009 with most of the provisions entering into force as of 2010. While the implementation of the CAP health check now passes back home, the discussions for the real reform of the CAP post-2013 are getting underway and we need to ensure that Scotland's farming and rural interests are very much central to any future shape of the European agricultural model and that is something which we will be working hard to do.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Outcome of EP vote on CAP health check

MEPs today gave their backing to the CAP health check. While the SNP backed the compromise deal that was eventually reached by the Parliament’s political groups, it was very much a “lukewarm thumbs up” from us.

All our amendments which passed the Agriculture Committee vote last month got through today and were incorporated into the Parliament’s position. These concern provisions on voluntary modulation, which will provide some clarity to how modulation will impact on Scotland’s farmers, making set aside a normal entitlement, including sheep, beef and goat payments in a single payment scheme by 2010 and establishing the principle that no adjustments in modulation must lead to lower general rural development funding. However, all our amendments on decoupling for sheep and beef and on deleting progressive modulation, as well as on retaining cross compliance as a tool against wildlife crime were lost.

So what was agreed by the EP?

Modulation: the Commission is proposing to amend the modulation rate from its current 5% to 13% by 2013. The EP wants the rate to increase to only 7% by 2013. MEPs want farmers who receive subsidies of less than 10,000 euro per annum to be exempt from modulation, which currently applies to all farmers who receive more than 5,000 euro. MEPs also want to see the extra funding that is released from the increase in modulation be used to finance more challenges than those identified by the Commission (climate change, renewable energy, water management and biodiversity) and that this money shouldn’t be co-financed by national budgets as is currently the case for rural development programmes.

Dairy: The Commission is proposing to increase Member States’ milk quotas by 1% per marketing year until 2013-2014. Ceilings are to be abolished completely in 2015. The EP agreed to a 1% annual increase in quotas until 2013-2014, but asked the Commission if the situation could be reviewed in 2010 and for new proposals to be made before the end of the quotas if necessary, i.e. before they are abolished. MEPs also called for the creation of a milk fund to help restructure the sector.

Decoupling: EP amendments mean that coupled aid (linked to production) will be retained until the end of 2012 in sectors such as fodder, protein, flax as well as sheep and beef sectors and the tobacco sector.

Support for hard-hit sectors, insurance and market intervention: Other amendments adopted would allow Member States to use up to 15% of Community funding they receive to support hard-hit sectors such as livestock and dairy farming and to contribute to insurance and mutual schemes (Article 68 support).

Monday, 17 November 2008

Iceland to apply for EU membership in 2009?

With the collapse of the Icelandic banking system there has been much discussion in the Icelandic press as well as our own as to whether the Icelandic government will lodge a formal application next year to join the EU possibly in 2011 and adopt the euro. Many Icelanders believe that that the financial crisis could at least have been alleviated had Iceland been in the EU and part of the eurozone. A survey published at the end of October showed that 68.8% of Iceland’s population would like to see their country joining the EU (compared with 55.1% in February). A previous poll carried out just before the start of the financial crisis showed that 49% of Iceland’s population supported EU membership with 27% against and 24% undecided.

At the end of last week the Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde, who leads the centre-right Independence party which is opposed to EU membership, announced he was setting up a special commission to investigate the benefits of Iceland joining the EU. It will report back to the party’s annual congress which has been brought forward from October 2009 to January 2009 and it will then be for the Prime Minister to take a decision.

While this commission will undoubtedly be looking at the implications of different EU policy areas for Iceland such as fisheries, regional policy, energy, the single biggest stumbling block to Iceland’s membership of the EU remains the common fisheries policy as presently constituted.

Reform of the CFP is due to get underway early next year with the Commission’s publication of a public consultation (Green paper) in February and a legislative proposal on the reform of the common organization of the market is expected in October 2009.

The Commission is already making supportive noises saying that it would warmly welcome such a move and noting that Iceland has already implemented perhaps two-thirds of the acquis communitaire as a member of the European Economic Area. However, with the possibility of Iceland seeking to join the EU the need for the CFP to be radically reformed becomes all the more urgent.

