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Scotland can make important contribution to Europe’s future

by Kirsty Hughes | 08.05.2019

Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.

The European Parliament elections are one important part of the EU gearing up to face major challenges as the EU enters its new five-year cycle, with new presidents of the European Commission and Council to be elected in the autumn. But the UK is so lost in its divisive Brexit debates, with the UK government currently looking frozen in the headlights of its own failure, that it is playing little role in the vital debates on how the EU should plan its future path and strategy.

At the Scottish Centre on European Relations, we decided to contribute to that debate – with our major new report published this week, “The Future of Europe: Disruption, Continuity and Change”. Scotland, like the rest of the UK, is a European country, with strong interests in – and a strong contribution to make to  – our shared European future. Whatever happens with Brexit, and whether Scotland chooses the path of independence or not, seeing the EU rise to its current challenges is crucial for Scotland and the UK. With 20 authors contributing to in-depth analysis of 17 main topics, our report is intended as a positive and creative contribution to that debate.

The EU’s challenges have been well rehearsed in recent months. The EU faces its own internal divisions over issues ranging from migration to human rights and the rule of law, to climate change, industrial strategy, reform of the eurozone and EU foreign policy positions. Globally, we need the EU to be a strong defender of rights, of democracy, of multilateralism and to step up more on tackling climate change – bringing forward and making more fully a commitment to a zero-carbon future. At a time when US president Trump is instigating trade wars with China and other countries, and risking inflaming conflict in the Middle East, the EU needs to be a strong, confident international actor.

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But to do that, the EU has to sort out its divisions at home. Challenges to democracy and rights in member states including Hungary and Poland need addressing more firmly – and indeed the EU needs more tools to enable it to do that. The EU has also compromised its values in some of the ways it has tackled migration challenges, building a fortress Europe and attempting to externalise management of migration flows. But the EU’s own demographic trends, and interests, means a more open migration policy is what is needed not a closed one – and it will take political leadership to debate that positively.

In Scotland, there has been positive leadership from the Scottish government on migration – with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking up strongly for the benefits of free movement in the EU. The UK government has refused to devolve any control over migration to Scotland, but there’s a strong case for it to consider doing so. More broadly, the Scottish government has been developing its bilateral relations in Europe – opening up new “hubs” in Dublin, Paris and Berlin in addition to its Brussels office.

But the Scottish government too, Brexit or not, needs to develop a more comprehensive and more fully articulated European strategy. Scotland has contributions to make – from climate change to human rights to migration – but also has, like the rest of the EU, areas where new creative strategic thinking is needed: how to get to a genuinely inclusive, sustainable development strategy – a green new deal – to revitalise and re-unify Europe, how to engage citizens in policy-making not just policy debate (a citizens’ assembly on Europe), and more.

The pro-Brexit mindset is defeatist and insular. But European and international cooperation is the only route to rise to current challenges. And by discussing and debating those challenges, we can also be part of defeating that Brexit isolationism.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Scotland can make important contribution to Europe’s future”

  • If I was Scottish and pro-EU I would be very, very angry that Scotland was being made to leave against its wishes. It is going to fuel a new campaign for independence.
    Kirsty Hughes shows a responsible attitude towards the problems we all face. The British (English?) government needs to contribute to this debate as well but the Scots are always more progressive in their thinking than right wing England.

  • The SNP are Kings when it comes to whingeing – of course it’s all the fault of the English!
    The referendum was a UK vote because it is the UK that is in the EU. Certainly the Scots can vote to leave the UK once we are out of the EU and then apply to join the EU as an independent country – gook luck with that!!!