The European Commission recently responded to Iceland's formal application for EU membership, confirming that the country meets the normal basic rules - the Copenhagen Criteria.

Overall, the Commission notes that: "Iceland is on the whole well prepared to assume the obligations of membership in most areas..." and recommends that "negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with Iceland."

Certain key policy questions will require particular attention in the event of Iceland's accession. Will Iceland volunteer to subject itself to the Common Fisheries Policy, or will it have enough clout to win major concessions on fisheries management? Even if the Icelandic government wins a deal it can recommend to its people, will the people back EU membership in a referendum? The process and its eventual outcome are of great interest to Scotland. Watch this space!

The agenda for MEPs recently included a debate and vote on rules governing the non-commercial movement of pet animals across Europe's borders. Pet passports currently allow for special health checks to be made on pets entering the UK, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Malta. These additional measures, to prevent the spread of rabies, tapeworm and ticks, will now be prolonged until December 2011.

After a long and controversial debate, last year the EU agreed to impose a ban on trade in seal products within the EU. The decision followed concerns from animal welfare NGOs, lobby groups, and the public about the perceived inhumane nature of seal hunting around the world. The EU ban is to be implemented by the UK Government after a public consultation.

Although sealskin is used for sporran making, there should not be a significant impact on the industry in Scotland. Sporrans are already made with a range of alternative materials that are not affected by the proposal. The ban will only affect new sealskin products and not existing stock. This means that kilt hire businesses can hire out sealskin sporrans for as long as their stocks last.

The EU Ombudsman Nikifouros Diamandouros is responsible for investigating people's complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions. He visited Edinburgh a few weeks ago, and was asked why Scotland has such a low rate of complaints to the European Ombudsman.

He said in an interview published in The Scotsman, "... I am inclined to believe that the under-representation of Scotland in the European institutions might make it less likely that Scots relate through their MEPs or their friends in the European Commission to the European scene ... "

Scotland may have gained greater recognition as a political entity in recent years, particularly since the election of an SNP government in 2007. Yet we still have fewer MEPs than countries of a similar size and no automatic right to send ministers to EU meetings where many important decisions are made.

I'm pleased that these inadequacies are now being recognised more widely, including by Mr Diamandouros. But our "under-representation" will only be fully addressed when Scotland resumes the normal status of Independence, with the automatic right to full representation at all levels of EU decision-making.

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