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European Commission (Work Programme)
Irene Oldfather (Labour)
It is an immense privilege to open this debate on behalf of the European and External Relations Committee on the European Commission's work programme. I have to confess that, last week, when reflecting on how I would explain to the chamber why the committee felt it important to use its slot to discuss this important piece of work, I intended to say that we stood poised on the threshold of considerable change in Europe. I had no idea just how prophetic those words were to be.
I want to take a moment to consider the changes in Europe that form the backdrop to this debate. First, the European Commission has introduced a new-style work programme that, for the first time, spans the entire European Commission and European Parliament term to 2014. In moving away from an annual work programme, the Commission provides us with its thoughts on the cornerstone of its future agenda. It is therefore important that all members of the Scottish Parliament, not just the members of the European and External Relations Committee, are aware of the Commission's work programme and have an opportunity to frame their consideration of it.
Secondly, that activity will take place under a new European architecture that has been brought about by the introduction of the Treaty of Lisbon, which extends to the European Parliament the ordinary legislative procedure, or co-decision. It will be incumbent on members in the subject committees and across the chamber to work very closely with MEPs in all areas in which we wish to influence developments. To my mind, that means not only strengthening relations with our own Scottish MEPs but looking very closely at further developing relations with corresponding EP committee conveners and rapporteurs.
Thirdly, on a related point, the Lisbon treaty does three things that are important to our work in this chamber. By formally recognising for the first time the principle of territorial cohesion, introducing the principle of consultation with regional Parliaments and enhancing the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, it invites greater engagement from the regions of Europe. The test
In giving us a four-year rather than an annual view of the Commission's legislative and non-legislative priorities, the work programme offers the opportunity for early horizon scanning of issues of importance and relevance to Scotland. In some cases, of course, preparatory work has already been carried out by the time a policy reaches the work programme. That is why it is important for the Parliament not only to have regular contact with EP and Commission officials but to maintain a close watch on the work of European networks of interest to us, many of which are at the forefront of this vital early-warning system.
I hope that the committee can further develop its "Brussels Bulletin" to progress some of that vital early intelligence. It was indeed a European and External Relations Committee report that led to the establishment of a Brussels officer, who provides the bulletin to the Parliament. I believe that Bruce Crawford was a member of the committee at the time and I am glad to say that, despite considerable dissent, we won the argument. It was certainly a big step for the Parliament; in the first few years, nobody wanted to do the job. Nevertheless, I think that we have won the argument and I know that members across the chamber will want to acknowledge Ian Duncan's work and the work of the Scottish Parliament information centre and the committee clerks in keeping the Parliament abreast of European issues.
In a previous report, the committee flagged up the importance of what I think of as upstream/downstream TIE, which is about influencing the process up stream and down stream and tracking the transposition, implementation and enforcement of European legislation. All those roles are legitimate for the Parliament but, as I have indicated, greater emphasis arguably needs to be placed on the upstream element of the work.
I hope that many members will discuss the detailed content of the Commission's work programme. The motion only scratches the surface. The committee highlighted issues that we thought were particularly relevant to Scotland. The committee has hit the ground running on Europe 2020, and our report on it is hot off the press. We took the opportunity to consult Scottish stakeholders, and our report has been sent to relevant decision makers in Scotland, the United Kingdom and the European Union. The European Council will discuss Europe 2020 in June. I hope that our work on it demonstrates that we are
With Europe 2020, the financial crisis and the budget review have been among the big challenges that the EU and Scotland have faced, and the committee has undertaken a considerable amount of work on both. It has taken evidence on the budget review over almost two years, and we will produce a report on it before the end of the session. I do not want to pre-empt the committee's conclusions but, from a personal perspective, it is evident from the work programme that activities and priorities have changed, not least because of global events. We must ensure that the budgets genuinely reflect policy priorities and not last-minute, late-night deals, as has happened too often in the past.
I am running short of time, so I will not speak about combating poverty or reform of the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy. Those matters are relevant, and I hope that colleagues will pick them up.
It is clear from the work programme that Europe is not about foreign affairs; it is about the things that matter in the lives of Europe's and Scotland's citizens. I trust that this debate will illustrate that parliamentary committees and MSPs do not wish to be mere observers in the new architecture. We want to be full participants, and we have the motivation and the will to move forward rather than simply to anchor in the past. Whether members like it or not, Europe is not a wish, a dream or perhaps even a nightmare, which it may be for Murdo Fraser; rather, it is a reality. We must move forward to create from that reality opportunities for our citizens.
That the Parliament welcomes the European Commission Work Programme, published by the European Commission on 31 March 2010; notes that it is likely to inform European Union policy for the next five years, and supports in particular the proposals for delivering a new economic strategy (Europe 2020) and allied platform to combat poverty, the commitment to further develop renewable energy and the energy grid, the recognition of the need to reform both the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy and the desire to restructure the European Union's budget.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
The Scottish Government also welcomes the Commission's work programme and supports the priorities that are contained in it. I would like to pick out a few key initiatives from the programme and talk about some areas in which Scotland is already forging ahead, in particular in leading the EU in areas such as renewable
The Scottish Government recognises that, although we have returned to growth in Scotland following a recession that has been shorter than that in the rest of the UK, maintaining that recovery is a priority. Our economic strategy is very much aligned with the EU 2020 strategy proposals, and we see Europe as a partner in building on our recovery. In partnership with Europe, Scotland is also well placed to perform against the targets on climate change, energy, labour market participation and education.
This year is the European year for combating poverty and social exclusion. The Scottish Government recognises that we need to break the cycles of poverty and deprivation that have become deeply embedded in society. We will set challenging targets in line with "Achieving our Potential: A Framework to tackle poverty and income inequality in Scotland", which sets out priorities for action. That is one of three interlinked policy frameworks that we have developed with our partners in local government, the national health service and the third sector to take priorities forward in a co-ordinated and unified way. In the longer term, that joined-up approach will deliver measures to tackle poverty and low income through providing children and young people with a better start in life; supporting the broader effort to deal with health inequalities in our society; promoting equality and tackling discrimination; delivering good-quality affordable housing; and regenerating disadvantaged communities.
