736 newly elected, or re-elected, MEPs from 27 EU Member States met in Strasbourg in mid July to formally take their seats, and to kick start another five-year legislative term. The occasion marked the 30th anniversary of the first direct elections to the European Parliament, held in 1979, in which Winnie Ewing memorably won the Highlands and Islands constituency for the SNP. Winnie had an impressive record in Europe, speaking up strongly for her constituents, and our Nation, for more than 20 years in Brussels and Strasbourg. I recently enjoyed the company of 'Madame Ecosse' at her 80th birthday celebration and can report that Winnie is in fine voice still, and a great example to us all.
After much negotiation within, and between, the political groupings in the EU Parliament we now know which committees we will be serving on. There are 20 main committees in the EP, and I am a full member of the Fisheries Committee and of the Regional Development Committee, as well as a substitute member on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. SNP colleague Alyn Smith is a full member of the Agriculture Committee and a substitute on the Culture & Education and Constitutional Affairs Committees.
The Westminster Government's Minister for Europe, Glenys Kinnock, caused a stir in Strasbourg by announcing that the Labour government proposes to nominate former Prime Minister Tony Blair as the new President of the European Council. This new post would be created if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all EU member states, and this is currently subject to a second referendum in Ireland in October this year.
If Mrs Kinnock's remarks were accurate, then the UK Government is in my view making a disastrous mistake by nominating Tony Blair for this job. He will never be able to escape his reputation as a warmonger nor his role in the illegal invasion of Iraq. That alone should disqualify him from a position like this, which if created needs to be occupied by a unifying figure. Putting forward Tony Blair for this job would be divisive and damaging for the EU institutions.
Let's not forget that this job hasn't even been created yet, so it's more than a little presumptuous for Mrs Kinnock to be making these remarks. The SNP opposed the Lisbon Treaty and wanted the Scottish people to get a chance to have their say in a UK referendum. It is unacceptable for the UK Government to push this Treaty forward without the promised referendum, and then to presume to start handing out jobs before it's been approved in all EU countries!
Meanwhile, the European Commission has launched an initiative to tackle dementia, a huge issue throughout Europe, affecting millions of individuals and families. There are an estimated seven million people across the EU with dementia, some 70,000 in Scotland - and these figures are expected to rise in the future. The EU has proposals to place dementia at the centre of European health programmes. Through joint initiatives the member countries of the EU will be able to coordinate action to improve research into degenerative conditions whilst ensuring hope and dignity to those who already have dementia.
The EU Commission has expressly recognised Scotland as one of a handful of countries to have already embarked upon a national dementia strategy. Scotland also has world-class research facilities and has much to contribute to wider European and global efforts to find effective preventions, diagnosis and treatments. The work already undertaken in Scotland will fit nicely into the proposals of the EU and together we will be more able to better understand and help prevent Alzheimer's and other degenerative conditions.