MEPs have been receiving large numbers of letters and emails recently from constituents who have strong views on the two major EU common policy reforms currently under way. The European Parliament is about to commence the formal, decisive, stages of debate on major reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy.
In both cases the view of the European Parliament will be strengthened through use of the newly-extended power of co-decision, meaning that the new CFP and CAP must be agreed, in their entirety, by a majority among the 27 Member State governments plus a majority of MEPs.
These powers have been exercised by the European Parliament, in a wide range of policy competences, for many years but the extension of co-decision to Agriculture and Fisheries is part of the reason for an upsurge in communication from constituents to MEPs. Both industries are of vital importance to the Scottish economy, supporting families and communities as well as generating considerable export trade in wide ranges of very fine food products.
85% of Scottish agricultural land is officially classified as "Less Favoured Area", meaning that it is relatively poor in terms of arable quality and unsuited to intensive production. Recent figures show that 424,000 hectares were used for growing barley and wheat, while 3.2 million hectares were classified as "rough grazing". Our land is mostly suited to extensive livestock rearing, with the production of milk, beef and sheep-meat accounting for between 40-50% of Scottish agricultural output, with a value of about £1 billion.
Upland Scotland is home to some of Europe's most important, and most fragile, environmental and wildlife ecosystems. These upland areas are managed through ruminant grazing on permanent pasture. Semi-natural upland vegetation on peaty soils are very important for methane capture. Extensive Livestock Farming has important environmental benefits. It uses less energy due to the use of less inputs such as fertiliser. Extensive beef and sheep production are the lowest users of artificial fertilisers on grass. It converts nutrients not suitable for human consumption into valuable and nutritious foodstuffs from difficult-to-exploit landscapes.
Scotland's natural environment gives us an advantage in the production of naturally grown and highly nutritious foodstuffs from our land. We are surrounded by seas which, if properly managed, can sustain fishing communities by producing highly sought after seafoods on an infinitely renewable basis. The fact that these industries are probably the most heavily regulated under EU policy means that we must make the most of the opportunity which CFP and CAP reform will provide.
SNP MEPs will be working hard to promote the Scottish interest during the European Parliamentary process over the next year or so. The SNP Scottish Government will be pushing hard for the necessary support, especially from the Westminster government which will have the last word (and the votes) during intergovernmental negotiations. I am certain that Scotland would fare better in such crucial policy reforms if we had the automatic right to sit at the top table like other normal countries do, with Independence.