Step Forward For Highlands And Islands EU Funding

01 February 2005
"Long way to go yet, but European Parliament is backing us even if London is not"

SNP MEP Alyn Smith has today welcomed a vote in the European Parliament's powerful Regional Development Committee on the future of EU funding across Europe strengthening the position of the Highlands and Islands in the ongoing negotiations.

The vote, on amendments to the opinion of the Committee on the future financing of the European Union up to 2013, recognise the special position of areas like the Highlands and Islands, which the European Commission has proposed continue to receive funds even after the enlargement of the EU to the East. A further amendment put forward by Mr Smith, calls on the Commission to recognise that state aid rules in areas like the Highlands and Islands are of crucial importance.

The Committee also adopted a statement critical of EU member states like the UK that have 'sought to reduce the European ideal to a sterile discussion of "money in/money out"' inspired by Mr Smith though accepted in a compromise amendment.

The ongoing negotiations on the future financing of the EU are at a particularly difficult phase now, with the London Government rejecting the Commission proposals in order to cut the overall EU budget, and with it any possibility of EU aid to the Highlands and Islands. Mr Smith has in the European Parliament chamber described the UK proposals as "vandalism".

Speaking after the Committee vote today, Alyn Smith MEP said:

"I'm delighted that we managed to reach a majority on these crucial issues, and thank colleagues from all over Europe for their support. The Highlands and Islands are looked after in the Commission proposals, which the Committee has today endorsed, that is a weight off my mind.

"However, the negotiations themselves have a long way to go, and the fact is London is working against Scotland not for Scotland. The UK proposals to cut the EU budget will mean that Scotland loses out, and the UK has not said with any clarity who will pick up the losses or even whether the UK would be able to under the new state aid rules assuming the Treasury wanted to.

"I was glad that the Committee was able to strengthen the Commission's case in the negotiations, and will be sure to forward a copy of the report to the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh to see if we can find some backbone for them to stand up to London's line. If we are not careful Scotland will wake up to find we have missed the boat. It will not be for want of trying on my part."

The votes were on the Opinion of the Regional Development Committee for the Temporary Committee on Policy Challenges and Budgetary Means of the enlarged Union 2007-2013. 2004/2209(INI) Votes on amendments 72 (on statistical effect regions like the Highlands and Islands) and 44 (state aids) were accepted with large majorities.

The Opinion will now be forwarded to a temporary committee of the Parliament examining the Commission proposals. Mr Smith is the only Scots voice on that Committee.