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It seems that the UK ConDem coalition is considering the possibility of permitting Scottish Government Ministers to participate more actively in EU discussions. Westminster may even allow our Ministers to lead at Council of Ministers meetings on occasion, provided that a common UK line is being promoted. This new "respect agenda" may be worth a try, but with independence Scotland could participate in all meetings of EU Government Ministers as an absolute right, and would be free to promote Scotland's own key interests.
Following a recent meeting of the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee in Strasbourg, attended by Commissioner Maria Damanaki, I am calling on the new UK coalition administration to clarify what their stance will be during the ongoing review of fisheries policy in the EU - and, more specifically, whether they will defend the historical rights of fishing nations.
Commissioner Damanaki confirmed to MEPs that she supports the retention of national historical rights and is opposed to fishing rights being traded on an EU-wide basis. The Commissioner's position - which backs that of the Scottish Government - is in contrast to that of the previous UK government, who were actively campaigning within the EU for the scrapping of historical fishing rights.
The current review of European fisheries policy offers us a vital opportunity to reverse the damage of the CFP and safeguard the future for Scotland's coastal communities. It is shameful that the issue doesn't even get a mention in the UK government's coalition agreement. Scotland's fishing communities have been sold out for the last 40 years by successive Tory, Labour and Liberal fisheries ministers. If the respect agenda is serious it must fully support the return of real power to fishing nations such as Scotland.
Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell made history in Brussels recently when he spoke in Gaelic at a meeting of the Council of Ministers. Following pressure from the Scottish Government, a Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed, giving Gaelic co-official status in the EU and allowing for interpretation, on request, at top table meetings of Ministers.
The new EU status allows for certain official documents to be translated into Gaelic, and gives constituents the right to correspond with EU bodies such as the European Commission, and receive responses in Gaelic. I welcome this important development, which builds upon the work being carried out within Scotland, to nurture and develop the Gaelic language and culture.
In Strasbourg, EFA MEPs took part in an event to highlight the UN International Biodiversity Day, which takes place annually on 22 May. The theme of this year's activities is 'Biodiversity for Development' emphasising the need to preserve the rich diversity of the world's ecosystems as part of global development. Built around the slogan, 'Biodiversity – we are all in this together', the campaign aims to raise awareness of the problem of biodiversity loss and show the implications of these losses in our daily lives.
Scotland's rich variety of natural life, from our seas and coasts to the highest mountaintops, is a priceless asset that must be preserved for future generations of residents and visitors alike. MEPs were invited to sign a specially prepared mural put together to represent the importance of biodiversity. In doing so, we made the point that actions speak louder than words, and that the EU could do more to add value to environmental protection initiatives in the nations of Europe.