The European Parliament voted decisively at the beginning of 2004 to sink a European Commission proposal for a single EU flag for merchant shipping.

So you can imagine many people's surprise when the Commission decided to resurrect this suggestion as part of a recently announced maritime safety package.

This was an unfortunate, yet all too typical, example of the Commission scoring a publicity own-goal which thoroughly overshadowed the many positive features of their maritime safety plans.

Let me make it clear that I have no objection in principle to shipping flying the EU flag if that is their choice. What I find objectionable is the notion that Europe's merchant shipping should be in any way compelled to do so, quite apart from seeing any real need to move in this direction. The wording of the Commission announcement clearly implies where they're headed when it says how 'stepping up responsibility in this way is the precursor to the future development of a European flag'.

During my time as an MEP representing Scotland, I have a witnessed a steady erosion in people's goodwill towards the European Union. This is hugely unfortunate given the opportunities open to this country through European co-operation. But frankly, the EU, and the Commission in particular, only has itself to blame for this growing euroscepticism when it makes proposals that are not only out of touch, but which many will find offensive.

The flag proposal is a case in point. Scotland has suffered badly over the years as a result of EU fishing quotas and our coastal communities have been fighting long and hard simply to survive. Indeed, it has often seemed that Brussels has been at best indifferent, and at worst oblivious, to the very real hardship endured as a result of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Imagine, then, the reaction in Scotland to the suggestion that shipping should be obliged to fly the EU flag. I believe that most people would rather see the Scottish saltire flying on our ships.

It seems that despite fancy slogans and promises about openness and transparency, old habits die hard at the European Commission - and lessons from referendums in France and the Netherlands are slow to be learned.

The maritime safety package that included this nonsense about a European flag for ships, also included some very worthy proposals like blacklists for unsafe shipping companies and improved arrangements for dealing with maritime disasters.

The tragedy is that some very positive provisions have been overshadowed because of the European Commission's continued distance and air of arrogance which seems to drive the way in which in brings forward many policy announcements, often presenting them almost as a fait accompli.

If it is to regain public confidence and trust, the European Commission must do a much better job of listening to people. It must recognise the very real unhappiness in Scotland, and elsewhere, with the way in which the EU is run and the way in which it interacts (or not) with people.

Perhaps if it had listened more, then a rather more palatable proposal on maritime safety could have emerged. We could have had sensible measures to outlaw unsafe shipping from our waters, without raising the ridiculous notion of a European ships' flag and this alienating many people quite unnecessarily.

For my own part, I am looking forward to the day when an independent Scotland will have the right to flag its own vessels with a saltire, and play its part in Europe as a full member state, alongside the many other small independent nations at Europe's top table.

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