At the September plenary session of the European Parliament, Commission President José Manuel Barroso delivered his annual "State of the Union" address. This keynote speech, and the ensuing debate with MEPs, was the last from Mr Barroso before the Euro elections of 2014 and the subsequent nomination of a new college of Commissioners.
Greens/EFA Co-President Rebecca Harms MEP led a series of critical responses from our political grouping, asking why the EU is not universally perceived by its citizens as being able to help them through tough economic times. She bluntly pointed out that Europe has certainly not led the way out of the crisis, but has in fact left many people in misery and hopelessness.
Additionally, it seems that action on climate change has been consistently pushed back, and the weakness of reaction from Europe to the case of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as to threats to freedom of the press in Hungary and Romania, all seem to throw a very bad light on how the EU sees fundamental rights. These were some uncomfortable truths for President Barroso, and just some of the possible reasons for the negative perception of the EU on the part of some of our constituents.
Speaking on behalf of the European Free Alliance members, EFA Group president Jill Evans MEP drew attention to the fact that the debate was being held on Catalonia's National Day and that thousands of people were to be forming a human chain across the country to demand independence for Catalonia. The idea of the Catalan Way was based on the Baltic Way of 1989, which had led to the independence of the Baltic countries and subsequently transformed the membership, and the structures, of the European Union.
Jill, who is also President of Plaid Cymru, said; "Next year there will be a legally-agreed referendum on Scottish Independence. I represent Wales, which is a nation with its own government. However, in the Council of Ministers our vote is passed by the UK and not in the Welsh national interest, even when funding and jobs are at stake. We want the ability to play a full part in rebuilding the economy, reclaiming Europe for all its nations and regions. That is what will make Europe stronger."
Scotland could soon be much stronger too, and play a much more influential role in the EU, if we had all of the rights and powers which normal independent member states enjoy. With independence Scotland will be better placed in Europe, because with independence Scotland will become a full member state of the EU. At the moment, the EU treats Scotland as a region of the UK. This gives us less influence than we need to stand up for Scotlandʼs interests. Many devolved areas like agriculture and fishing are subject to EU agreements in which Scotland has no direct say around the top table among governments. As a full member state, Scotland will finally have a voice at the top table in Europe. Scottish Ministers will be able to represent our interests in the Council of Ministers.
Less than one year from now we will have the opportunity to choose independence for Scotland, with a Yes vote in September 2014.