EU Status For Islands And Mountains Comes Closer

22 September 2010

SNP Member of the European Parliament Mr Alyn Smith has today (Wednesday) called for swifter action from the European Commission in making real a promise to create a specific European Status for Islands, Mountainous and Sparsely populated areas.  Smith was speaking in a debate on the subject, where MEPs from the length and breadth of the EU urged the Commission to put some meat on the bones of the status, enshrined in Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty, in a way that actually improves the lives of EU citizens.  Smith called specifically for a wholesale reassessment of the state aid rules for Article 174 areas, as often it is the state aid rules, rather than a lack of funds, which stymie good projects across Scotland's islands.

Smith is also the Vice President of a special cross party group (an intergroup in the European Parliament's terminology) on islands, mountainous and sparsely populated areas, and has been pushing for special status for such areas for years.  The special status will allow for special consideration to be given in future funding, but also in transport, agriculture and fisheries policies, which are often designed with rules that do not quite fit.

Speaking after the debate, Smith said:

"This was an important debate, and hopefully the Commissioner went away clear in his own mind that a number of MEPs are not going to let this matter rest and he needs to come up with a comprehensive strategy that changes people's lives, not just a few name badges in Brussels.

"Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty in fact obliges the EU to take special note of island, mountainous and sparsely populated areas so Scotland has a real vested interest in making this reality!  The intergroup has been pushing, with some success, the Commission to come up with a coherent strategy to protect and promote such areas in all of the EU's policies.  One MEP coined the term "territory proofing" all the EU's future policies, making sure that all our grand plans actually work for areas who have geography to deal with, and I think I'll be using the term myself.

"Special status would see more sensitive rules on state aid, transport, agriculture and fisheries, but on every other aspect of EU policy too, allowing a more flexible approach where there are territorial issues to take into account.  This can only be good news for Scotland, and would see the Scottish government operating with a lot more leeway in interpreting EU rules which too often are one size fits all, despite our best efforts.

"Clearly this debate has a long way to go, but I'll keep on it, as I said in the debate, the challenge in Article 174 is to demonstrate real EU added value to some of our most diverse communities."