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At the European Parliamentʼs October plenary session in Strasbourg, MEPs had a new opportunity to hold the EU Executive to account in the first-ever "question time" with Commission President José Manuel Barosso. Mr Barosso first answered a round of questions from political group leaders, followed by MEPs' questions on the financial crisis and climate change.
Concern was expressed that the financial crisis could "turn into a social crisis", in response to which Mr Barroso claimed that "without the EU recovery plan, it would have been much worse", but he also accused certain member states of downgrading his proposals for EU action on protecting and creating jobs.
Greens/EFA members pressed him about the negotiations for Copenhagen and the EU's plans for a global agreement on emission reductions. The Commission chief hoped that the member states would agree a position in line with the strong proposal which the Commission would fight for. I suggest that the European Commission should follow Scotlandʼs example of a strong position on climate change.
The Scottish Governmentʼs world-leading climate change legislation is a leadership position which should be highlighted as an example for other nations to follow. What a cheek it is that, to date, Westminster has refused to allow a Scottish Minister to join the official UK delegation at the Copenhagen summit in December.
Scotland's Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson did join other European environment ministers in Luxembourg recently for crucial talks ahead of the Copenhagen summit. The Council of Ministers was debating options on the position the EU should take at the negotiations in Copenhagen. The Luxembourg meeting provided an opportunity to raise awareness of our Climate Change Act and its ambitious but achievable target of cutting emissions by 42 per cent by 2020.
Tackling climate change was also the subject of high-level talks between John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, and Stavros Dimas, the European Environment Commissioner, in Brussels during October. They also discussed what the EU needs to offer developing countries to secure their support on climate change. John also took the opportunity to meet with Scotlandʼs MEPs for a briefing and exchange of views on topical issues.
MEPs also met with Housing Minister Alex Neil who was in Brussels recently, meeting with the vice president of the European Investment Bank to progress a deal which will allow Housing Associations in Scotland to benefit from access to a £50 million European lending facility. This new fund will encourage the development of much-needed new affordable homes by offering housing organisations an alternative lending source, with competitively priced loans.
In their keynote speeches at the SNP Annual Conference in Inverness, our Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers demonstrated that they are getting on with the job of tackling the economic challenges which we face, and showing determination to engage with our neighbours in Europe and the wider international community. With the full range of powers which Independence would bring, we could do so much more, and would have the absolute right to speak for ourselves on the world stage. I have no doubt that an independent Scotland would be a positive force in the world. The Inverness Conference left me in no doubt that the SNP is ready for the responsibility of inspiring the people of Scotland to vote for Independence.