The 27 EU Member State leaders met in Brussels in mid December with a hefty agenda of thorny problems to haggle over. The two day summit produced ideas for coordinating action to counter the economic downturn, proposals for a major package of measures to tackle climate change, and a rescue plan for the Lisbon Treaty which had been blocked by the negative result in Irelandʼs referendum.

The EU Council has offered a number of important concessions aimed at satisfying some of the concerns expressed by Irish voters, in the hope that Ireland will ratify the Lisbon Treaty. Irelandʼs own constitution requires that such matters be decided by referendum. In what must be considered a high risk strategy, from the Irish Governmentʼs viewpoint, it seems that a second vote will be held some time before November 2009.

Irish negotiators have won a guarantee that all member states will retain the right to nominate a member of the European Commission, despite the Lisbon text legislating to cut down the total number. The Council also promised to underline the right of member states to set their own rules on taxation, and will again confirm that EU Treaties do not interfere with Irelandʼs traditional military neutrality. These were the main issues which were said to have worried Irish citizens when they ditched the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008.

This deal is not quite a guarantee that the Treaty will be ratified. The parliamentary ratification in the Czech Republic has encountered resistance, and consideration there is postponed until February 2009, while a second referendum campaign in Ireland will be a major challenge for the Fianna Fail government.

This is not the first time that a new treaty has encountered problems. Indeed it as almost a tradition, begun some fifteen years ago, when Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty. The Danes eventually came up with proposals to find a way out of the impasse, listing four main items in the Maastricht text that it didn't like and persuading the other member states to meet its concerns. Denmark, in a second referendum, then approved the Treaty by a clear majority. Ireland itself went through a similar, double referendum, process with the Treaty of Nice.

What is clear from Irelandʼs recent experience and numerous other examples over the years of EU horse-trading is that all member states, no matter how small, can have considerable clout at the top table, and can win the unanimous support of all member states. While it is true that there is considerable room for improvement to the decision-making processes of the European Union, as far as their impact on Scotland is concerned, I am certain that if we had the automatic right to represent our own interests in all of the EU institutions, then our experience as EU members would significantly improve.

Of course these automatic rights of representation are conferred only on independent member states. I hope and believe that it will not be long before an independent Scotland takes its place at the top table, so that we can have our say, and defend our key interests, as effectively as Ireland and Denmark defend theirs!

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