What will be interesting to see is whether any possible EU membership application from Iceland encourages Norway to consider joining Iceland in applying for membership? If that happens, what then will become of the EEA?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Europe's energy security and what it means for Scotland

Implications for Scotland

Green Paper on Energy Networks

Of particular interest to Scotland is the publication of a Green Paper on Energy Networks. This sets out 6 priority infrastructure projects for the EU, including a Blueprint for a North Sea Offshore Grid to interconnect national electricity grids in northwest Europe and planned offshore renewables projects. This will be issued in 2009 with steps and timetables for interconnecting the various planned offshore projects.

It also proposes a future European Supergrid of which the North Sea Grid would form a key building block.

A number of other proposals are made for the development of EU-wide energy networks, building on the existing Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E) approach and increasing funding and leverage through the role of the EIB, Structural Funds, and the new Energy Security and Infrastructure Instrument, which is to replace the current TEN-E budget and is limited at only 22 million euro per year.

It recognises the 'significant role' of offshore wind in delivering renewable energy targets, as well as improving security of supply and solidarity.

The paper also suggests that the EU needs to consider how it will promote investment in EU-wide transportation and storage infrastructure for CO2 as part of CCS, possibly through widening the scope of TEN-E.

The paper highlights the important role of research, planning and coordination in delivering the infrastructure at the EU level, and reinforces the role of the EU offshore wind Grid Coordinator, the EU Industrial Initiative on Electricity Grids, and the forthcoming Knowledge and Innovation Communities for sustainable energy.

Finally, it calls for a new approach to planning, suggesting that EU priority projects could be included in national strategic plans and in the future priorities of regulators such as Ofgem and system operators. The public consultation is open for views until 31 March 2009.

Communication on Offshore Wind Energy

This sets out the significant potential for the development of offshore wind resources to meet the EU's 2020 targets, and points out some of the barriers to its development (including grid integration). The paper recognises that there is significant capacity for expansion of offshore wind in the North Sea. It suggests that offshore wind could represent more than 30% of electricity production from renewable sources by 2020.

It sets out the Commission's view of the way forward, including on research, where greater significance will be given to offshore wind in the Strategic Energy Technology Plan, FP7 and Intelligent Energy Europe.

It also calls on Member States with offshore resources to adopt National Action Plans that would spell out the expected contribution of offshore wind to the 2020 target and to implement maritime spatial planning, including proper designation of marine protected areas under the Birds and Habitats directives.

Finally, it says that the large scale integration of offshore wind in the electricity grids should be one of the key issues for follow-up to the green paper on networks.

View of the Scottish Government

The Scottish Government has also welcomed the publication of the Commission's Strategic Energy Review which identifies a North Sea Offshore Grid as an infrastructure priority. The Energy Review is of great importance and significance to Scotland with our potential to generate up to 25 per cent of wave, wind and tidal power for the whole of Europe. What this shows is that Scotland is well placed to play a key role in ensuring the security of Europe's energy supplies in future.

The European Parliament's powerful Energy Committee, on which Alyn sits as an alternate member, is currently considering its response to the Commission's Second Strategic Energy Review. The Parliament's view is being drafted in the Energy Committee by the French Liberal MEP Anne Laperrouze with opinions from the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Environment Committee also expected. The Energy Committee is scheduled to adopt its report on 20 January with all MEPs voting on the final resolution in plenary in Strasbourg on 18 February. Undoubtedly we will try to put down some amendments and ensure that Scotland's energy interests are foerfront in the discussions here.

Ensuring Europe's energy security

Yesterday the European Commission published its Second Strategic Energy Review which forms the basis of the EU's second energy action plan (2010-2012). Given the implications this has for Scotland’s energy interests, I prepared a briefing note on what is in the Energy Review and what it means for Scotland which I have set out in this blog and the next one:

The energy security package is part of the EU's energy policy, which is based on three pillars: sustainability, competitiveness and security of supply. Each of these 3 pillars has been taken forward by three separate proposed legislative packages.

(1) Internal energy market for electricity and gas - in September 2007 the Commission proposed the third package on the internal market with the focus on opening up Europe's energy markets to greater competition and investment and ensuring effective regulation. Member State governments in the Council agreed their position in June 2008 with the EP adopting its position in July. A final agreement is expected early next year when the Czech Republic assumes the EU Council Presidency.

