Friday, 27 June 2008

Slovenia: So long, farewell...

Slovenia's six month presidency of the EU comes to an end today. Certainly there is a general perception here in Brussels that Slovenia's leadership of the EU, despite the ongoing difficulties with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, has shown once again that a ‘small’ country can successfully take on the EU Presidency and manage it just as effectively – if not more so – than, say, Germany, France or the UK.

By chance I stumbled across a report in today's Deutsche Welle with the headline - "Slovenia's strong EU Presidency sets the stage for small countries".

It's hard to believe that its less than 17 years since Slovenia achieved its independence and now, a full EU member state, Slovenia is handing over the EU presidency baton to France.

As the first of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 to host the rotating EU Presidency, there is recognition of the need to "put an end to the artificial distinction between the ‘new Member States’ and the former ones" as stated by the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner at the end of last week, before he went on to congratulate Slovenia on the success with which it had managed the EU Presidency.

As one of its last Presidency tasks, this week the Slovenian Presidency was at the Parliament where Slovenian Ministers appeared before each of the Parliament's Committees to outline what they had achieved in their respective portfolios. Although this happens at the end of every presidency, just ahead of the next lot arriving to outline their plans for the next six months, it is a useful stock-taking exercise and one that sets out the sometimes surprising number of achievements recorded by the out-going presidency. Or not, as the case might be!

This week
Janez Jansa, Slovenia's Prime Minister (and current President of the European Council) came to the European Parliament and did just that. For the record, Slovenia should be remembered for the following:

(1) bringing the Western Balkans closer to Europe and ensuring their future lies within the EU. Slovenia's experience and expertise in the Western Balkans ensured the EU played a key role in providing unity and stability to Kosovo following its declaration of independence in February. And this despite the various delays and difficulties surrounding the establishment in Kosovo of the EU’s new law and order mission (EULEX). In addition, pre-accession agreements were signed with Bosnia and Serbia putting them firmly on the path for eventual EU membership.

(2) On the energy and climate change package, Slovenia reached a compromise on the proposals for opening up Europe's gas and electricity markets to competition, something which many of us in the Parliament thought would end up being kicked into the French Presidency with no agreement possible.

(3) Also resolved under the Slovenian Presidency was a 4 year dispute over the 48 hour maximum working week, which saw the UK government retain its opt-out from the Working Time Directive, and an agreement for temporary workers to have the same rights as permanent employees

Other achievements included agreeing a mandate for the Commission to negotiate a long-term partnership agreement with Russia, enlarging the eurozone to Cyprus and Malta, and overseeing the entry of Slovakia to the eurozone on 1 January 2009.

It is worth reflecting that back in 2006 in a piece for
the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash wrote that Europe's future was increasingly becoming one of ‘small’ countries that no longer could be made to work by a directorate of the 3 largest states, Germany, France and the UK. Memorably he stated that what a large Europe needed was for the small countries to think big. I think over the past 6 months that Slovenia with a population of 2 million has done just that. I'm sure when it comes the turn of an independent Scotland to assume its turn in the Presidency hot seat it too will approach that task with a high degree of confidence and eager anticipation.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cutting EU red tape

The Commission this week finally published its long-awaited proposals for cutting red tape and minimising the costs and burdens of EU legislation for Europe’s SMEs via its Small Business Act. This follows a wide public consultation earlier in the year.

According to the Commission’s press release, the Small Business Act aims to promote and encourage entrepreneurship, make legislation more SME friendly by way of ensuring that all new EU proposals are subjected to an “SME” test in order to assess their implications for SMEs. These are part and parcel of 10 common principles and essentially its about ensuring SMEs can compete within the EU on a level playing field.

The Small Business Act outlines the need for EU and national-level action in a number of policy areas, which should make it easier for Scotland’s small businesses to access the single market as well as finance. Included in the package is a proposal during 2009 to revise the late payments directive so that SMEs can be paid within 30 days. This is a welcome move. The issue about collecting late payments from customers in another EU country is one which has been raised with us and which we subsequently raised with the Commission to see whether any action had been taken or would be taken to develop more streamlined methods for helping companies collect payments from both EU clients and non EU clients.

Also of some interest will be the proposal providing member states with the option of applying lower VAT rates for locally supplied goods and services. Public procurement accounts for some 1800 billion euros within the EU (16% of EU GDP) so being able to source goods and services locally can only be good for Scotland’s economy and its environment.

