Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The anomaly of Scotland's position in Europe

The anomaly of Scotland's position in Europe was brought home to me again the other evening (as frequently happens the more time I spend here in Brussels) whilst having dinner with one of my friends who works on fisheries for the Slovenian government in Brussels. With Slovenia the current holders of the 6 month EU Council Presidency until June 2008, my friend gets to chair the Council of Ministers working group on fisheries.

Its ironic that Slovenia with a population of just over 2 million (0.41% of EU's population), less than half that of Scotland's population, is running the EU, sitting at the EU's top table, chairing meetings and setting agendas. Slovenia, in contrast to Scotland, is in a position of direct influence, leading as it does the EU negotiations and discussions at a time when there are so many issues on the EU agenda of key strategic importance to Scotland, such as energy, climate change, the reform of the EU's agricultural policy.

As part of the UK, Scotland's distinctive voice and interests are less clear and we are left reliant on the UK's willingness to defend Scotland's interests, which can be problematic where the UK government line differs from that of Scotland. By way of example there are already disagreements between London and Edinburgh on the energy question, with the SNP government quite rightly remaining opposed to the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland, supporting instead a renewable and sustainable energy future for Scotland. How this will play out in internal UK negotiations on the European Commission's proposals for an EU energy policy remains to be seen. But nothing beats having your own voice in Europe and being in a position to fully contribute to the vital debates taking place, to directly influence EU policy and protect your own national interests. Anything less is worthy only of second class status.

Slovenia has come a long way since achieving its independence in 1991 and joining the EU 13 years later in 2004 and the Euro in 2008. One can only ask that if Slovenia can do it then why can't Scotland? Without the status as an independent member state with our own votes, our own voice, Scotland cannot advance its own views or take full advantage of the opportunities for influence provided by the EU in the same way as Slovenia can.

Equally, in January 2009 the Czech Republic takes over the EU Presidency after France at a crucial time when the EU institutions are looking to leave their legacy papers for the new European Parliament and Commission coming in after the European elections in June 2009. The future direction of some of the EU's key policies are up for grabs as part of the EU's wider discussions on the future spending policy priorities for the Union after 2013, for example, regional and rural (EU funding), common agricultural policy, fisheries, maritime, research and development, justice and home affairs with climate change and energy remaining top of the EU agenda. This time it will be the Czechs in the EU's driving seat, chairing the meetings, setting the agendas, etc - I rest my case.

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