(2) On 23 January 2008 the Commission came forward with concrete legislative proposals for tackling climate change (20/20/20 targets by 2020) with its green energy package. This comprised legislative proposals for a new approach to actively promoting the use of renewables, updating the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme and the sharing of effort among the Member States, new rules to stimulate carbon capture and new state aid rules on the environment.

(3) This current package sets out an overall strategy for improving energy security and the need for solidarity among the member states with the focus very much on security of supply and developing the external aspects of the EU's energy policy.

The strategy is based on 5 pillars: external energy relations, requirements in terms of infrastructure and the diversification of energy supply sources, oil and gas stocks and crisis response mechanisms, better use of local resources and enhanced energy efficiency policy for buildings and products.

It charts the policy priorities for the next Commission, due to take office in September 2009.

Second Strategic Energy Review

The Commission's proposed energy security strategy is accompanied by:

  • the adoption of a new EU Energy Security and Solidarity Action Plan

  • the launch of a consultation (Green Paper) on Energy Networks for the promotion of new infrastructure to ensure EU energy security. Key is the need for member states to be better connected and linked up to the European Grid.

  • a proposed revision of the EU emergency oil stocks legislation so as to improve coherence with the International Energy Agency system, increase reliability and transparency of available oil and gas stocks. The Commission will also start consulting with a view to proposing in 2009 a revised Directive on security of gas supply. The Commission wants to see improved EU crisis response coordination as well as finding a more suitable threshold for triggering EU action.

  • a Communication on Offshore Wind – the Commission already supports the setting up of a working group to prepare a project for a North Sea offshore network;

  • a Communication in 2010 on overcoming barriers to renewable energy in the EU, focusing on practical issues such as grid constraints that could limit the 2020 target.

  • a new co-ordinated approach on improving and diversifying energy supply from outside the EU with the development of stronger relations with Norway (especially in terms of joint offshore wind projects in the North Sea), energy dialogue with Russia and speeding up negotiations for Ukraine, Moldova and Turkey joining the Energy Community.

  • the creation of an EU Energy Fund by December 2008, supported by the European Investment Bank (EIB), to mobilise large-scale funding from capital markets to invest in new low carbon technologies and energy efficiency.

  • A new Energy Efficiency Package to speed progress towards the 20% target - a Communication on the implementation of national energy efficiency action plans, a revised draft directive on buildings, a revised draft directive on the labelling of consumer products, a proposal on tyre labelling as well as combined heat and power guidelines and communication;

There will be a Communication on the financing of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan in 2009. This will also examine various additional measures to make 12 EU Carbon Capture demonstration plants a reality, including Community-level funding; Preparation of a Roadmap for a 2030-2050 Energy Policy for Europe to be published in 2010.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Scottish journalists in Brussels

Much of today has been taken up with a group of Scottish journalists which we brought across to Brussels for a one day training session. The group came across yesterday with many of them journalist students studying journalism at various universities across Scotland and wanting to learn and see for themselves how the EU works. Also among the group were a number of journalists from Scotland’s local newspapers. We had organised their visit with the main aim being for the journalists to gain a better insight into the EU and its institutions, what it does, how to follow its work and the relevance of Europe to Scotland and why it matters so it was a full day with back-to-back meetings arranged for them.

Hopefully we managed to introduce them to some pretty useful folk here who they can be in touch with when it comes to reporting any EU stories with a local relevance.
The journalists had the chance to meet with the other Scottish MEPs once they had toured round the Parliament, seeing the chamber and where the committees meet. They also met with civil servants in Scotland House to find out more about the work of the Scottish Government and what its EU priorities are and how they work with other national delegations as well as with Scotland Europa to see how Scotland’s interests are represented in the different EU institutions. The group also met with some of the press team in the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as with journalists working for The Parliament Magazine in Brussels and Cosla’s European officer who took them through the role of local authorities and the various issues surrounding EU funding.

