By Martin Kelly
The SNP has today congratulated the Republic of Ireland after it assumed the 6-month rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Becoming the latest small country to hold the position, Ireland with a population of 4.6 million people takes over from Cyprus which has a population of only around one million people.
Ireland will hold the role until July when it will be succeeded by Lithuania, which has a population of just 3 million and like Cyprus became a Member State in 2004.
Ireland’s main priorities during its presidency will be to reach agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework, CAP reform and a number of other issues of importance to the whole of the EU.
Despite having a population less than that of Scotland, Ireland sends 12 MEPs to the European Parliament, compared to just 6 from Scotland. In addition, it receives a net annual budget contribution significantly higher than that of Scotland through the Common Agricultural Policy.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has already said how much he is looking forward to Ireland taking over the Presidency – pledging to work closely across a range of interests – demonstrating how neighbouring countries can co-operate on shared priorities.
Commenting, SNP MEP Alyn Smith said:
“I congratulate the Republic of Ireland and look forward to working with them over the next few months on our shared priorities.
“Ireland last took over the presidency during the first half of 2004 – one of the most crucial periods in the EU’s history, as ten new countries joined at once.
“This time around, it will preside over negotiations in the Council on the finalisation of the Multiannual Financial Framework and attempt to lead an agreement on CAP reform, as well as continue discussion on CFP reform and the Horizon 2020 framework.
“All of these issues are of direct national importance to Ireland – as they are to Scotland – yet the key difference is that Ireland will be able to directly represent its own interests at the top of the top table.”
Mr Smith challenged the view that an independent Scotland’s position in the EU would be weakened by independence and added:
“What all of the anti-independence parties have repeatedly failed to mention during recent debates on Scotland’s position in the EU, is that Scotland has a very strong hand in its own right and would be a key player in the EU.
“We have the majority of the EU’s oil and gas reserves, a quarter of its renewable energy potential, fish rich seas and the 10th and 11th biggest financial centres in the EU – but it is currently left to Westminster to represent our interests.
“However what we have also seen in recent weeks are Scots beginning to focus on the what, when and how of Scotland securing its interests as an EU nation – we are already beginning to think like an independent country. Scotland – as well as the whole of the British Isles – will be better represented in the EU as a member in its own right.
“Scotland has already proven itself to be a leader in so many ways – not least through its world-leading and widely praised climate change legislation – just think what we could do as an independent nation within the EU.”
Ireland’s new role follows news that the UK may end up with a second-class status in the EU following proposals from senior politicians in Brussels.
Reports that the UK could be downgraded to “associate member” status follows apparent frustration at continued complaining from London. Such a move would mean the UK losing much of its influence in the EU.
Last week former EU President Jacque Delors signalled that the UK’s relationship with the EU could loosen as a result of the British government’s reluctance to agree to more integration. He accused the Westminster government of having no concern over the economic interests of other EU members and thinking only of themselves.
“…the British are solely concerned about their economic interests, nothing else.
“They could be offered a different form of partnership.” he said.
Mr Delors envisaged a situation whereby the UK would be seen as a “privileged partner” which would allow a new free trade agreement to be put in place.