I welcome in particular the commitment in the work programme to take forward work to develop renewable energy and the electricity grid. Scotland has won plaudits across Europe and the rest of the world for our work on climate change. We will continue to push for ambitious action at an international and European level. The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be at the heart of Europe's low-carbon energy revolution. We are working to forge European partnerships to do that through the work of the Scottish European Green Energy Centre to harness our massive potential in renewables and carbon capture and storage.
Scotland's fishing industry is a key priority for the Government. With 69 per cent of the share of UK quotas, Scotland should have a place at the top table in Brussels. Unfortunately, we have continually been refused. During the busy Westminster election campaign, we had the frankly incredible scenario in which my colleague Richard Lochhead was denied a seat at an important informal council on the future of EU fisheries policy. That meeting was critical to Scotland and Richard Lochhead could have made points on behalf of the whole of the UK fishing
At the end of March, I led the UK delegation at an informal culture council meeting in Barcelona and, yesterday, Michael Russell spoke for the UK at the education council, using Gaelic for the first time at council. Such instances demonstrate the legitimacy and added value of Scotland playing a greater role than simply attending in silence. We intend to discuss an improved role for the Scottish Government in Europe with the new UK Government.
We continue to press for fundamental reform of Europe's fisheries regime. We intend to host a major ministerial workshop later this year marking the beginning of a new way to manage our fisheries that will consign the centralised bureaucratic CFP to the dustbin of history.
Irene Oldfather (Labour)
Does the minister agree that Scottish National Party ministers' attendance at EU council meetings is not that different from Labour ministers' attendance and that more than 50 per cent of meetings are unattended? We have a long way to go on our attendance before we ask to be in certain chairs.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
Despite the fact that we are a minority Government and are under increased pressure to vote in the chamber, the attendance of this Administration's ministers is better than that of the previous Administration. However, it is what we do when we are there that is important, rather than attending and just sitting in silence. I sincerely hope that we can pursue the agenda of having more participation as I did in Barcelona and as Mike Russell did only yesterday.
The single farm payment is the biggest element of the common agricultural policy and it is clear that the current historical basis of payments, which relates to average production in a reference period almost a decade ago, cannot be justified today. Scotland currently has the lowest single farm payment per hectare in the UK and one of the lowest in Europe. We also have the lowest rural development funding per hectare in Europe. If, however, a flatter rate system, paying the same rate per hectare of utilised agricultural land across all member states regardless of farming activity and intensity were introduced, Scotland would benefit. The outcome of the forthcoming CAP and CFP discussions is therefore crucial for Scotland, and we are well placed to identify a negotiating position that meets the needs of our diverse agricultural sector.
The Scottish Government continues to identify in our economic recovery plan key areas in which
We are already liaising with the UK Government, with which I have had discussions, and the EU institutions on how Scotland can apply influence. We need more resources to make the low-carbon economy a reality as well as fair support for farming in our most fragile areas. I do not deny that that tension will be one of the issues that the Parliament, the Government and our members of the European Parliament will need to discuss further.
Freedom, security and justice are a key area for us because of our distinct legal system. Our position is unique because we are also part of a larger member state. Family law and cross-border co-operation on crime fall within devolved competence, so securing recognition of Scottish interests is critical. However, I know of good work being done to ensure that our Scottish legal system is protected.
The Commission's work programme refers to the action plan for taking forward the Stockholm programme on FSJ to the end of 2014. We have a major interest in areas such as cross-border crime. We are engaging with the action plan.
I thank the committee for bringing forward the debate today. The EU has a huge impact on policy making in Scotland, as reflected in the debate. We have strengths. We want to work positively and constructively with the European Commission and partners to maximise the benefits of the European Union. I look forward to hearing the contributions from colleagues throughout the chamber.
Pauline McNeill (Labour)
The importance of the European Union is about much more than removing trade barriers and having freedom of movement. Being part of a larger economic and social entity is a necessity now more than ever.
We have an interesting backdrop to the debate after yesterday's formation of the Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition Government, given that those parties' views on Europe are about as opposing as they can be. I look forward to hearing Murdo Fraser and Jim Hume articulating their policy this afternoon.
The challenges that we face, such as our ageing population, cross-border criminality, organised
The European and External Relations Committee should be highly commended for bringing forward the debate and asking the Parliament for the time to examine the issues raised in detail this afternoon.
As the minister has said, Europe has a heavy impact on the Scottish Parliament's devolved powers. In some ways, I would like to see us go further in developing structures in the Parliament to ensure that we scrutinise and influence all the decisions that are taken in the European Union. I believe that we have a critical role to play in that. The Parliament's responsibility is to ensure that Europe does not appear remote to ordinary citizens. For that reason alone, we have to think further about how we develop those structures.
Although I recognise that things in Europe are often seen as slow moving, the committee identified a concern about the lack of time for consultation. Given the status of the Lisbon treaty, there must be time for consultation. I concur with the committee's call for a much greater role for the regions in implementing the strategy, greater involvement of civil society and full integration of the principles of a low-carbon economy.
Sometimes the challenge is the remoteness of Europe as an institution. Given the importance of the treaty, we have to ensure that every citizen throughout Europe has a chance to see what the decision-making process is. Closer working relationships between the European and External Relations Committee and the Government are justified for that reason alone.
I speak as the former convener of the Justice 1 Committee, which brought a subject debate to the Parliament on the reform of civil law in Europe. When we see the changes that we might have to discuss, such as reforms to our family law and consumer law, we realise the importance of having structures in this Parliament to scrutinise such decisions.
George Washington said that following the setting up of the United States of America, there would some day be a United States of Europe. Given that we are coming out of a global recession and are facing the challenges that we have talked about, governance within Europe will have to be more effective than ever and accountability will have to be even better if citizens are to trust in the treaties and institutions of Europe.
A number of key areas in Europe 2020 are worth discussing in some detail. Top of the agenda is returning public finances to a more sustainable path—in short, Europe taking the necessary steps to prevent a banking crisis from happening again in future.
