Conference on the Future of Europe: submission

Scottish Government written submission for the Conference on the Future of Europe, on a range of issues where EU leadership is important and where Scotland can contribute to Europe’s future success and prosperity.


The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged that all Europeans – whoever they are and wherever they are – should be able to participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe in order to reflect on the role of the European Union and to share their ideas and views about the EU’s future purpose and priorities.

In her first speech as President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola said that she wanted people to recapture a sense of belief and enthusiasm for the EU project in order to make the Union safer, fairer, more just and more equal. The current context of the crisis in Ukraine makes this all the more pressing. 

Geographically, Scotland may lie at the edge of Europe but the Scottish people have always seen ourselves as fundamentally European. The core values of the EU – human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights – are Scotland’s values. The EU’s policy priorities also resonate strongly with us and match Scottish priorities - the focus in the EU work programme on action on net zero and biodiversity; leadership on the digital transition;  championing innovation, sustainable trade, and maintaining the highest standards of social, consumer and environmental protections. And Scotland shares with the EU a vision for Europe that embodies democratic values, promotes the wellbeing of all of society, rises fully to the challenge of the global climate emergency and supports a sustainable economic recovery from the global pandemic.

Above all, Scotland fully associates itself with the fundamental objective of Jean Monet, Robert Schuman and their colleagues that by pooling their sovereignty, the nations and peoples of Europe could live together in peace and prosperity after generations of war. President Putin’s appalling war on Ukraine and the European Union’s decisive and united response are further proof of this enduring mission.    

Following the deeply regrettable Brexit outcome which removed Scotland from the EU against its will, the Scottish Government believes that re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity as an independent country represents the best future for Scotland. In the meantime, Scotland will maintain alignment where possible and practical with EU legislation, standards, policies and programmes. We will also continue to engage positively and proactively with the EU institutions and the Member States on shared policy priorities including climate action, protecting biodiversity, supporting green and digital jobs and skills, standing up for individuals’ freedoms and for democratic processes, keeping people safe, tackling poverty and inequality and supporting young people.  

That is why the Scottish Government wishes to contribute by means of this written submission to the rich debate that has been taking place on the future of Europe. Drawing on a number of the Conference themes, this submission is intended to offer the Scottish Government’s perspective on a range of issues where we welcome the EU continuing to demonstrate leadership and drive progress and where Scotland has a unique contribution to make to Europe’s future success and prosperity, through the closest possible relationship. 

EU values, rights and the rule of law

The European Union embodies the continued pursuit of peace, democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and equality. The situation in Ukraine demonstrates that these values have never been more important. They are integral to Europe’s future prosperity and wellbeing and they are values which Scotland shares.

None of these values can be taken for granted - particularly in today’s turbulent and unpredictable world - so it is essential for the EU to be assertive and effective in championing peace and democracy, standing up for the rules-based multilateral order, ensuring openness and fairness and defending human rights. This means standing up robustly for individuals' freedoms and democratic processes. It means protecting individuals' rights, including in the face of hostile actors who attempt to misuse private and personal information for criminal or oppressive purposes. No country can do this effectively on its own.

Protecting rights and the rule of law also means having robust, proportionate systems and tools to combat criminality. The EU has led the way in making international law enforcement and judicial cooperation more effective by creating a sophisticated ecosystem of JHA tools and measures. The Scottish Government supports efforts to improve these systems, while also emphasising the crucial role of the European Convention of Human Rights in balancing safety and security with citizens’ fundamental rights. 

Showing solidarity with our citizens and pursuing their interests in this way is entirely compatible with reaching out in friendship to others, whether near neighbours or from afar. Human rights and the need to defend dignity and freedoms do not apply only within the EU's borders.

The EU must remain outward looking and resist any temptation to turn inwards. It must offer hope to the world not only in the values it espouses in general, but in how it treats individual people in practice - including refugees and asylum seekers, as it has done in the case of Ukrainians in need of refuge. 

European democracy

In championing democracy, the EU has recognised the need to lead by example in how it conducts its business. That means, amongst other things, devolving decision making so that wherever possible choices are made closer to those who are affected. President von der Leyen has made clear that transparency and a stronger relationship with citizens is the foundation of civic trust and confidence and she has underlined the importance of transparency and ethics to deliver in tangible ways on making the workings of the EU more meaningful to ordinary EU citizens.

