At its plenary session in Strasbourg, in mid-December, the European Parliament finally agreed to a 2011 budget for the EU, following a lengthy wrangle between MEPs and the 27 member state governments in the Council. A majority in both institutions have now reached a compromise agreement on a budget increase of 2.9% over last year's level.
SNP MEPs voted against any increase in EU expenditure, at first reading when a Parliamentary majority supported a hike of almost 6%, and again in December's final vote. It seems to me that, when all of our national and local government bodies in Scotland are having to make significant cuts in expenditure, the European Union should also be tightening its budgetary belt.
Even though the Lisbon Treaty has brought about an increase in the range of EU competences, and will generate a greater workload for the European Parliament by extending the power of co-decision into new areas of policy, such as Agriculture and Fisheries, we supported a budget freeze which would have required new activity to be funded from efficiency savings.
Aside from the detailed 2011 budget, Parliament had a number of political demands relating to the implementation of the budgetary provisions in the Lisbon Treaty. The main ones concerned Parliament's involvement in the talks on the next long-term budgeting period - the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) - and on a new system of 'own resources' which, translated from EU jargon, can be taken to mean new taxes or levies set at European level.
Your SNP MEPs have consistently opposed the idea of extending taxation powers to the EU, and we voted against the recent calls to brings forward such proposals. Under the Treaties, the European Parliament has to be consulted on a new own resources proposal, but any decision would be for member state governments in the Council and would require unanimity, as well as ratification by member state parliaments. Having a say as a nation on such matters is vital, and is yet another illustration of the importance of being in the European Union as an independent member state.
While MEPs were in Strasbourg for the final plenary session of 2010, the annual pantomime which is the Council of Fisheries Ministers took place in Brussels. The outcome brought some relief, as well as some bad news, for Scotland's fishing communities. The quota deals would have been worse for Scotland without the effort put in by Richard Lochhead, who led a determined fight to maintain fishing opportunities, and to win an extension of the 'catch quota' scheme which will help to tackle the scandal of discards.
What is abundantly clearly illustrated by the Fisheries Council process, and its outcome, is that the grossly over-centralised EU management of fisheries must be brought to an end. An opportunity to bring about radical change is already under way, with the European Commission working on a proposal for reform of European fisheries policy. We must argue strongly for a return of real power over the management of fisheries to fishing nations such as Scotland.
Scotland would have more clout in such policy reforms, and in standing up for our fishing-dependent communities, if we were taking part in international talks as a normal independent country. In 2011 let us encourage Scotland's voters to choose the SNP, and to hasten our national progress towards independence.