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.