The word "Brexit" has been on everyone's lips in Brussels for some weeks now. EU heads of state and government met at a summit in Brussels in mid February to thrash out with David Cameron the terms of a so-called renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the EU. The Prime Minister said that he expected to finalise the deal over an "English Breakfast" with his fellow heads of Government. So much for the UK being a partnership in which Scotland would be respected!
At the time of writing, the EU Summit has just agreed on a compromise text, and the UK In-Out Referendum on EU membership has been confirmed for June 23rd. In his desperation to get his EU referendum out of the way before the Tory Party disintegrates around him, the Prime Minister's choice of date shows no respect for the fact that important elections are being held in Scotland, and the other devolved countries of the UK, in May.
I know that SNP members, while campaigning for our Scottish Parliamentary candidates, are sometimes being asked about EU issues. The SNP team of MEPs and staff in Brussels are planning to make available an extensive databank, designed to provide clear and factual information about how the EU actually works and highlighting the many benefits which accrue to Scotland from EU membership.
The EU is not - in structure or intent - a federal country like the USA, or a Superstate run by unelected bureaucrats. At its heart are a collection of sovereign member states who came together and voluntarily decided that certain policy competences should be decided at EU level. The EU Treaties require that decisions are made by democratically elected politicians. Most decisions require the agreement of a majority of the Member State governments plus a majority of MEPs in the directly elected European Parliament.
Regulation and red tape is often portrayed as the stuff of nightmares for business, and there are some areas that need improvement. But, and this is a big but, the detrimental impact of excessive EU regulation, or 'red-tape', is mostly exaggerated. Regulation is, to a large extent, essential if a common market is to function. Weights and measures remain one of the oldest roles that a government can carry out and the world's largest economic bloc needs a set of common standards to underpin the single market. EU rules, for the most part, reduce intrusive regulation through a process of Europe-wide standardisation.
How can this be the case? Largely because many of the laws passed at an EU level would require to be passed at member state level if they weren't dealt with in Brussels. At their most basic, they make goods and services safe, something we in Scotland would want to do anyway. By making such decisions at an EU level, companies only need to look at one set of regulations, not 28 different ones.
For most of us, EU regulation has had a positive impact on our lives. In the most basic terms, being able to freely shop in other EU member states without customs and excise or impediment is hugely advantageous. Common regulations are what makes this possible. Scottish consumers and firms not only benefit from these, but also rely upon the stability they provide to export across Europe.