Unsurprisingly, economic and financial issues featured prominently on the agenda when MEPs met in a Strasbourg plenary session recently. Ahead of another summit meeting of the 27 member state governments, the European Parliament debated and voted on a resolution setting out its opinion on the priorities for social and economic policy in the EU, as part of the Annual Growth Survey for 2012.

The majority of MEPs agreed that the current bias towards fiscal consolidation is not likely to contribute greatly to the EU's declared objectives for 2020, namely to increase employment and reduce poverty. The SNP's parliamentary group led the debate, calling on EU government leaders to prioritise action to support the creation of sustainable and quality jobs, while investing in education and combating poverty and unemployment. By adopting the resolution, MEPs have made clear our view that EU governments should not lose sight of the social consequences of their efforts to respond to the economic crisis.

We also agreed that the European Parliament's own budget should be frozen, at least in real terms, for 2013, and closely scrutinized for possible further savings. I am pleased to report that we approved a budget amendment noting that real and substantial savings could be made by having a single seat for the European Parliament, instead of the daft situation of commuting between Brussels and Strasbourg each month. Unfortunately, the member states retain the power to decide on that issue, as treaty changes would be necessary to allow us to settle in Brussels, where most of our meetings are already held.

Another hot topic in our debates over recent months relates to trade agreements between the EU and Morocco. The outcome of our most recent debate and vote was not a satisfactory one for our group, with the February plenary voting to give its consent to the inclusion of a new protocol on agriculture and fisheries in the EU-Morocco trade agreement.

We opposed this agreement for two main reasons. There are real concerns about the impact of aspects of the proposed trade deal on small-scale agricultural producers and, secondly, because the agreement includes the autonomous territory and fishing waters of Western Sahara, which Morocco is controlling in conflict with international law. It is highly regrettable that a majority in the EP was deaf to concerns raised about this agreement. However, the debates in the parliament, and the strong criticism of this agreement, have meant that the EU's trade policy and the problems of its approach are at least finally being subjected to more intense scrutiny.

The main issue of principle remains that Morocco has no right, under international law, to trade the resources of Western Sahara. It follows, therefore, that the EU should ensure that such deals are done only with the express consent of the Saharawi people.

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