I had invited Ireland’s Ambassador to the EU, Geraldine Byrne-Nason to speak with the group about Ireland’s experience in the EU and was delighted when she was able to make it along given how busy her schedule was with the Member States still trying to reach an agreement on the climate change package. Chairing this last session I found it heartening to hear the extent to which Ireland has become a model example for other small countries, especially the Baltic states, in its dealings with the EU and how Ireland has managed to use its resources and strategic alliances with other European countries, whether large or small, to influence EU policy. I also asked the Ambassador about Ireland’s experience in setting up a National Forum on Europe as one way in which to increase public debate and awareness as to what is going on in the EU, something which I am very supportive of and would like to see established in Scotland as I have already written and spoken about.

Photos: With the Irish Ambassador to the EU in Scotland House.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Preparing for the CAP health check vote

This week is pretty much about preparing for next week’s crucial vote in Strasbourg on the CAP health check. As per usual hundreds of amendments have gone down to the Santos reports that were adopted by the Agriculture Committee last month for plenary - all of which we need to sift through to enable us to put together a voting list and to make sure we vote against anything that could hamper Scotland’s farmers, our farming industry and our rural communities.

We’ve resubmitted a number of our amendments that didn’t get through the Agriculture Committee and been working closely with Scottish Government civil servants in Scotland House in Brussels and in Edinburgh to ensure the Scottish Government’s vision of agricultural reform is supported by the EP in the vote next week.

Our amendments largely concern proposals to delete progressive modulation as well as those deleting decoupling for sheep and beef payments and retaining the current cross compliance regime as a tool in the fight against wildlife crime by including it in the Wild Birds Directive and the Flora and Fauna Directive, which was of particular concern to the Scottish Government.

With the amount of amendments compromises will undoubtedly have to be sought among the political groups so I await with interest to see what the final compromise package will look like before next week’s vote.

Regardless of the outcome of next week, its clear that the health check debate has moved on and the focus of discussions is very much on the future shape of European agriculture post-2013 where everything will be on the negotiating table.

One of Brussels’s many think tanks, Notre Europe, has published its contribution to the post-2013 debate with its “CAP reform beyond 2013: An idea for a longer view”. It defines a number of general principles such as defining targeting instruments on clear objectives and guaranteeing social return for public money and replacing assistance by incentives. Among its many suggestions it recommends the need to make agriculture more competitive by adapting instruments and regulations to that purpose, replacing the current complex and cost burden payment schemes with a simplified and smaller one in which payments are strictly linked to three basic levels of service – basic husbandry of the countryside preserving farming landscapes, territorial services, environmental sensitive measures – maintaining public intervention to guarantee a floor price (or “safety net”) restricted to exceptional circumstances , which should be WTO compatible as well as sharing financial responsibility between the EU and Member States according to the subsidiarity principle and limiting the EU’s domain of competence to the provision of European public goods.

Over the coming weeks and months we will be working closely with Scotland’s farming and rural interests as well as the Scottish Government to work out Scotland’s contribution to this vital debate and the kind of future European agricultural policy that Scotland would like to see. Scotland has a key role to play in shaping Europe’s future agriculture policy and at the same time ensure that Scotland’s vision of agriculture is at the very heart of the discussions now beginning to get underway in Brussels.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


  • Born Bellshill 1971, grew up East Kilbride, now Edinburgh and Brussels.
  • Became more actively involved when I joined the SNP in 2004, previously secretary of Brussels Branch and then Vice Convener. Recently moved to Lanark and now a member of the Wallace Branch.
  • Actively campaigned across Scotland in urban and rural constituencies through leafleting, street stalls, canvassing on doorsteps, etc during a number of campaigns, including Westminster 2005, Local Government and Scottish Parliament 2007.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

In Glenrothes with Clydesdale CA

Having just got back from Brussels last night I was up against first thing this morning to go to Glenrothes. Clydesdale CA had organised a minibus to take a large group of us there including Aileen Campbell MSP and we were all meeting in a very windswept, cold and wet car park outside the library at Carluke at 09.00.

Despite the weather our spirits on the bus were high as we headed to Glenrothes whereupon we spent the day leafleting. The rooms were busy with buses from Glasgow also turning up. Our first run took us up to Glenrothes itself though afterwards it was great to get back to the rooms and to get some hot soup down us before the next run.

