Scottish ministers regularly meet representatives of all European Union institutions. For example, the cabinet secretary, Fiona Hyslop was in Brussels yesterday, speaking for the United Kingdom at the culture and audiovisual council, where discussions included how European co-operation can prevent the destruction and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in conflict areas. A number of ministers meet EU representatives on a wide variety of issues.
The minister will be aware that the European Commission is carrying out a fitness check of the birds and habitats directives that protect a number of areas in my constituency of North East Fife. Can he advise on the Scottish Government’s position in relation to the retention of the directives? Will he commit to pressing the UK Government for early confirmation of its position?
The Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has overseen the Scottish Government’s contribution to the UK Government’s response. The European Commission is in the evidence-gathering phase of the fitness check on the two nature directives to which the member alluded. As he will be aware, the fitness check is part of an established European Commission programme of regulatory fitness and not a change in the scope or objective of European law. The UK Government’s response to the evidence-gathering phase has been published by the Commission on the Europa website and a Commission conference was held last week to consider the emerging findings. The Commission has announced that the final outcome will be known in 2016.
After the incidents that took place in Paris, it is fair to say that the working between the Scottish Government, the UK Government and our wider European partners has been strong. We have a link between the justice secretary and the Home Secretary and we are constantly updated through being involved with COBRA meetings and other resilience discussions. I can give the member the strongest assurances that co-operation in these islands and across the continent means that the security and safety of our citizens is our number 1 priority.
I believe in all devolution of power, which will not be a surprise to the member. When it comes to EU reform, we have made our case. We have a 28-page document—if the member has not read it, I will happily pass it on to him—and we believe that EU reform should be sought in a positive manner rather than by threatening a referendum. We have made our case for reform and the UK Government has made its case, and we agree with it on giving national and devolved Parliaments more say over issues in Europe. However, we do have some disagreements and those will come to the fore as and when the EU referendum is announced and the campaign begins in earnest.