Other proposals include a new General Block Exemption Regulation on state aids which will increase the aid intesity for SMEs and make it easier for SMEs to benefit from state aid for training, R&D, environmental protection and other types of aid as well as a new single statute for a European Private Company allowing a "Société privée européenne" (SPE) to be created and which would operate according to the same uniform principles in all Member States. I think on the latter proposal lets wait and see what the Commission actually brings forward.

There is much in the package that is good for Scotland’s small businesses and while the Small Business Act is set to be adopted by EU leaders meeting in the European Council in December 2008 the real challenge is to ensure what is being proposed actually happens.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

French Senate votes to scrap referendum on EU accession

The French Senate today voted to remove the constitutional requirement from France’s Constitution that any further enlargement of the EU following the entry of a new country would be put to a referendum in France.

The new law is expected to be voted on 7 July when both houses of the French parliament meet in a joint Congress just as France takes over the EU Council Presidency for the next six months until the end of December. A three fifths majority is needed to approve the law.

Article 88-5 of the French Constitution states that “Any Government Bill authorising the ratification of a Treaty pertaining to the accession of a State to the European Union and to the European Communities shall be submitted to referendum by the President of the Republic”. This was introduced in 2005 by the former French President, Jacques Chirac in an attempt to reassure French public opinion about their concerns over any further EU enlargement (and in particular the possibility of Turkey joining the EU) in the run-up to the French referendum on the EU Constitution, which in the end was still rejected.

The vote in the French Senate is part of a broader package of constitutional reforms put forward by the French government in April. The draft bill on institutional reform contains an article deleting all references to the requirement that referenda must be held each time a new country joins the EU. At the end of May the French National Assembly voted to retain this measure.

I was chatting the other day with one of the officials in the French National Assembly about this requirement who told me that this was aimed at any candidate country whose population exceeds 5% of the total EU population. Indeed, this was specifically, if not overtly, targeted at Turkey and to a much lesser extent Ukraine. Since Scotland falls far short of the 5% population limit, he said we would be spared the referendum.

Whenever I’ve been in France, as soon as I mention I’m Scottish that’s it, the response is usually how much they like the Scots, Scotland and the tartan army even when we managed to beat France during the Euro 2008 qualifiers last autumn.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The future of the EU cannot be answered in simple 'yes' or 'no' terms

I wrote the letter below in response to Ian Bell's article that appeared in yesterday's Herald on "The EU is determined to prove it won't listen". This was published in today's Herald.

Not for the first time Ian Bell has captured almost precisely the dilemma confronting those who wish to see, and who support, further European integration but who have considerable reservations about the democratic basis on which the EU conducts its activities.

On the one hand the EU faces global challenges that require a collective response (energy security, climate change, food security) but on the other hand it is unable to deliver the institutional reforms needed to make such a collective response workable while at the same time ensuring it respects the principles of democratic control and accountability. Mind you the same might be said of elements of UK politics (and how many in Scotland today could name their MP after 9 years of devolution?).

However, people across the EU today are fundamentally sceptical about the ambitions of the “Brussels elite” and are increasingly resistant to further powers being transferred to the EU. It is likely that the referendum result in Ireland would have been repeated in a number of EU countries, including the UK, had the people been consulted.

But what is the appropriate response for those who recognise that the EU has a positive role to play, albeit one that does not involve it meddling needlessly in domestic policies? It must not be to try and railroad through the Lisbon Treaty as that will violate the foundational EU principle that all member states must ratify any treaty reform before it can be enacted in any member state. Instead EU politics has to be better mainstreamed into domestic politics.

This is not a plea to launch yet another pro-EU campaign. Rather it is to ask domestic politicians from all “levels” within the political spectrum to acknowledge the importance of EU issues to their own activities – be these local, national, or on a UK-wide basis – and to treat the EU seriously.

The important questions about the future of the EU and the contribution it can continue to make to improving our lives cannot be answered in simple “yes” or “no” terms. If people across the EU are to engage in EU issues then the principal route for that to occur is through a better engagement of these policy issues via domestic politics.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

EU support for Scotland's renewables

The Parliament backed full ownership unbundling today, rejecting the compromise reached by Europe's energy ministers on 6 June for an "independent transmission operator" - believe me when I say this has to have been one of the most technical dossiers to have crossed my desk.