While the wind blew like a hoollie and the rain, gawd it rained, I had a great time and enjoyed the criac. Regardless of our battling against the elements we were in all this together tramping the streets and determined to get our message across to the people of Fife - to vote for Cllr Peter Grant as their new SNP MP for Glenrothes and send a clear message to Downing Street. For me it was also just nice to spend some time with Clydesdale and getting to know everyone having not long moved into the constituency.

I should also say again a big thank you to Euan Ferguson for getting us all back down the road safely that night as it certainly couldn’t have been the easiest of drives coming along the M8 with all the surface water, torrential rain and gales.

Photo: Aileen with SNP Candidate Cllr Peter Grant

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Gordon's economic policies - a failure of financial deregulation

This afternoon at conference was dominated by Nicola’s speech and once again her performance and her delivery was inspirational. After days of hearing about Gordon Brown as Europe’s conquering hero and how he had come to save both Europe and the world from the brink of complete financial collapse, I cheered with delight when Nicola said, “It’s not Scottish policies that have led to rising unemployment, the highest inflation in a generation, massive hikes in public borrowing and almost certain recession – that’s down to Gordon Brown and his economic policies”.

The real lesson of the economic crisis is not that Scotland can’t be independent. It’s that we should never let London run our economy in the first place.

And let us never forget – even though Gordon Brown desperately wants us to – that it was New Labour that helped create the climate for the banking crisis”.


After Nicola’s speech – how could anyone follow that? – it was time for the debate on the motion brought forward by the Brussels Branch on the future of Europe. The debate turned out to be a good opportunity for delegates to hear from each of the party’s seven European candidates as we all got up on the stage one by one.

I started by saying that the forthcoming European election campaign provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate once again that we are the only party ready to have a frank and honest discussion with the people of Scotland about the types of policies that we, and they, want to see coming out of the EU. None of the other parties in Scotland want – or are able – to have this debate, required as they are to follow the lead set by their London-based leaderships.

I reminded delegates that the European Parliament is one of the most powerful legislators in the world, and the task of Scotland’s MEPs is to stand up for Scotland’s interests in that Parliament, to make sure that EU legislation is fit-for-purpose in Scotland. Only this party, the SNP, can do that. That is the message we need to get across to the people of Scotland in the run-up to the European elections in June.

We cannot under-estimate the importance of EU legislation to Scotland and to ordinary Scots. The turmoil on the world’s financial markets over the past few weeks has demonstrated once again the degree of interdependence that exists between the world’s economies. The root cause of that turmoil has been the glaring inadequacies of the regulatory regime that oversees the global financial services sector. Scotland is a victim of that regulatory failure.

Once the dust has settled there will be a need to reform the regulations governing how the banks and the finance houses ply their trade. And part – probably a large part – of that regulatory response will come from the EU. The integration of the EU financial markets will make a common, EU-wide, response a necessity.

As those regulatory reforms are being discussed in Brussels, and the associated legislation debated, it is vital to this country that our voice is heard, and that our collective interests are properly represented. Only the SNP can deliver Scotland’s message, because only the SNP has Scotland’s interests – and only Scotland’s interests – as its sole concern.

It is true that the future of Europe is shaped by Treaties, and the failure of the London Labour Government to deliver on their promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is deplorable. But we also should not forget that in a real sense the future of Europe is debated and determined day and daily in the corridors of power in Brussels in the form of the legislation that the Council and the Parliament enact.

We need to have an on-going conversation with Scotland’s peoples on those matters – the future of the CAP, on climate change, on regulation of the financial services industries and all the rest of the important policies over which the EU has competence to make laws that affect Scotland’s vital interests.

In closing I made the point that it was up to all of us to take to the voters of Scotland that only a vote for the SNP in next June’s election will ensure that their interests in EU policies will be properly represented. And that the only way we can have real influence and a real voice in Brussels is with real independence.

You can watch the speech I gave below:

Aileen McLeod - SNP EU Candidate from Daibhi Anseo on Vimeo.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Meeting the stone man in Markinch

After this afternoon’s debate I headed across to Glenrothes in the minibus where we were warmly welcomed by Tricia Marwick MSP, Cllr John Beare and the rest of the campaign team and were promptly sent out to canvass in Coaltown of Balgonie. This was the first place I campaigned in with Tricia during the Holyrood campaign last year so it was good to be back. A group of us were driven there this time by the very same man who had driven from Glasgow to London and back again to return the Stone of Destiny to the people of Scotland. After a couple of hours canvassing we returned to the rooms in Markinch where I spent some time stuffing envelopes with Ian Hamilton and had the chance to chat with him about his book and about one of the most remarkable feats in Scottish history.

