The launch of each new EU Presidency is a big occasion in the Parliament's calendar, with Commissioners, MEPs and Ministers from the presiding member state gathering to debate the way forward. Finland's turn runs from 1 July until the end of this year. Austria and Finland claim to have made every effort to ensure a smooth transition, with the next incumbent, Germany, already preparing for hand-over on 1 January 2007.

During his inaugural speech to Parliament, Finnish PM Matti Vanhanen emphasised Finland's priority to ensure transparency and democracy in the EU, and talked of the EU needing to look "outwards and forwards" in order to regain the confidence of citizens. Commendable aims but I wonder if he can persuade his counterparts in the Council of Ministers to let the light shine in on their erstwhile practice of meeting in secret.

Over the next six months, Mr Vanhanen said he'd be focussing on the Constitution, enlargement, globalisation, energy and relations with Russia.

On the Constitution, the time for passive reflection was over and active debate was to recommence. He'll have a battle winning over Eurosceptic citizens to a text which has already been rejected by the French and Dutch referendums.

Innovation, the Finnish PM says, is the key to EU success in an increasingly competitive world market. Energy supplies and climate change are part of that equation and Mr Vanhanen wants the EU to adopt policies to secure future supplies and fight global warming. Climate change is no respecter of national borders, and I'll be interested to hear more on this initiative. Sharing a border and a history with Russia, Finland is well placed to take forward renegotiation of the EU-Russia partnership agreement.

Europe's political leaders often use their inaugural EU Presidential speech to exude some national pride and Matti Vanhanen lost no time in doing so. A couple of paragraphs into his speech, he described 2006/07 as a "special anniversary" for Finns - it's the centenary of Finland's first democratically elected parliament, the Eduskunta. Following 700 years as a province of Sweden, and a further 100 as a duchy of the Russian empire, Finland only became fully independent in 1917. But the first steps towards this were taken in 1906/07, when Finland became the first nation in the world to grant full franchise rights to women.

2007, I hope, will be a year of celebration in Scotland too, with an SNP success in the Scottish Parliament elections providing a springboard to Independence for our country. Only with Independence can we, like Finland, benefit from full rights of representation in Europe and the wider world.

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