But in amongst all the technicality there was actually some good stuff in the report, not least the requirement that electricity grid operators should provide priority access to renewable energy and combined heat and power generation. Governments may also require operators to invest revenues from domestic electricity consumers in energy efficiency projects.

Scotland has huge renewable potential, the energy from which can be exported to the energy markets of the rest of mainland Europe, if only Scotland's renewable energy producers were not penalised by the UK's energy regulator, Ofgem, by the extortionate prices they are charged for connecting to the electricity grid. The irony of the current situation Scotland finds itself in still staggers me with Europe currently looking at ways in which the use of renewable energy can be promoted further so that the EU's share of renewables can be increased to meet its 20% target by 2020.

Article 14.7 of the Commission's proposal on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources requires Member States to ensure that the charging of transmission and distribution fees does not discriminate against electricity from renewable energy sources, including in particular electricity from renewable energy produced in peripheral regions, such as island regions and regions of low population density. This is presently the case under Article 7.6 of the 2001 renewable electricity Directive.

The problem remains with the national energy regulatory authorities but we also need to see greater action from the Commission to help deal with this problem.

With the Parliament having now delivered its opinion at first reading this dossier now bounces back to the EU Energy Ministers and into the hands of the French EU Presidency, which takes over the running of the EU from 1 July. If ever there was an energy battle to watch, this is the one.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Ireland's red card to the Lisbon Treaty

So, Ireland has voted to reject the Lisbon Treaty and given it a red card.

On a 53% turnout, 53.4% voted against the treaty. This result should not come as any great surprise. The simple fact is that people aren't interested in continual discussions about the reform of the EU's institutions. The EU has spent the past seven years trying to look at ways in which the EU institutions can be brought closer to the people of Europe. Back in December 2001 the Member States adopted the "Laeken Declaration", which while it paved the way for the setting up of the European Convention, it also recognised that the biggest challenge facing the EU is the widening gap between the European institutions and the citizens. The perception of the EU as being remote, too bureaucratic and incomprehensible remains.

The trouble is while France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty by referendum back in 2005 and Luxembourg and Spain voted yes in their referendums the Lisbon Treaty was rehashed as the plan B. 18 Member States have since ratified the Lisbon Treaty but before it can be implemented and enter into force it has to be ratified by all 27 Member States - one of the guiding principles of the EU is that all countries have to ratify treaties and it would be highly ironic if the EU violated its own constitutional practice and railroaded the treaty through.

At least the Irish people have had a chance to have their say. The people of Scotland and the UK were denied a say on the treaty following Gordon Brown's decision not to keep his government's promise of a referendum.

The SNP decided that the Lisbon Treaty was not the way forward for the EU. For one thing, the conservation of marine biological resources under the Common Fisheries Policy was to have been made an exclusive competence of the EU. This was a red line issue for the Scottish Government and despite our concerns as well as those of Scotland's fishing communities, London chose to ignore and refused to seek any further changes.

It is now for EU leaders meeting in Brussels next week to listen to the concerns of the people of Ireland and to rethink where Europe goes from here.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

EU response to high fuel prices

Rising fuel and food prices are set to be discussed by EU leaders at their European Council meeting in Brussels on 19-20 June. As oil prices head towards $136 a barrel and fuel protests spread across Europe - last week we saw Europe's fishermen protesting against the high cost of fuel outside the Commission building on Rue de la Loi - the Commission today put out a press release calling on the EU 27 Member States to adopt the EU's energy and climate change package which it sees as the "best coordinated response to rising oil prices" and to reducing their impact on business and consumers.

The Commission is expected to present a Communication to EU leaders at their summit in Brussels which will set out a series of short, medium and long term policy measures the Commission is looking to introduce. These include:
- a report on the functioning of the oil and petroleum markets in the forthcoming strategic energy review,
- the publication of proposals later this year to revise the energy taxation directive and the Eurovignette system for taxing heavy goods vehicles,
- a report in the autumn on the possible use of tax incentives, including reduced VAT rates to encourage energy savings - this comes on the back of calls from France and the UK last autumn for lower VAT rates on energy efficient products such as light bulbs;
- supporting the organisation of a global fuel summit on oil markets between main oil producing and consuming countries and strengthening existing regional and bilateral dialogues in order to achieve better market access and transparency;

