Ian Hudghton, one of Scotland’s Members of the European Parliament and Vice President of the SNP, writes (exclusively for the Burd I might add), responding in part to Martin Schulz, who became European Parliament President two weeks ago and whose acceptance speech I posted. It’s a cracking read, peppered with Burns’ quotes – and not the usual fare either!
Scotland’s MEPs host the annual European Parliament Burns Supper on the Wednesday closest to the bard’s birthday. Accordingly this year was one of the few occasions when the event actually fell on the 25th – and so members of Scotland’s Brussels-based diaspora duly gathered this week to raise a glass or two, kindly provided by one of the country’s bigger distillers.
The event turned out to be a good one. I’m not implying that some Burns Suppers are “bad” – it’s just I think we all know that some can be better than others. At the lower end of the scale the speeches can tend towards the sentimental and that is to miss the true genius of the poet’s work.
This year, however, there is a positive buzz in the Scottish community – and that extends to expats in Brussels. The Scottish Government’s choice of Robert Burns’s birthday to launch the referendum consultation was wholly appropriate, and wholly unsentimental. The referendum – indeed Scottish independence – is very much about the future and Scotland’s place in Europe and the world.
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!” Burns famously wrote whilst addressing that infamous louse. Unfortunately, as an MEP we have all too many powers to see how others see us – particularly in the form of the more Euro-sceptic elements of the media. The EU as a whole is unlikely to win any popularity contests in the near future and the European Parliament continually comes in for a beating in the press, if it gets any press at all!
This apparent lack of popular support was at the heart of the speech given by Martin Schulz MEP on being elected to the Parliament’s Presidency last week. Mr Schulz raised the very real possibility of the EU failing and he called for reinvigoration of the “community method”.
Schulz spoke of decisions increasingly taken by governmental summit, to the exclusion of the Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the agreement reached by 26 of the EU’s Member States, after David Cameron’s pointless use of the veto last month.
President Schulz should be supported in his efforts to raise the European Parliament’s profile, and guarantee its inclusion in the EU decision making process. Nevertheless, the Member State – the independent Member State – is and must remain at the heart of the community method that Mr Schulz defends.
The Heads of State and Government are all elected by the citizens of each Member State, so it would be wrong to suggest that the European Parliament has greater democratic legitimacy than prime ministers and presidents.
It is certainly both Scotland and the EU’s great misfortune that we are currently represented at the top table by a hapless Tory toff completely inept at international diplomacy. Scotland’s remedy for this however lies with the people in a vote which will take place in 2014.
An independent Scotland will play a full role in the community method – with Scottish government ministers attending Councils and summits as of right, as opposed to by Westminster-issued permit as at present.
Last week’s plenary session welcomed not just Martin Schulz to the presidency of the Parliament but also Denmark to the Presidency of the Council. Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt stated that “Europe’s destiny is Denmark’s destiny” before outlining how her northern nation of some 5 million people intends to shape the debate over the next 6 months.
That destiny is also an independent Scotland’s destiny – and we will be able to embrace the community method fully. That method requires mutual respect between Member State governments and the European Parliament – but we must not seek to rebalance power away from national parliaments or governments.
In Burns’s “A Dream” he wrote to the king:
Far be’t frae me that I aspire
To blame your legislation,
Or say, ye wisdom want, or fire,
To rule this mighty nation:
But faith! I muckle doubt, my sire,
Ye’ve trusted ministration
To chaps wha in barn or byre
Wad better fill’d their station
Than courts yon day.
Plus ca change some might say – particularly after Cameron’s December summit fiasco. But reinvigoration of the EU – like Scotland’s future – is the responsibility of the citizens and change must start with the people.
The European Parliament can work in partnership with Member State governments – but must not go down the road of competing with them over who enjoys most democratic legitimacy.