The public must have confidence in the European Union as an institution. They will want to know what steps it is taking in relation to the worldwide discussions and agreements on banker bonuses and in responding to public concern.
The digital agenda for Europe is important for business and the committee has identified the need to address the requirements of small businesses in our economy. High-speed internet access will make a huge difference to how we apply technology and research and to how we tackle the global economies of China and India.
Pauline McNeill (Labour)
Much is to be gained from being part of the United States of Europe. Huge challenges are ahead and we in the Parliament must ensure that we have the structures to ensure effective decision making.
Murdo Fraser (Conservative)
I apologise on my colleague Ted Brocklebank's behalf. As a member of the European and External Relations Committee, he would have liked to be here, but he could not join us.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the European Commission's work programme. Any such debate must touch on the new UK Government's approach to Europe. If the Presiding Officer will forgive me, as the first Conservative to speak in the chamber after yesterday's momentous events, I would like to record my delight that we have a new Conservative Prime Minister and a new Conservative-led Government.
In that vein, I owe you, Presiding Officer, and the Parliament an apology. If members have listened to speeches by me and many of my Conservative colleagues in the past few years, they might have gained the impression that we had a negative view of our excellent friends in the Liberal Democrats. If I ever inadvertently gave that impression in my remarks, I can only humbly apologise. I confirm that my view all along has been that the Liberal Democrats are the finest collection of individuals ever to walk on God's earth.
Lewis Macdonald (Labour)
I note with interest what Mr Fraser says about his party's new partners. I have no doubt that we will hear many such sentiments, at least for a couple
Murdo Fraser (Conservative)
I will come to that point in a moment. It is clear that we have much to learn from the Labour Party's relationship with the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps Mr Macdonald will share some of that experience with us, from which I am sure we would all benefit.
The new UK Government will mean a new approach to Europe. We await exact details of that approach, but I am sure that we are in interesting times. In the meantime, it is vital that the Scottish Parliament is kept up to date with new legislation and policies from Europe. I welcome the minister's commitment to tracking EU legislation and alerting the relevant committees.
The Law Society of Scotland has warned that the protection that is afforded to the Parliament under subsidiarity will be difficult to use, as the extremely short timescales for consultation might lead to the Parliament being overlooked. It is therefore essential to establish a good working relationship with Westminster to ensure that we are consulted on relevant issues.
David Cameron has pledged to strengthen the working relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments and I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Scotland will play a role in that important task. I am therefore confident that an approach from the Scottish Government or the committee to work with the Foreign Office to design an early-warning system would be welcome.
I cannot but feel that the 2010 work programme is already out of date, as it refers repeatedly to the economic crisis in the past tense, whereas recent economic turmoil in Greece has proved that the crisis is anything but over, especially in the euro zone. Of course, if the Scottish Government had its way, Scotland would—as a new EU member—have to join the euro and would now suffer from the euro's destabilisation following the debt crisis rather than be part of an independent Great Britain that is in charge of its own currency.
Murdo Fraser (Conservative)
No—I am sorry to say that I am in my last minute.
It is clear that repairing the damage to the euro and its partners will take up much of the EU's focus in the coming year, as it acts to prevent other countries from following Greece. I was pleased to hear that the Liberal Democrats seem to have put on hold their ambition to join the euro, at least for the duration of this UK Parliament.
Only last week, the EU's Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs called on the new British Government to take early measures to reduce the country's huge deficit and stabilise the debt. That is a huge priority for the new Government.
I will touch on justice issues, which are important. Europe will continue to have a heavy impact on Scotland's justice system. There are many positive advances, such as cross-border co-operation in criminal cases, but many challenges will face our justice system and individual freedom. I commend the Government's intention to send a Scottish minister or law officer to all justice and home affairs council meetings as part of the UK delegation.
The Law Society has highlighted several major concerns for Scotland about the Lisbon treaty. The first is about the creation of the European public prosecutor, which threatens to cut across the Lord Advocate's functions, and the second is about the impact of the European charter of fundamental rights. The Conservatives have said that they would halt the public prosecutor. I am sure that the committee will consider the charter in detail during its inquiry and I look forward to its report.
There is more to say, but I will deal with other points in my closing speech.
Jim Hume (Liberal Democrat)
As the Liberal Democrat member of the European and External Relations Committee, I welcome the opportunity to debate the European legislative work programme.
The programme highlights many things and links in well with the report that the committee published last week. Our report highlighted the need for Scotland as a region to benchmark its performance against the EU 2020 targets and stressed the importance of working with the UK Government in relation to its European economic strategies and policies—policies that, I am sure, will all be recognised as coming from the Lib Dem manifesto.
The new work programme rightly highlights the importance of exiting the economic crisis. Finance and banking are at the top of the agenda; legislators have to agree on tackling those areas before the summer. That is, of course, of great importance to Scotland not only as a home for banks but in terms of our businesses, which require much better access to finance. I am sure that we are in good hands with Vince Cable.
Both the committee report and the work programme rightly highlight the importance of small businesses to Scotland. In his evidence to
The motion mentions the need for reform of the common fisheries policy and the CAP—I declare a farming interest in that regard. I remind members of the importance of agriculture, food production and the CAP to Scotland. Fiona Hyslop mentioned that in her speech. Organisations such as RSPB Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh have highlighted the importance of those areas in evidence to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, including at its meeting this morning, and other organisations have also done so in their evidence to the European and External Relations Committee. I remind the chamber that the EU consultation on a future CAP is open. It is perhaps no surprise that the CAP budget is a large percentage of the EU budget, given that the common market was basically set up to address food security issues. The CAP is one of the few fully funded EU policies.
The work programme rightly states that there will be a focus on climate change. Thanks to the Lib Dems standing up for strong reduction targets, Scotland is leading the way in that respect. Of course, implementation is much more important than any target setting; after all, targets need to be attained. There is no room for complacency.
I welcome the work programme's focus on cross-border criminal activity. Agreements are in place between forces across some of the EU, but there remain too many loopholes, allowing organised crime to thrive.