The Commission also admits that Member States could provide targeted support when justified to those experiencing the most serious impact of high oil prices, though any measures taken to alleviate the impact of high oil prices must be temporary, non-distorting and shouldn't prevent longer term adjustment to higher prices

There is at least some good news in that the Commission is proposing to revise EU rules on energy taxation. Current EU rules state that the VAT rate on fuel cannot be lower than 15%. Member States cannot apply a VAT rate of less than 15% unless they have the full backing of both the Commission and the Council. There is also a minimum EU-wide rate for excise duty which is set at 330 euros per 1,000 litres of diesel, again which Member States cannot go below. But the Commission has already made it clear that cutting taxes would send the wrong signal to oil-producing countries

President Sarkozy recently urged the EU to cap VAT on fuel when oil prices become too high at the European level and for the creation of a new fund from revenues generated by oil taxes to help those most in need. But the difficulty with such a proposal is that Sarkozy needs the backing of the other 26 EU Member States in order to do this and a number of other countries have already voiced their opposition (Germany, Spain). Italy has proposed the idea of a "Robin Hood" tax - paid by oil companies to those most affected.

However, fuel prices remain the highest in the UK. The SNP wants to see a fuel duty regulator, an idea which is already backed by the Road Haulage Association, and which has been rejected by the UK government.
Of course the problem in Scotland is compounded further by the gaulling fact that despite being one of Europe's key oil and gas producers, the revenues generated from Scotland's oil wealth are ploughed back into the coffers of the UK Treasury.

Indeed, in the 2008 Budget the UK Treasury forecast that revenues from the North Sea would contribute £9.9bn to the UK Exchequer in 2008/09 (based on an oil price of $83.8 per barrel. The Scottish Government estimates that North Sea revenues are set to be over £4bn higher than the UK Treasury forecast based on the average 2008/09 oil and gas prices.

The forecast of over £14bn in oil revenues this year comes on top of revenues since North Sea was discovered in the 1970s of £250bn in real terms. A report published recently by the accountancy firm, Grant Thornton shows that at current oil prices Scotland would have a budget surplus of between £4.4 bn and just over £6bn.

The Scottish government is also pushing London for a 10% share of the £4.4bn windfall tax so that it can be reinvested in the people of Scotland through the setting up of an oil fund. Experts believe that between 25 and 30bn barrel of oils can still be recovered from the North Sea over the next 40 years but if we are to set up an oil fund we need to do it now.

While Norway invested its oil wealth in an oil fund 12 years ago and which is now worth £186 bn the people of Scotland have missed out of their oil wealth over the past 30 years. The Scottish government has announced that it is to commission a study to look into the benefits of an oil fund for Scotland, after it was revealed that an oil fund for the UK had been considered by the Treasury back in the 1970s.

If we are to be able to tackle properly the problems of fuel poverty and alleviate the high fuel costs facing our hauliers, farmers, fishermen and motorists, especially in the more remoter and rural parts of Scotland then Scotland needs to have access to North Sea oil and gas revenues and greater control over fuel prices

It is generally agreed that we all want to see greater action being taken to bring fuel prices under control, not least with increasing concerns about high inflation and predictions of lower economic growth. Once again the London government is not prepared to work in Scotland's interests.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The future of Europe' s agriculture must fit the purpose for Scotland

With the CAP health check one of the key dossiers sitting on my desk right now I went along this morning to the Commission to be briefed by the Commission officials in the Agriculture Department that wrote the proposals. Given the significance of these proposals for Scotland’s farmers, our crofters and the farming/rural community its important for me to be able to discuss with the Commission officials what their thinking was behind these proposals and to establish how they came to the conclusions they did – and for me then to put these into the specific context of their potential implications for Scotland’s farming sector. Not least because much of the discussion on the side of the European Parliament will go on in the Agriculture Committee, on which Alyn is Scotland’s only full member.

Much of the discussion this morning in DG Agri focused on the Commission’s impact assessment on the health check. For anyone who wants to read their assessment of 158 pages, click here to access it.