Scotland has a long-standing commitment to openness, transparency and citizen participation across everything we do as a government. As a founding member of the Open Government Partnership in 2011, we are delighted that the OGP has now grown to more than 90 member countries as well as hundreds of civil society organisations united in promoting trust and cooperation between government and civil society. In 2016, Scotland was selected as one of 15 pioneer governments around the world to join a programme to bring new leadership and innovation into the OGP at all levels of government.

Mindful of the need to bring society together and strengthen democratic participation in Scotland, the Scottish Government set up Scotland’s first Citizens’ Assembly drawing on experience from other European countries. The Assembly met throughout 2020 to discuss the kind of country Scotland could be, how best to overcome the challenges Scotland and the world face in the 21st century and what further work should be carried out to provide the information needed to allow for informed choices about the future of the country. The broadly representative group of 100 citizens from across Scotland produced its final report and recommendations in January 2021. 

The Scottish Government has responded formally to the final report of the Citizens’ Assembly with plans to progress the Assembly’s recommendations across a wide range of policy areas including a firm commitment to promoting further citizens’ assemblies in the future in order to ensure that democratic institutions are properly connected and engaged with the people of Scotland. We would be interested to share this recent experience in Scotland with European partners and to participate in future dialogue on how to incorporate new participatory processes in the development of the EU’s future policy and legislation.

Climate Change, environmental protection and tackling biodiversity loss

The climate and biodiversity emergencies have no borders and require global action. The EU plays a vital leadership role in increasing and harnessing global ambition in order to deliver on the outcomes of COP 26 in Glasgow, and in halting the alarming loss of species biodiversity (including in its contribution to setting ambitious targets for biodiversity at COP 15 in Kunming, China), setting a 'zero-pollution' target, tackling environmental crime and delivering on the circular economy.

Scotland shares with the EU a determination to address these emergencies through both domestic action and through European and international collaboration and cooperation. The Scottish Government is committed to playing our part in delivering against the Glasgow Climate Pact by reducing emissions, moving away from fossil fuels and stepping up support for countries that are adapting to the effects of climate change. Scotland is committed to achieving net zero by 2045 and securing a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030. To support this, Scotland has legally binding annual emissions targets, and in 2021, 98.6% of our electricity consumption was from renewable sources. 

Additionally, the Scottish Government has put the green transition at the heart of policy making by prioritising green job creation and supporting this with a new Green Jobs Fund. This forms part of more than £2 billion investment to restore Scotland’s natural environment and to decarbonise our homes and transport system. Scotland’s strong track record on renewables will also be strengthened following the Scotwind offshore wind leasing announcements in January 2022 which will deliver a significant uplift in offshore wind capability. This strong and diverse energy portfolio in Scotland means we will be an energy exporter – with strong ambitions for hydrogen export. Scotland has the potential to be a close and reliable supplier of green hydrogen to EU Members States, and President von der Leyen has talked about the need for international collaboration to build a global market for hydrogen. We are working closely with our European partners and have a number of areas of best practice we can share at regional and national levels. We wish to see the closest possible policy and technical dialogue between Scotland, the EU and its Members States to maximise the potential of green hydrogen to contribute to emissions reduction and energy security across Europe.

A stronger, fairer and more inclusive economy

In global terms, most EU citizens are relatively privileged. And yet, within Scotland and EU societies, levels of inequality are unacceptably high. Too many of Europe’s citizens face unnecessary and unfair barriers to fulfilling their ambitions. Young people, people in low paid or precarious employment, the long-term unemployed, women, disabled and older people all suffer disproportionately. In some cases, people in whole regions feel – and are – left behind. They need to know that the EU is part of the solution for them.

That means prioritising targeted measures such as those that tackle discrimination, inequality and child poverty; developing new ways of delivering cohesion and upward convergence within and between regions and Member States which have marked the European Union from its inception. More widely, we must promote lifelong learning with a particular emphasis on reskilling and upskilling to allow EU citizens and SMEs to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by emerging technologies and the transition to a green and digital economy, while ensuring protection for the vulnerable. This must be done in such a way that no one is left behind and the benefits are shared throughout society while ensuring that the benefits of globalisation are felt by a wider range of Europeans as workers, consumers and citizens.