Scotland has opportunities with green energy. I am thinking of the focus on interconnections and so-called smart grids. It is up to us to ensure that we can exploit the strong potential of new energies such as tidal.
A digital agenda for the EU is sorely needed in many rural areas of Scotland, which suffer from slow internet connections. We are, in effect, a digitally divided country.
Scotland is in a prime position to benefit from the EU plan for research and innovation, given our first-rate higher and further education institutions. The committee's report recognises the view that many more of our communities—and people in the
I welcome the work programme. I note that the committee's most recent report highlights many of the issues that Scotland has to address if it is to be a working cog in the EU machine, working with the new Government.
Sandra White (Scottish National Party)
I am pleased to speak in the debate, not only to raise the profiles of the European and External Relations Committee and the European Commission but to highlight the workings of the EU, which not that many people outwith the Parliament know about. It is shameful that there are no media representatives in the press gallery. I had hoped that the debate would open the media's eyes to the fact that the EU is an extremely important part of the governance of not only Scotland but the UK and Europe. I had hoped that media reports on the debate would have gone some way towards giving people out there an understanding of what Europe is all about and how important it is to Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government.
As Irene Oldfather pointed out, it is important that the Scottish Government engages with the European Parliament at all levels. It should engage with rapporteurs, commissioners and MEPs—and basically anyone else in Europe, particularly the Scottish Parliament's European officer. It is important to get in early and find out exactly what is coming out of Europe, and in her evidence to the committee, the minister has confirmed that that is basically what we do. It is important for us to keep an eye on what is happening in Europe. If the press is not going to tell everyone what is happening, it is up to individual MSPs and the Parliament to let folk know what is going on in Europe.
Does the minister have it in mind to hold a meeting with representatives of the new coalition Government at Westminster to discuss the importance of Europe for the Scottish Government and the Scottish people? Perhaps she can answer that in a letter.
I will concentrate on a couple of areas in the short time that I have left: combating poverty, and renewable energy and the energy grid. Reducing poverty is one of the EU 2020 targets, which I very much welcome. However, the European and External Relations Committee and the Scottish Government need to monitor closely what comes out of those targets. We need to do that not to ensure that poverty is eradicated—although I hope
On renewable energy and the energy grid, everyone knows that Scotland has a significant proportion of Europe's renewable energy in the form of wind and tidal power. Scotland is at the forefront of pushing through the energy agenda, and it can lead the rest of Europe, as has been said not just by me and other members but by eminent professors in Europe. Scotland had already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 19.2 per cent in 2007; in 2008, the emissions reduction percentage across the whole of the UK was just over 19 per cent. Scotland carries the rest of Britain when it comes to climate change and renewable energy. We need to remind ourselves that we are world leaders, and European leaders in particular. The Scottish Government must work with the new Westminster Government—as it had to work with the previous one—on the subject of renewable energy and the energy grid.
I am concerned about transmission charges for the energy grid. Under current transmission charging systems, the remote areas of northern Scotland pay as much as £42.13 per kilowatt, whereas people in the south-west of England pay £6.98 per kilowatt. That is a direct disadvantage. I hope that we can get together with the new Westminster Government and the European Commission to iron that out.
I would have liked to speak about the national grid, but my time is running out and I need to finish. We need to consider poverty, transmission charges and the energy grid. Scotland is a world leader on renewable energy, and we do not want to be penalised because of high transmission charges.
Helen Eadie (Labour)
A number of my colleagues in the chamber will be aware of my long-standing commitment to working with people from throughout Europe who share values and ideals, a desire to bring our nations closer together and a wish to remove barriers to co-operation and progress. I refer colleagues to my entry in the register of interests, with particular regard to my work for Bulgaria.
I am grateful to those colleagues who have given me opportunities over the years to contribute to our work in Europe. In particular, I highlight the work that I did with Ben Wallace, who went to another place—I do not know whether he was successful in being re-elected to Westminster. He and I were appointed as rapporteurs, and we produced a report to the Scottish Parliament that led to the establishment of the Parliament's own liaison officer in the centre of power in the EU. The view was that an early-warning system is key, as Irene Oldfather said, and we persuaded Ben Wallace and his colleagues of that when we served together on the European Committee in the first session of the Parliament.
I was grateful to be appointed by the Health and Sport Committee as its representative at meetings of the European elected members information liaison and exchange network. It is sad that since Linda Fabiani's departure from her role as Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture there has been little progress on the working of the group. There was only one meeting with Linda Fabiani's successor, Mike Russell, who subsequently changed post again. There has been no EMILE meeting since last year.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
I am sorry to have to correct Helen Eadie. I have chaired an EMILE meeting in the Parliament in my capacity as Minister for Culture and External Affairs, and I was disappointed that she could not attend. Another meeting is planned, although there is a difficulty, because it might clash with the domestic and European joint ministerial committee meetings.
Helen Eadie (Labour)
I might receive another letter of apology from the minister's department. I received a letter of apology for the failure to invite me to the charrette in Lochgelly; perhaps I will get one about the failure to invite me to the EMILE meeting. The matter is of some concern, because the Health and Sport Committee appointed me to my role. Moreover, although Government ministers with responsibility for fisheries and culture attend meetings, there is no report back to the Scottish Parliament on advances in the European Parliament in relation to health. It is clear to all members that cross-border health care has mammoth implications for the whole of the United Kingdom and, most of all, major financial implications for Scotland, particularly with regard to jobs.
The Commission's work programme sets the policy direction in response to the upcoming challenges and lays the groundwork in relation to the rest of the mandate. In the Scottish Parliament we have a cross-party group on industrial communities, whose work programme embraces what will happen to Scotland's European funding post 2013. The group agreed to make the issue a
The big debates will centre around whether European funding will continue to be concentrated on eastern Europe or whether there will be a change in the policy direction that has been established over the years. Those are important matters to the people of Scotland, because for many years we enjoyed European funding. The matter is of continuing concern against a backdrop of the ending of a number of funding streams during the next year, including the town centre initiative, the vacant and derelict land fund, funding from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the future jobs fund and, in some areas, LEADER funding.
