At the beginning of this year the Netherlands took over the Presidency of the European Union, and there can hardly be a more critical time in the EU’s history for it to take the helm.
The Presidency, which lasts until the end of June, will seek to address current challenges facing the EU, of which there are no lack. These include the migration crisis, the UK Referendum on EU membership and the fight against terrorism.
In this role the Dutch presidency will shape policies and drive forward legislation that will impact on the futures of 500 EU million citizens, boosting growth and job creation through innovation, and delivering security.
The presidency work programme focuses on four key areas: Europe as an innovator and job creator; migration and international security; sound finances and a robust eurozone, and a forward-looking climate and energy policy.
As such its outcomes will clearly have an impact on Scotland. As an example, around half our international exports are destined for the EU, on which 330,000 Scottish jobs are dependent, and climate change is an issue that affects us all.
The European Union provides the biggest internal market in the world and is pledged to innovate in order to grow stronger and more competitive. In this respect Dutch are looking for red tape to be cut and rules that operate throughout the EU to be simplified and modernised, reducing bureaucracy and costs for citizens, companies and public authorities. This will clearly advantage Scottish businesses and consumers, as will be a renewed focus on greater cross-border co-operation in research and development.
There is also the small matter of the UK’s renegotiation of its relationship with the EU, the outcome of which will be put to the British people in an In-Out referendum, to be held before the end of 2017. As well as this is the ongoing refugee crisis and the desire to deliver common border controls and a co-ordinated asylum and migration policy as a solution to this issue.
While EU Presidencies can be seen as rather distant affairs, its outcomes should clearly be followed with interest here in Scotland.