Over the next six months there will be much discussion about Europe’s model of agriculture and what I want to ensure is that whatever is finally agreed by EU farming ministers fits the purpose for Scotland’s agricultural sector. The Scottish Government has already announced it is consulting on the Commission’s proposals as is Scotland’s National Farmers Union. At the end of May the Scottish Parliament held its first debate on the health check proposals and adopted the motion below:

That the Parliament, noting the European Commission's legislative proposals for the health check of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, welcomes the Scottish Government's commitment to consult on these proposals, and on the longer-term implementation of CAP in Scotland, in order that agriculture remains a dynamic and competitive industry playing its full part in ensuring the long-term viability of our rural communities and enabling farmers to play their part in achieving the Scottish Government's purpose of sustainable economic growth through food production, high standards of animal welfare and the environmental management of our agricultural land but, in so doing, notes the importance of consulting on the potential impact of progressive modulation on Scottish farms and affirms that any increases in European Union-wide modulation should be matched by a corresponding deduction in levels of voluntary modulation; considers that any increase in compulsory modulation must be offset by a corresponding reduction in voluntary modulation to ensure that Scottish producers are not put at a competitive disadvantage within the European Union; further considers that Scotland, with its high proportion of large farm units, must not be disadvantaged by proposals for progressive modulation or capping; believes that, in light of rapidly escalating food and fuel costs, the Scottish Rural Development Programme should be reviewed, with the production of food and food security considered as a key priority, and recognises the correlation between economic activity on the ground and delivery of environmental benefits for all".

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Slovakia set to join the euro

Slovakia is set to swap its currency - the koruna - for the euro on 1 January 2009. The European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee backed Slovakia's bid to adopt the euro with the agreement that Slovakia makes further efforts to keep its inflation rate down and continues with structural reforms to its labour, services and products market. The parliament will vote as a whole on Slovakia's euro membership at its plenary session in Strasbourg next month before it then goes to EU leaders who will discuss it at their meeting in the European Council in Brussels on 19-20 June. Pending final approval by EU Finance Ministers in July Slovakia will become the 16th country to join the euro, following Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta.

The Danish Prime Minister has also indicated recently that he intends to hold a referendum on Denmark's current opt-out from the euro in the autumn with latest opinion polls showing last month that 52% of Danes wanted to join the eurozone.

Working as I do between Brussels and Edinburgh I use the euro all the time and hope to see an Independent Scotland join the euro.

It has been 10 years since the euro was first introduced for business (1998) and then later for consumers in 2002 but despite the doomsayers it has shown to be a success and that it works. Indeed the IMF earlier this week commented that "eurozone growth has been unexpectedly resilient" despite slowing global economy and raised its estimate for growth in the eurozone this year from 1.4% to 1.75%.

Monday, 2 June 2008

EU renewables support - good for Scotland

Discussions on proposals by the European Commission to increase the use of renewable energy by setting the target of a 20% share of the EU energy mix for renewables by 2020 are now under way in the Parliament’s Energy Committee. The Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, who has been charged with drafting the Parliament’s opinion on these ambitious proposals, brought forward his draft report. From a Scottish perspective there is much to be welcomed in Turmes report and indeed many of his suggestions are likely to boost Scotland’s renewable energy potential given the huge opportunities it could provide for our renewable industry.

For example, one thing Turmes wants to see which will benefit Scotland is for the Commission to present at the latest in 2009 and “analysis and plan” for a coordinated approach by the Commission and the Member States to the development of offshore wind and marine energies in the North Sea. According to Turmes a key challenge here will be one of coordination to use existing electricity cables for linking the Norwegian, Dutch and UK markets so as to be able to plug into wind and sea energy production. This would be a priority project in the Trans-European Energy Initiative.

Linked to this of course are the Scottish Government’s plans for the development of a North Sea electricity supergrid, which would allow the vast quantities of electricity that can be generated from wind, tidal and wave power off the coasts of Scotland and Norway to be exported direct to the energy markets of mainland Europe through an underwater power cable connecting Scotland and Norway via Denmark.

Back in February the Scottish Government announced it was exploring sub-sea grid options through two offshore transmission studies to see how such a scheme could work. These being, firstly Irish Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) looking at the Atlantic coasts of Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the Irish Sea in an attempt to see how best our natural energy resources could be maximised to generate energy from offshore wind. Secondly, a detailed feasibility study on the North Sea Energy Grid, which will explore potential links between the north and east coasts of Scotland, and the coast of northern mainland Europe. Scotland has vast renewable energy potential with one of the most viable resource bases in Europe, if not the world and there is much that can be done to harness that resource especially when it comes to wave, tidal and offshore wind.