Funding streams will come to an end at a time of tight financial budgets in the public sector. That has the potential to create the perfect storm in relation to regeneration activity. The cross-party group has agreed that that is a serious matter for our industrial communities, and I hope that the Parliament will pay close attention to the matters that it has raised.
Jamie Hepburn (Scottish National Party)
I apologise for not pressing my request-to-speak button and I thank the clerks for reminding me to do so. I appear to have forgotten what to do in the Scottish Parliament, after the campaigns of the past few weeks. I would have regretted not being able to participate in the debate—I am sure that members share that sentiment.
I am glad that our Parliament has an opportunity to debate the forthcoming work programme of the European Commission. The debate provides us with an opportunity to push forward Scotland's interests and ensure that we play a more active role in the Europe of the future. My party has long argued that the people of Scotland should have a stronger voice in Europe, and the next work programme provides another reminder that Scotland's interests need a Scottish voice to stand up for them in Europe and the world at large.
I take the opportunity to correct Murdo Fraser who, in a fit of excitement at recent events—it is clear that the excitement is palpably shared by his new-found colleagues Mr Smith and Mr Hume—got his facts wrong. Murdo Fraser argues that the SNP wants Scotland to be a new member of the European Union, but we want nothing of the sort.
Scotland is already a member of the European Union. I am sure that he appreciates my correcting his facts for him. [Interruption.]
The work that the European and External Relations Committee has carried out in examining the work programme has been productive and has emphasised the importance of the Scottish Government and our Parliament being more greatly involved in how the programme affects Scotland. Given our present status as a sub-state actor in the EU, we should welcome the suggestion for further involvement of sub-state entities in the 2020 strategy and the Commission blueprint for moving the EU forward more generally. However, we need to see further detail of what that will entail to ensure that mere rhetoric does not take the place of effective engagement with Scotland, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Most of all, we need the UK Government to ensure that the Scottish Government is permitted to engage fully in the decision-making processes of the EU, particularly now that we have a Conservative Administration south of the border, given that such Administrations have failed Scotland's interests in the past.
We should also welcome the fact that one of the work programme's main aims is to put
"people at the heart of European action".
Given the vivid demonstration of the democratic deficit in Scotland by the result of last week's election—after which, with a solitary Scottish representative, the Tories find themselves in government—it is right to consider the empowerment of the people, whether in the business of the EU or elsewhere. We must welcome any moves to improve people's participation in the EU. In that regard, the European citizens initiative that will shortly be implemented is a useful model that we should encourage Scotland's citizens to take advantage of where appropriate.
The Commission also aims to modernise the way that the EU works. Our Parliament has been expressly geared up to fulfil the standards that a modern political system requires, with openness and transparency at the heart of our processes. With a direct line to the EU, we might be better placed to use our experience to influence the direction of the modernisation of the EU's procedures. Even within the confines of devolution, we should seek to do that anyway; of course, we should also be prepared to learn from our European neighbours about how any positive changes can be applied to our processes at home.
It is worth mentioning that this is the EU year of combating poverty and social exclusion, as my colleague Sandra White stated. We should
With the EU 2020 strategy and the Commission's work programme having sustainable economic development and jobs growth at their heart, I hope that we can grasp the opportunity to eradicate poverty in the areas of Scotland and elsewhere in Europe that suffer from severe deprivation. Of course, we cannot rely on economic growth in and of itself. We must direct our efforts simultaneously at reducing inequality and seeking economic recovery. I hope that that will be at the heart of the EU 2020 strategy and the Commission's work programme.
I welcome the Commission's work programme for 2010 and I hope that Scotland is able to play a key, active part in the direction taken by the programme and EU policy making in the future. However, members do not need to be told that we can only ever reach our full potential when we have full independence and a direct line to Europe. I very much look forward to that day.
Alex Fergusson (None)
Thank you, Mr Hepburn. Perhaps you would be good enough to turn off your BlackBerry once Mr Matheson gives it back to you, as it is not meant to be on in the first place.
Lewis Macdonald (Labour)
The European Commission's work programme on energy is focused on shared ambitions for a low-carbon economy throughout Europe and around the world. In that respect, it is very much to be welcomed. At the same time, it is vital that EU engagement plays to the strengths of different parts of Europe. In that respect, offshore energy is particularly important for Scotland. It includes, of course, oil and gas from the North Sea. Hydrocarbons from the UK continental shelf remain critical to our energy security.
The oil and gas sector remains the single largest employer in my constituency and in many parts of Scotland. Indeed, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee will meet later this month in Aberdeen to hear evidence about Scotland's international trade, and I suspect that we will hear
However, the sector also matters because it provides skills and technologies for use in offshore renewable energies, which are rightly the focus of European interest. That interest can be hugely supportive of our shared ambitions for renewable energy from Scottish waters. The European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, which is well known and well established, gives Scotland great opportunities for innovation in new technologies in wave and tidal power. Scotland is equally well placed to give a lead in offshore wind technologies. Offshore Aberdeen has already been identified as the best place in which to set up an equivalent centre to EMEC for the wind industry—an industry that is poised to invest billions of pounds in a new round of energy production from the UK's continental shelf.
A good deal of hard work has already been done to bring the European offshore wind deployment centre to fruition in Aberdeen. I commend the efforts of the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group for coming up with the big idea and those of Vattenfall, and those who work with it, in taking the idea forward. The Scottish European Green Energy Centre, which is based in Aberdeen, also has a key role to play. I hope that Scottish ministers will be active in supporting the efforts of all concerned to reach a positive conclusion on the project. The European Union has offered €40 million for the Aberdeen project, if it can be delivered on time. That investment can turn the positive intentions of the Lisbon treaty into real technological advantage for Scotland and Europe in laying the foundations for a new green energy sector.
We should not be content simply with an injection of European Union taxpayers' money into proving new technologies, however welcome that injection may be. Turning the green economy into green jobs will also require private energy companies to invest in Scotland, which is another area in which opportunities exist and need to be taken.
