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Holyrood rejects Brussels' plea for rise in EU budget

THE Scottish Government has rejected a plea from Brussels to support proposed European Union spending increases.

appeal: Commissioner Laszlo Andor has written to The Herald urging Scots to back an increase in the next EU budget. Picture: Laszlo Beliczay
appeal: Commissioner Laszlo Andor has written to The Herald urging Scots to back an increase in the next EU budget. Picture: Laszlo Beliczay

Ministers confirmed their opposition to a multibillion-pound budget rise as one of Europe's top officials prepared to visit Scotland to press the case for greater EU spending.

Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor will visit a Prince's Trust scheme in Edinburgh which has used cash from the European Social Fund (ESF) to train thousands of disadvantaged you people for work.

Writing in today's Herald, Mr Andor urges Scots organisations to back increased spending in the next budget period, from 2014 to 2020.

But a Scottish Government spokesman said: "At a time of financial difficulty it is important the EU shows restraint, so the Scottish Government does not endorse an increase to the overall EU budget in the current economic climate.

"However, within a more restrained budget, we would support Commissioner Andor's call for the ESF to be prioritised, along with an increase in farm support in disadvantaged regions – which the UK Government currently plans to cut."

Mr Andor, from Hungary, was due to have a breakfast meeting with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance this morning before visiting the Prince's Trust.

In a public plea to support extra Brussels spending – a plan opposed by the UK Government – he said €300 million had been invested in nearly 450 projects across Scotland in recent years.

He writes: "Europe can improve neither its economic competitiveness, nor its social cohesion with such high levels of unemployment, and without higher employment rates. The European Social Fund must continue to invest in human capital in Scotland, the rest of the UK and in Europe.

"All the more so when – given the continuing economic crisis and the structural challenges of demographic, technological and climate change – investment in skills and helping those worst hit to get jobs are more important than ever.

"That is precisely why the commission has proposed a reinforced budget for the ESF in the period 2014 to 2020.

"I therefore trust that social partners, civil society and above all the governments of the EU Member States will understand the importance of supporting the commission's proposal."

Prime Minister David Cameron has called for the EU budget to be frozen. He suffered a Commons defeat last month when 53 Tory rebels joined forces with Labour to demand a real-terms cut in spending

The European Commission has proposed an £826 billion budget ceiling, a 5% rise compared with 2007 to 2013.

In 2011, the UK's net contribution to the EU budget was £8.1bn according to the Treasury. The EC put the figure at £5.85bn.

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, convener of the Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee, said: "Mr Andor's comments show Scotland is valued by Europe just as we value our relationship with Europe. It is unfortunate this constructive relationship is being clouded by the growing, Tory-led Euroscepticism taking hold of Westminster.

"With MPs queuing up to demand the UK's immediate withdrawal from the EU, and all Westminster parties determined to outdo each other in their hostility to the EU, it is becoming increasingly clear the real threat to Scotland's membership of the EU comes from Westminster – not from Scotland.

"Scots are increasingly realising Scotland would be far better off independent in Europe than isolated in the UK."

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