The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the interconnected nature of social wellbeing, economic prosperity, and the environment. Learning from the effects of the pandemic and the lessons of the past two years, it is vital that the EU helps to drive a new approach to economic development based on promoting the wellbeing of all. This means an approach which is environmentally sustainable, enables businesses to thrive and innovate, and tackles social inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

The Scottish Government is one of the leading European voices and a founding member of the network of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) which fosters collaboration in pursuit of innovative policy approaches aimed at enhancing greater wellbeing and promoting progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals through a broader understanding of the role of economics beyond traditional GDP indicators. We welcome the focus of the EU on this ‘beyond GDP’ agenda. The WEGo group currently includes the governments of Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Wales. Others are welcome to join. We would like to continue sharing best practice and learning from others’ experience in developing and applying a wellbeing approach to economic development and renewal and driving a green economic recovery to meet our climate and nature targets while ensuring we maximise the benefits as part of a just transition.

On 1 March 2022, we published our National Strategy for Economic Transformation, which sets out how in the next ten years, we will respond to what has been branded a “decisive decade” as we recover from Covid, deliver net zero, tackle structural inequalities and grow our economy. This strategy is about delivering the best economic performance possible for Scotland within the current constitutional constraints. However, we recognise many of the challenges and opportunities identified are shared with our European friends and neighbours and there is much to gain from working collaboratively, pooling our strengths and talents in order to seize the opportunity to create and sustain a fair economy that works for all. 

Higher Education, Research and Innovation

Scotland has for many centuries been renowned as a place of learning and innovation and we remain proud of our many excellent places of learning, with three Scottish universities in the world's top 100. Innovation, in all its forms, will be critical to Europe’s future success and the Scottish Government will continue to encourage and support collaboration between Scotland’s research and innovation communities and their European counterparts, with a particular focus on addressing the green and digital transitions. From innovation in the life sciences in response to the pandemic, to the development of green hydrogen technologies to centres of excellence in artificial intelligence, Scotland has much to offer as well as much to learn from our European partners.

An example of the Scottish Government’s support for Scotland’s international research and innovation collaboration is through our membership of the Vanguard Initiative, a European partnership which promotes economic growth through the development and implementation of enterprise-driven innovation strategies. In addition to our representation on the Vanguard Initiative Board, Scottish partners are involved in pilot projects focused on marine renewables, sustainable manufacturing and the bio-economy.

Regrettably the UK’s exit from the EU reduces opportunities for Scottish students to travel and study in Europe and for European students and research staff to study and work in Scotland. In response to this the Scottish Government will develop a new strategy for international education, to promote Scotland’s education offer globally, increase the number of international students, and maintain our links with the EU. We will also develop a Scottish Education Exchange Programme to support the international mobility of staff and learners.

Young people

As we emerge from the pandemic, we hope young people will be at the centre of the EU’s policy-making process, its programmes and its future ambitions. We fully support the initiative to make 2022 the European Year of Youth and the efforts being made to listen to the voices of young people in how they want Europe to look and function in the future. 

We hope to support this initiative by sharing with European partners our experience of 2018 when Scotland celebrated our own "Year of Young People", (YOYP), part of the rolling programme of "themed years", which continues with 2022’s “Year of Stories”. 

YoYP 2018 was the first time that any country had dedicated an entire year to young people and aimed to inspire Scotland by celebrating their achievements, valuing their contributions to communities, and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and on the international stage. 

Key to the delivery of these aims was to ensure that young people retained agency within the design and execution process of the themed year. This was accomplished by the “co-design” methodology of YoYP 2018 - that is, a collaborative design process which explored the issues faced by young people within six broad themes:

  • participation – looking at how young people can influence public services and decisions which affect their lives
  • education – creating a stronger role for young people in shaping their learning
  • health and wellbeing – supporting young people to lead healthier, active lives and have opportunities to lean about and improve their mental health and resilience 
  • enterprise and regeneration – broadcasting the value of young Scots, challenging negative perceptions of young people, and supporting young people to take leading roles in challenging discrimination in all its forms.
  • culture – celebrating young people’s talent and contribution to Scottish culture and arts
  • equality and discrimination – celebrating young people’s role in innovation, entrepreneurship and the Scottish economy as well as making Scotland a greener and more pleasant place to live

The Scottish Government continues its commitment to young people with the 6th annual meeting of members of the Scottish Cabinet with children and young people which took place on 1 March. More broadly, the Scottish Government remains committed to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to the maximum extent possible as soon as practicable

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