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Lobbying Europe

Flying the Shetland flag in Brussels are SIC political leader Gary Robinson (left) and Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills - Photo: SIC

SHETLAND has been lobbying in Brussels to win back its regional aid status.

Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson and chief executive Mark Boden met senior European officials and MEPs before heading to Edinburgh on Thursday.

They were joined on the trip by Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills who spoke up about reform of the Common Fisheries Policy at the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR).

A CPMR workshop also highlighted a new directive that will enforce greater environmental protection on the oil and gas industry west of Shetland in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010.

Robinson said: “It’s not cheap to send a delegation to Brussels but we’ve packed a lot of work into a few days.

“We’ve met the staff who run the Highlands and Islands European office, as well as the Scottish government’s people in Brussels, and we’ve argued Shetland’s case on fisheries reform, regional aid and the prevention of pollution.

“Our visit coincided with the world’s largest seafood exhibition, where Shetland firms were well represented and we made some useful contacts there also.”

New proposals threaten to exclude Shetland from the rest of the highlands and islands giving it the same status as European cities, due to the low unemployment and high levels of economic activity from hosting the oil and gas industry at Sullom Voe.

“To suggest that Lerwick and London should have the same regional aid status contradicts the principles of the Treaty of Lisbon. It’s also just plain daft,” Robinson said.

Meanwhile Wills said a four hour session of the CPMR on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy stressed the difficulty of imposing a discard ban in a mixed fishery.

He said there was unanimous backing for setting quotas for a group of species rather than for each species separately, regional management and better scientific-based policies.

“We’re seriously concerned that the new CFP isn’t going to do this and the ‘top-down’ approach will continue, with local fishermen’s organisations and local authorities taking part only as observers on advisory committees,” he said.

The CPMR also heard about a recent French supreme court ruling that victims of oil pollution can sue the polluter, even if the spill happened outside territorial waters.

It means damage to the environment and wildlife can also be eligible for compensation, rather than just economic losses.

“It’s highly significant that the European Commission has now issued a directive saying pollution victims should be ‘fully’ compensated and that environmental damage to protected species and protected areas can be claimed for,” Wills said.

“A draft directive expected next year should see big improvements in the safety and environmental protection regime in the Atlantic frontier oil and gas fields west of Shetland.

“At times I’m as cynical about Europe as anyone, but it was really encouraging to see the Commission taking this issue seriously and trying to implement the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”