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The first European Parliament session of 2012 was the half-way mark in this five-year term of office. As expected, the terms of a 2009 post-election deal between the two largest political groups saw German Socialist MEP Martin Schulz elected President of Parliament. He will serve in that role until the Euro elections in 2014.
January also marked the start of the six month term in which Denmark holds the Presidency of the EU, chairing meetings of, and leading negotiations between, the 27 governments in the Council of Ministers. Recently elected Prime Minister of Denmark, former MEP Helle Thorning-Schmidt, led a debate on her country's priorities at this most challenging of times for Europe.
She declared that "Europe's destiny is Denmark's destiny", and recalled that "forty years ago, Denmark was part of the first enlargement of the Community and our new partners trusted us with the Presidency the very same year that we became a member. Thirty years ago, Denmark held the Presidency in a period of Cold War and economic uncertainty, but also in the first period with an elected European Parliament. Twenty years ago, we held the Presidency at a time when the Single Market was launched. And 10 years ago, Denmark held the Presidency when the EU fulfilled its historic obligation and united Europe. Like now, these were crucial periods in the history of the European Union. In the coming six months, we will again work hard to move Europe forward."
Recognising the economic challenges faced by families and communities throughout the EU, Ms Thorning-Schmidt said that "growth in Europe must be restored and sustained. We need to stimulate long-term growth and job creation, not least for our younger generation. Modernising and developing the Single Market will be a key part of this effort. Looking outward, we must do more to help our companies exploit trade opportunities with the emerging economies outside Europe."
Referring to the opportunities which renewable energy resources can bring, she said that "the Danish Presidency will work hard to ensure that the centre of green research and green jobs stays in Europe in the future."
Scotland has a great deal in common with Denmark, and we can identify with many of the stated priorities of the Danish Presidency. We share the conviction that economic growth and job creation, not just swingeing Westminster-style cuts, should be a key part of stimulating economic recovery. Scotland has much to offer Europe, and a great deal to gain, by leading in the development of our massive renewable energy generation potential.
Of course it would be greatly helpful to Scotland if we, like Denmark, were a normal Independent country, standing up for own our key interests at home and abroad. Independence will bring the automatic right to be represented at the top tables of international bodies like the EU. Independence will bring to Scotland the full range of financial powers which normal countries, such as Denmark, already have. With Independence we will be able to work better, together with our neighbours, building alliances in EU negotiations and ensuring that our ideas and concerns will be heard.