Wave and tidal power is not quite at the stage of placing major manufacturing orders, although we have very innovative and enterprising companies in Aberdeen and, indeed, across Scotland. Offshore wind is with us now, and we need to ensure that the exploitation of Scotland's natural resource leads to the creation of Scottish manufacturing jobs. We know about the good work that is being done in the fabrication of offshore wind towers by, for example, BiFab in Fife and in Lewis, turning oil platform building skills to good use in the renewables sector. I hope ministers will agree that it is important to go further than the
European support is critical, too, for developing carbon capture and storage below the seabed of the North Sea. One of Gordon Brown's many achievements in government was to give a lead in that area. I hope that others will follow that lead. The carbon capture and storage levy in the UK and the revenues of the European emissions trading scheme, taken together, can give Scotland a head start in proving the new technologies. I hope that Scottish ministers will impress on their new UK counterparts the importance of continuing that investment from the UK Government and the European Union in order to realise that opportunity.
We have heard today about extending the single market of the British electricity trading and transmission arrangements across the North Sea to create a European grid, which is an important objective, too. However, we must ensure that that is done alongside the creation of jobs and business here in Scotland, which means building on our existing strengths to ensure that electricity continues to be an export industry for Scotland on a European scale in the years ahead.
Iain Smith (Liberal Democrat)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. As a former member of the European and External Relations Committee, it is nice occasionally to come back to and talk about this important subject. Clearly, the work programme of the European Commission is very important to Scotland's interests, so it is important that, as a Parliament, we take an interest in it.
One of the issues that has been raised is the implementation of the Lisbon treaty and the fact that devolved Parliaments such as the Scottish Parliament should now have more direct say in the implementation of European policies. Clearly, an important part of that is building up relationships with the Westminster Parliament. It is important that we bear in mind that that refers to the Parliament-to-Parliament relationship and not necessarily to the Government-to- Government relationship.
With a new Parliament at Westminster and, perhaps, a reform agenda that is shared by all
I would like to correct Jamie Hepburn. Here in the Scottish Parliament, I am not a colleague of Murdo Fraser. Our parties have a coalition agreement at Westminster, but that does not mean that we have a coalition agreement that extends to Scotland, any more than it means that when we were in coalition with the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, we agreed with the Labour Party at Westminster. They are separate institutions, and the parties north and south of the border have separate priorities. We will continue to operate as an independent party in the Scottish Parliament that opposes the Conservative party every bit as much as it did in the past.
Iain Smith (Liberal Democrat)
All of us in the Parliament are friends once we get outside the chamber but, politically, Murdo Fraser and I are not partners in the Scottish Parliament, even if the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are partners in an agreed programme at United Kingdom level.
Murdo Fraser raised a number of important points. He was right to mention subsidiarity. He also spoke about the euro and Greece. Some people argue that the situation in Greece has resulted in the destabilisation of the euro and that it calls into question the whole idea of the euro zone. A counter-argument is that if Greece and, indeed, Ireland had not been in the euro zone, those two economies might well have gone down the tubes; it was being part of the euro zone that allowed them to survive. That shows the strength of monetary union. We are not advocating that it would be in the UK's interest to be part of the euro zone at this point in time or in the foreseeable future, but being part of the euro zone probably saved Ireland and it has certainly saved Greece.
Murdo Fraser also mentioned the impact of Europe on the justice system. It is important to bear in mind that the Conservative party was opposed to the European arrest warrant. I hope that they will change that position, now that they realise that it allows cross-border co-operation to deal with, for example, paedophile rings and drug cartels.
Sandra White referred to Scotland being a world leader on climate change. We are a world leader in rhetoric, but we have yet to be a world leader in action. We must work with the rest of Europe if we are to be a world leader in action. We must ensure that Scotland not only has a target of reducing carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, but that we are working to achieve that target. Unfortunately, there is still not sufficient evidence that we are doing that.
Lewis Macdonald was right to highlight the importance of the energy sector to Scotland. It is important that the Parliament engages with Europe on issues such as the supergrid, carbon capture and storage, and renewables.
Another issue of importance to Scotland that we must be conscious of is regulation of the financial sector. We must ensure that Europe does not impose a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating the financial sector so that we do not damage the good bits of the sector at the same time as controlling the bad bits, such as the multipurpose banks that have put us in so much trouble.
Murdo Fraser (Conservative)
This short debate has covered a range of subjects and has clearly demonstrated members' interest in our relationship with Europe.
I reassure Helen Eadie that her old friend Ben Wallace was re-elected to the House of Commons. Apparently, his majority was nearly 16,000, so she need have no concerns about Mr Wallace's parliamentary future in another place.
Iain Smith raised the issue of the euro. It is now highly unfashionable for Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to fall out on such matters, but the general view that is taken on the situation in Greece is that if Greece had not been in the euro zone and had had a free-floating currency, it would perhaps have been easier for it to absorb some of the pressures on its economy. In other words, it was Greece's membership of the euro that exacerbated the situation. However, that is a debate for another day.
Earlier, I mentioned issues to do with the economy and justice. I will now turn to two other issues, the first of which is reform of the CAP and the CFP, which is crucial to rural Scotland. Jim Hume focused on reform of the CAP. The Conservatives supported the Pack inquiry into the future of the CAP, and we believe that continuing support for agriculture is vital to food security and to our farmers, and to providing for a vibrant rural economy. However, as Brian Pack's interim report warns, tough times might be ahead because increasing economic pressures are certain to hit the CAP, given that it currently accounts for around 41 per cent of the total EU budget.
A number of members mentioned the common fisheries policy. We believe that it is now right to fight for wholesale reform in order to encourage sustainable practices, to give communities a greater say over the future of their fishing industries, and to bring an end to the scandal of fish discards.
