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“Inquiry into the Impact of the Treaty of Lisbon on Scotland”
Rural Affairs and the Environment
Irene Oldfather (Labour)
It is a privilege to open this afternoon’s debate on behalf of the European and External Relations Committee on a piece of work that has formed the core of our work programme over the past year—the Treaty of Lisbon.
The committee published its report in June and since then we have been actively engaging with stakeholders across the Parliament, exploring how we in the Parliament can take advantage of the opportunities that are provided. The treaty has ushered in a new European architecture, which does a number of things that are relevant to the work of the Parliament. For the first time, it formally recognises the principle of territorial cohesion. It also introduces the principle of consultation of regional Parliaments, enhances the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and invites greater engagement from the regions of Europe. Critically, the test of the changes lies in the answer to the question: will they enable us, here in the Scottish Parliament, to do our job better? I think that they will.
With the new subsidiarity mechanism, or early-warning system, member-state Parliaments can block European Union legislation if it does not accord with the principle of subsidiarity. That action should be taken at the most appropriate and effective level. Through that, the treaty offers the real prospect of improved democratic oversight of the EU’s decision-making process. It also offers the prospect of new routes of influence in areas that are of significant interest to Scotland, through better and improved liaison with the European Parliament and European Commission. Given the devolved interest in many areas of EU competence, and the role of the UK Government as interlocutor with the EU, there is a need for improved mechanisms for representation of any policy area that might be of importance to the people of Scotland. As EU legislation takes precedence over national legislation, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government need to be vigilant, as even welcome or favourable legislation can have implications as to which level
The subsidiarity protocol offers a chance for the Scottish Parliament to challenge incursions into areas of devolved interest. To realise that power, the Parliament needs to work in partnership with the UK Parliament. A formal proposal to ensure co-operation between the UK and the Scottish Parliaments on the matter has been agreed in principle—that is part of the work that the committee has been doing since we published our report. The implication is that because the Scottish Parliament can get involved in such initiatives, we can exert more influence in the European Union.
In taking the proposed strategy forward, the EERC will retain its role in co-ordinating, horizon scanning, undertaking overarching inquiries—such as our inquiry into the EU budget review—or in doing work that a subject committee is unable to do. The committee will also continue to lead on analysis of the European Commission’s work programme, so that the Parliament can identify key issues in the future.
I hope that the new system will generate contributions to the debate from subject committees, which will be vital. The active scrutiny role will rest primarily with the subject committees, which will undertake work of their own volition. At the core of the proposed new model is the appointment by the subject committees of European reporters, who would act as conduits between the EERC and their committees and have specific roles. The idea is based on a model that has been successfully used by the Parliaments of Bavaria and Flanders. It builds on the aspiration of the Scottish constitutional convention that there should be strong links between European committees and the subject committees of the Scottish Parliament.
We propose to use the scrutiny process to give subject committees an overview of all proposals that come out of Brussels and an opportunity to intervene early in the process, if that is desired or required.