SO JEAN-Claude Juncker, the nominee to head the European Commission and the man who was hailed as an arch EU expansionist, has said the expansion of the EU will come to a halt in his term of office. This is something of an unexpected start.
Mr Juncker’s appointment so disturbed Prime Minister David Cameron that he took the unprecedented step of forcing a vote on the appointment, setting Cameron at odds with the rest of Europe’s leaders. In the end only two countries opposed Juncker’s taking over the reins.
His appointment came hard on the heels of the European election results which saw huge and surprising gains for parties taking a hard line on Europe. Fears over immigration and the threat to jobs that might bring played a large part. It was seen as an anti-EU reaction and there was an acceptance that the EU was seen as remote and incomprehensible. There were calls for the EU leaders to listen to this articulation of dissent and act accordingly. The view among some, including Mr Cameron, was that the appointment of EU promoter Mr Juncker was sending the wrong message and not listening to the voters. Cameron was probably right, but they didn’t listen to him either.
Now however, in what is his first major pronouncement, Mr Juncker has surprised everyone by saying it is time for a period of review and consolidation, not expansion. But voters will need to know whether this is a genuine change of heart for Mr Juncker about where he sees the future of Europe, or something he feels compelled to say until the expansion he desires can safely continue.
The question here will be whether Mr Juncker’s reign will do enough to satisfy voters that Mr Cameron is able to carve out a new deal with Europe to the extent they will vote to stay in the EU in the forthcoming referendum. But if that was the aim, then Europe is choosing to go about it the hard way.
Mr Juncker’s statement also caused a flurry of claim and counter claim here in Scotland. His remarks were seized on by the No campaign as proof that a vote for independence was a vote for leaving the EU.
But a spokesman for Mr Salmond yesterday insisted that the commission’s president-in-waiting was not talking about Scotland and that it was “beyond dispute that we are part of the EU”. The Yes argument was that Mr Juncker specifically referred to “candidate countries with whom we are negotiating” and that does not include Scotland. Reports last night backed that view.
The fact is that we still need clarity on where an independent Scotland would be in Europe. Mr Juncker has previously been quoted as echoing his predecessor’s remarks that Scotland’s entry would be difficult. Signals, hints and third-party interpretations are not what is needed. Explicit certainty from the EU is.
Mental health care must be equal
THERE is no doubt that, when it comes to our perception of mental health problems, we have made progress as a society.
But, though we may have come a long way from the days when those suffering from mental illnesses were dismissed as either “mad” or “bad”, there is more yet to be done.
So, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are to be supported in their call for equality between mental and physical health services to be enshrined in law.
The party’s demand comes after it was revealed that the number of deaths resulting from intentional self-harm rose by 8 per cent between 2011 and 2012. There was a particularly sharp rise in such fatalities among those aged over 60.
There are complex reasons behind each case of self-harming and no simple solutions. But it is clear that this is a problem in need of greater attention.
We would be outraged if an accident victim died only for want of the appropriate treatment, or because of a piece of missing equipment.
So, too, should we refuse to accept preventable deaths which result from self-harm. One in four of us will suffer some mental health problem in our lifetime. It is essential, therefore, that the right treatments, and the necessary staff to deliver them, are made available.
A postcode lottery – with patients in some parts of the country waiting months for vital therapies – must end.
Nigh on every family in the country has an interest in seeing improvements to the help offered to those suffering mental health problems. Mental illness, just like physical illness, can be a matter of life or death.