While there is much Scotland can contribute towards helping the EU meet the strategic challenge of a Europe increasingly dependent on energy imports and looking for alternatives to carbon generation and in helping the EU and the UK achieve the renewables and climate change targets there is much the EU can do by way of helping Scotland to develop its renewables potential further.

For example, the Scottish Government is looking to create a green energy research centre in Aberdeen, building on the expertise that exists in our current offshore energy sector and the huge renewable energy potential around our shores. The development of renewable energy and energy efficient technology could be supported further by better coordinated targeting of EU and national funding and any other forms of available support for research centres that cooperate with Universities and business (especially SMEs) in applied and innovative research.

Meantime there is much that member states can do to encourage and support Europe’s farmers becoming net producers of energy by processing animal fats and crops into biodiesel, woody crops for biomass as well as second generation biofuels.

However, a key issue which remains to be resolved is that of the UK’s electricity transmission charging scheme. The transmission ‘locational’ charges agreed by the UK energy regulator, Ofgem, continue to penalise Scotland’s renewable energy sector and work against the sector. The scheme is based on proximity to population centres rather than generating potential, with the result that generators in remote parts of Scotland are charged more than producers in the South of England. For example, a power station in central Scotland pays £25m for transmission more than a similar station in Yorkshire and more than in London.

In its current renewables proposal the Commission restates its original position (as outlined in the 2001 renewable electricity EU Directive) that “Member States shall ensure that the charging of transmission and distribution fees does not discriminate against electricity from renewable energy sources, including in particular electricity from renewable energy sources produced in peripheral regions, such as island regions and in regions of low population density”.

Certainly in Brussels we have raised the problem Scotland’s renewable energy producers face with Ofgem’s discriminatory transmission charges at every opportunity within the Commission and the Parliament. And we will be looking to put down some amendments which strengthen Turmes report to make it mandatory on national regulatory authorities that they ensure there is no discriminatory transmission and distribution charging fees aimed at those renewable energy producers in remote and peripheral regions.

Also to be welcomed from a Scottish perspective are Turmes' proposals for ensuring there is greater flexibility given in how the EU's renewables targets are to be achieved by the member states and in his proposal for scrapping the 10% binding biofuels target.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Scotland needs a fast train link to Europe

I was interested to read this morning that Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish Government's transport minister had met with the UK rail minister, Tom Harris about putting in place a high speed cross-border train link between Scotland and London. Such a high speed rail link is long overdue. It is incredible that in this day and age when most other European countries are opening up their rail networks with their own high speed cross-border train services, we are still struggling to have our own fast train link and to cut the current journey time of four and a half/ five hours from London to Edinburgh/Glasgow to three hours.

At the moment I can go from Brussels to Paris on the fast Thalys train in less than 90 minutes, to Frankfurt on the ICE train in three and a half hours and the TGV down to the South of France in just under five hours via Paris. In February Spain launched its bullet train from Madrid to Barcelona (a distance of 410 miles) in just over two and a half hours and with the added bonus that passengers get a full refund if the train is 30 minutes late.

Scotland badly needs such a fast train link connecting us in a sustainable way with the rest of mainland Europe via the Eurostar link between London St Pancreas and Paris and Brussels. Having taken the Eurostar from Brussels to London on numerous occasions I'm a big fan for how easy and smooth a journey it is not to mention its being more efficient in terms of CO2 production. The trouble is once you hit London the missing link north of the border to Scotland remains.

This being Green Week in Brussels there is much discussion about making more sustainable use of our resources. Greater sustainable mobility has to be encouraged but we also need to ensure the networks and services for supporting fast trains are in place to encourage more people to switch from their dependency on flying and/or driving to greener travelling by train.

Last summer some of Europe's key high speed rail operators in 7 different countries (Eurostar in London, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Austria linked their high speed rail networks together in an attempt to make cross-border travel in Europe much easier and much cheaper. The scheme is called "Railteam" and in addition to providing a central point for information on timetables and prices it will eventually for the first time allow people to book their rail tickets through to Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria with one payment via a single website: Even if you miss your next train because there was a delay to the first "railteam" train you were travelling on, you can catch the next "railteam" train without having to change your ticket or get a new reservation. The network is also looking to include the Spanish and Italian high-speed rail links in the future.

At the moment the "railteam" service stops at London. I look forward to the day when that link is extended to Scotland and we see both Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as for example Aberdeen, Inverness on the "railteam" map as part of the Scotland - Europe via London fast train service.