Photo: Aileen with some of the team at the Glenrothes campaign rooms in Markinch - Ian Hamilton

Speech at Conference on tackling climate change

While top of the agenda is how to respond to the global financial crisis, alongside it sits the key issue of how to tackle climate change. This afternoon I had the chance to remind Conference of the leading role Scotland and our Scottish Government are playing in this regard and to reemphasise the point that much more needs to be done through an internationally coordinated effort.

In moving the topical resolution on behalf of the Cromarty Firth Branch, I underlined the extent to which the EU stance on climate is and has to remain an ambitious and far reaching programme within which the Scottish Government’s ambitions for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 fit comfortably. I also welcomed yesterday’s announcement that London has decided to follow Scotland’s lead in matching our Government’s commitment to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week there was a lot of talk about leadership in the face of global crisis, however its important to recognise that on climate change policy and renewable energy it is Scotland that is taking the leading international role in addressing the greatest challenge that we have ever faced.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the largest emissions trading scheme in the world and is a pillar of the EU’s climate policy. It covers more than 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors and is collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of carbon dioxide and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change can’t successfully be tackled unless there is an internationally coordinated effort. From my perspective in Brussels the role of the EU in setting and enforcing tough climate change legislation is vital. There must be no backsliding on this on the part of EU member states.

The role of the European Parliament here is crucial since it is the EP that will wield significant influence over the final shape of EU climate change legislation. I believe it is vital for Scotland’s MEPs work to make that legislation reflect our ambitions and our commitments for effective action on climate change. It is also for Scotland’s MEPs to guard against attempts to water down this legislation from any source – corporations, countries, and governments.

Next June’s European elections offer an opportunity for Scotland to once again take a lead in tackling the causes of climate change by voting SNP. We have to make it clear to Scotland’s voters that only by voting SNP in that election can they be assured that their commitment to tackling climate change at the EU level will be heard in Brussels.

Since May 2007 our party, and our Government, has demonstrated a commitment and a leadership in tackling climate change that has no equal anywhere in the EU. Our commitment to tough emissions targets is matched by our investment in renewable energy and investment in the green technologies that will be the basis of sustainable economic growth in the future.

Scotland is the green energy powerhouse of the EU and this is recognized in the EU. Indeed the EU is looking to us to take a lead so we have nothing to fear from climate change legislation and everything to gain. Not only will our actions directly lead to better climate change legislation both in the UK and the EU but our scientists, our researchers and our industries are world leaders in the new technologies that will become an integral part of a greener future for the world.

All of this means that the SNP Government is shaping a better future for the people of Scotland and beyond. Our Government, Scotland’s Government is showing real leadership on a truly global scale. Indeed, I was also glad to hear the announcement this morning from our Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney, MSP for all international air travel and shipping to be included in the ETS as well as all six greenhouse gases and that “
Scotland will have a Climate Change Bill able to lead international action”.

As John Swinney also said, “
we face immediate economic challenges but we face a massive generational challenge of reducing our impact on the environment. We accept the responsibility to do that and we will put in place the legal framework to live up to that responsibility”.

With this in mind, delegates backed the Cromarty Firth resolution on climate change:

“Conference backs the tough action proposed by Scottish, UK and European Governments that sets an example to the rest of the world in tackling climate change.

Conference demands that the European Commission resists and all pressures placed upon it to compromise the EU Carbon Trading Scheme (ETS), a policy that is absolutely vital if we are successfully to tackle climate change. In particular the EU institutions must stand firm in the face of pressure from industries faced with meeting the compliance costs of this policy and who wish to weaken the prospective EU legislation in this crucial area.

Conference calls on our SNP Government and parliamentarians to campaign for an increased pace in the development of renewable energy delivery which is needed to make early progress towards a target of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and introduce energy efficiency measures to climate proof Scottish homes whilst opposing the dilution of climate change plans that must be agreed in full by the European Union to maintain a world lead in tackling global warming”.