Among the more welcome EC policies are modernisation, its proposal to go beyond the 2012 objective of reducing the administrative burden by 25 per cent, and its focus on fitness checks to reduce the bureaucratic burden. Anyone who speaks to businesspeople will be familiar with the business community's call to reduce the burden of red tape. At a time of economic recession, that is probably more relevant than ever, so I welcome what the EC has said about that. I do not expect it to change dramatically the overwhelming burden of European red tape, but it is a step in the right direction, and I encourage the Scottish Government to offer some input on that. I am sure that our farmers and the members of our business community could come up with plenty legislation that is coming through the pipeline that they would like to see fitness-checked.
Many of the concerns that have been raised about the European Commission's work programme will be addressed by the new approach to Europe that is being taken by my colleagues in the Government at Westminster. Crucially, as part of all that, there will be a new relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. I agree with Sandra White that the minister should seek a meeting with the UK Government to discuss the way forward. That call will be received warmly by the new Conservative-Liberal Government at Westminster, so I encourage the minister to go down that road.
We all have varying visions of Europe. I do not agree with Pauline McNeill when she calls for a United States of Europe but, as we celebrate a new Conservative Prime Minister, I remind her that it was a previous Conservative Prime Minister—Winston Churchill—who called for a United States of Europe, although he did not believe that Great Britain should be part of it. Nevertheless, there was a vision there that people might wish to follow. Whatever our view, the economic crisis in Europe will continue to have an impact, not least because Europe is our largest trading partner. European legislation will continue to affect businesses, the criminal justice system and government in Scotland. I therefore welcome the European and External Relations Committee's work in that area, and I look forward to its report on the impact of the Lisbon treaty later in the year.
Pauline McNeill (Labour)
It was worth being here this afternoon just to hear the new Murdo Fraser rewrite the relationship with the Scottish Liberal Democrats. I note that Jim Hume did not attempt to reciprocate, and that Iain Smith took the opportunity to set out clearly what the relationship will be in this Parliament between the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. We shall watch with interest.
Our approach to Europe is significant, and we must make significant progress on the key issues that we have debated this afternoon. I wish the Liberal Democrats well in persuading new Prime Minister Cameron that we cannot be at the margins of Europe, and that we must play a leading role.
I believe that Scotland benefits from being a part of the United Kingdom, which is an influential member state. Although I do not object at all, where it is appropriate, to Richard Lochhead or any other Scottish minister leading the fisheries negotiations, I do not think that we should fixate on the notion. What matters is the outcome of the negotiations. It is not just our position that matters, but our participation in the negotiations and our ability to negotiate with other countries.
I would have missed Jamie Hepburn's speech had he not pressed his request-to-speak button. It gives me the opportunity to state that there is a strong body of opinion that, if Scotland were to leave the UK, we would have to make a fresh application for membership of the EU because our membership would not necessarily be automatic, as has been asserted. If that is the case, it is almost certain that Scotland would be required to join the euro.
Jamie Hepburn (Scottish National Party)
Does Pauline McNeill not accept that there is equally a substantial body of opinion that counters that argument? Is the extension of her logic not that England and the rest of the United Kingdom would have to reapply?
Pauline McNeill (Labour)
Mr Hepburn is wrong in his assertion. There may be one or two on his side who are of that view, but the body of opinion is that Scotland would have to make a fresh application. What is clear is that there is a great deal of uncertainty and that the SNP cannot provide certainty for Scotland.
Where I agree with Jamie Hepburn is on the necessity of engaging ordinary citizens in decision making, and on the implications of the Lisbon treaty and the huge powers that Europe holds. There is a need to set up structures to ensure not just that Parliament scrutinises the decisions of Europe but that we get out there to do our part in explaining to the general public the implications of the decisions.
I agree with Murdo Fraser when he says, on issues related to justice and civil law reform, which we have seen before in the Scottish Parliament, that there is a distinct element to our law in Scotland. There is therefore a case to be made that when we meet to reform civil law—family law, for example, although I know that there are current discussions about the law of succession—the distinctly Scottish position must be recognised. When I talk about a United States of Europe, I am also clear that the individual characteristics of the member states must be upheld. I, for one, have been vocal in Parliament in saying that when we choose to do things differently, such as on the law of succession or the family law that we have just reformed, Europe should not interfere.
Lewis Macdonald talked about the huge opportunities in the low-carbon economy. I see that my time is almost up, but I will conclude by saying that the green jobs agenda is critical. Collaboration on research and development and the willingness of other European countries to take a firm grip on the climate change agenda show what we can do with countries working together to ensure that we do better.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
Today we have seen a snapshot of Scotland as it stands. We heard Murdo Fraser professing too much his love for the Liberal Democrats, and we heard Iain Smith perhaps professing too much his rejection of the Conservatives. I am sure that time will tell where they stand.
Pauline McNeill advocated the United States of Europe, which is an interesting position. I am not sure whether it is an expression of policy, but it is an interesting idea that will no doubt develop over time. Jim Hume considered Scotland as a region in his speech, but I agree with Pauline McNeill that it is really important that Scotland's national justice system be reflected in developments related to the work programme.
On behalf of the Scottish Government, I welcome the Commission's work programme. We support its priorities, and we are assured that it reflects our own approach. We are pleased that Europe gives us a greater opportunity to realise our objectives, and we will continue to press to play a full part in shaping European policies.
In answer to Sandra White and Murdo Fraser, I say that we aim to work constructively with the incoming UK Government. The earliest opportunity will be at the next JMC Europe meeting, which I hope will be in early June. We will also deal directly with the EU institutions to take forward Scotland's interests in Europe. The early-warning system which has, as Helen Eadie identified, been
We will press our case to lead for the UK on issues such as fisheries, in which Scotland has the weight of interest and expertise. We have a huge amount to offer the EU in capacity and knowledge in developing the marine renewable technologies that Lewis Macdonald referred to, and which will help us all to achieve a low-carbon economy.
The Scottish ministers have a strong record of attending meetings of the Council of Ministers. In 2009, we attended 17 meetings, which is the highest number for any devolved Administration in recent years. We will continue to make our case to attend and to have a meaningful role at Council of Ministers meetings. I can tell Helen Eadie that Shona Robison attended the health council meeting last summer. Our attendance is important, especially when the meetings impact on devolved responsibilities—a role that was recognised even in the Calman recommendations.
