Thursday, 27 March 2008

What's in a name?

This week in Brussels we are seeing a few changes being made to the organisation of the European Commission. For the most part these are cosmetic, although one of particular relevance to Scotland are the changes in the Directorate-General responsible for fisheries policychanges that include its re-branding from “DG Fish” to become “DG Mare”, this seeking to reflect that fisheries policy is part of a larger maritime policy, rather than the other way round. Although substantive changes are few, one might hope that the establishment of three new regional directorates within the re-named DG – covering the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic Sea and North Sea – will offer some scope for minds in Brussels to be better concentrated on the drastic effects that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy continues to have for our vulnerable fishing communities and related industries, particularly in the North East of Scotland. I mention this more in hope than expectation, although I have to say that with the SNP in power in Holyrood we have already seen a dramatic improvement in the representation of Scotland’s interests in fisheries policy.

It is, of course, an outrage that successive UK governments have allowed the CFP to develop in such a calamitous – at least to Scotland – manner over the years: a situation that can only be attributed to a combination of wilful neglect of Scotland’s legitimate interests and the brokering of inter-governmental EU deals of greater importance to the UK government than the well-being of Scotland’s our fishing and related communities.

This malign attitude has once more been evident again in the UK’s approach to the Lisbon treaty by its abject failure even to seek to prevent the EU’s fisheries policy being elevated to the status of an exclusive EU competence – a status that means only the EU level of government is permitted to legislate over all key aspects of fisheries policy that affects Scotland’s fishing communities. It is preposterous to suggest that the UK could not have blocked this move had it wanted to. Every EU treaty negotiation involves compromise between member states, and typically these compromises revolve around the ‘red line’ issues that individual member states bring to the negotiations – issues that are deal-breakers as far as reaching an agreement is concerned. This is how inter-governmental business is done in Europe. The stark fact is that the UK government was simply not willing to make the CFP a ‘red line’ issue as the SNP had urged it to do. No reason was offered; no explanation provided. But the message is loud and clear – if Scotland’s vital interests are to be represented at EU level then the UK government cannot be relied upon. Instead Scotland has to become an independent member state and command a seat at the EU’s top table where she belongs and is able to negotiate for the type of EU policies that are better suited to our vital national interests.

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