Helen Eadie (Labour)
If that is the case, why are we not getting reports back from ministers? A range of topics that concern the Parliament are being discussed at Europe level. It is appropriate for ministers to report back or to make statements to the Parliament on those issues, as Richard Lochhead does.
Fiona Hyslop (Scottish National Party)
I am more than happy to take forward the matter. Recently, I had a constructive evidence session with the European and External Relations Committee. It is important that we have such dialogue and that we report back, as appropriate.
The Government is proactive in its European engagement. We regularly take the opportunity to respond to Commission consultations. The Commission's consultation on developing an energy action plan for 2011-20, which was published last week, presents us with major opportunities. I encourage Lewis Macdonald and the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee to ensure that the committee has input to the process. We are engaging with the Commission and the UK Government to ensure that the plan allows Scotland and Europe to fulfil their potential on renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and on the development of new grid infrastructures, to which Sandra White referred. Another good example of how we are working to influence EU developments is the Scottish Government's response to the Commission's consultations on Europe 2020. We are also looking at the newly published proposals for Europe's culture and creative industries.
The Government adapts to the new opportunities that the EU affords. Only this week, my officials attended a meeting of the newly formed sports council. I have shared with the European and External Relations Committee my ideas for ensuring that Parliament plays an effective role in the new subsidiarity arrangements under the Lisbon treaty. However, I echo Iain Smith's point that the arrangements involve Parliament-to-Parliament relationships. A leadership role for the Presiding Officer and the Parliament will be important in that regard.
The Government has set itself challenging targets for combating poverty. A number of members, including Jamie Hepburn, referred to that. With our huge renewables resource, we have the most ambitious emissions-reduction targets in Europe. We are now seeking the highest levels of ambition from other countries. In particular, we want the EU to increase the level of reductions to which it is committed from 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020. We must play an active role in the Commission's work programme because it has an impact on such issues.
The programme focuses on activities in which we have major interest and that are fundamental to the nation's wellbeing. We must continue to ensure that the UK Government takes Scottish interests into account and that our ministers are at the negotiating table when devolved interests are under discussion. The Scottish Government is determined to enhance Scotland's profile in Europe and to benefit from the opportunities that are available. All members who have spoken have identified key areas, and there is consensus on the areas on which we need to work. I look forward to a productive and constructive relationship with the Parliament, the UK Government, the European Commission and the European Parliament to take forward that agenda.
Michael Matheson (Scottish National Party)
For a minute, Presiding Officer, I thought that you were going to say that I had 18 minutes. Six minutes will suffice.
As a number of members have indicated, it can be difficult at times to get people to engage with the Europe debate. I agree with Sandra White that it can be difficult to engage the public on European issues, largely because of the complexity and lack of transparency that is often perceived to be associated with them. Engagement with members in this establishment is also an issue, as is
Helen Eadie (Labour)
I agree with Michael Matheson, who makes an important point. However, as he knows, a report on European matters has been on the agenda of the Health and Sport Committee at three meetings and has been knocked off each time. That is a matter of concern. I hope that it is not a measure of the non-priority that is accorded to such issues by other committees. I regard cross-border health care as an important issue.
Michael Matheson (Scottish National Party)
I will return to that issue later, when I discuss the role that the Parliament has to play.
As Irene Oldfather outlined in her opening remarks, the purpose of today's debate is to give members an opportunity to debate the EC's work programme and to express their views on issues to which it relates. Those include the CAP, the CFP, renewables, health and new competences for which the Lisbon treaty provides. There is a slight danger that it is always the same individuals in this Parliament who are involved in EU policy issues. We must try harder to engage other members to take a greater interest.
The new work programme, as outlined by the EC, will take us to 2014. It is helpful in that it covers a three-to-four year period as opposed to being set annually, which will provide new opportunities for us to be more focused in our engagement with the EU. Opportunity is very important. Notwithstanding the complexities of the EU process—which several members and I have referred to—and the limitations that we have as a nation and as a non-member state of the EU, we must, with the extension of the EU's competences into a range of areas which are devolved responsibilities here in Scotland, be much more intelligent in how we engage in the process. That is not something that only applies to the Scottish and UK Governments; it also applies to this Parliament.
It is important that the Government of Scotland undertake the necessary tracking work to see what is happening in Europe at various times and that, where necessary, it works with the EU and co-operates with it where that is in Scotland's interests. It is also important for the UK Government, which is engaged as a member state, to flag up issues to the Scottish Government at a much earlier stage where it can, if it believes that there are issues that have to be addressed.
Although there are opportunities arising from the work programme, there is a need to be much more
At Parliament level—as was highlighted by Pauline McNeill, Helen Eadie and others—there is a much greater role for the subject committees to be interested in EU matters, in particular with the extended competences within the EU under the Lisbon treaty. I recall from my years on the Justice Committee that we expressed considered interest in issues relating to EU justice and home affairs matters. One of the real limitations on the committee's ability to engage was the volume of issues that came forward at EU level. I recall hearing evidence from Scottish Executive officials that so many EU justice and home affairs meetings were taking place that it was difficult for civil servants to cover all of them.
In her intervention, Helen Eadie raised the issues of health and sport, which are areas in which the EU now has some competence. She is quite correct: the EU issues that are meant to be considered by the Health and Sport Committee have had to be postponed for a few weeks. It is, however, fair to say that they have had to be postponed in order for the committee to deal with the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Bill because individuals such as herself have been seeking further evidence on the bill and we have had to put back EU matters that we should have considered much earlier.
This has been a wide-ranging debate: there are those who would like to see the Scottish Government being a member state within the EU and representing Scotland's interests by that means; there are supporters of a United States of Europe; and there are those who would like the Scottish Government simply to operate through the UK Government, as at present. Whatever members' views may be, this Parliament cannot avoid the fact that the role of the EU in our daily lives over the next couple of years and in the future, is likely to increase. Therefore, the Scottish Government and Parliament must do everything possible to ensure that we serve the Scottish nation's interests.