AS the UK wrestled with how far it can breach international law last week, a much more sober discussion was taking place in Europe which will have a more lasting impact than Liz Truss’s lettuce or Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda dream (nightmare).

It didn’t make as much news here given the Tory obsession for psychodrama and Labour’s desire to outdo it, but the EU-Western Balkans summit and the December meeting of the European Council showed once again how Europe is getting on with the day job.

The Western Balkans has shot up the priority list in Brussels as the EU looks to find ways to provide stability, security and prosperity in the region following Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The Brussels Declaration last week following the summit reiterated that “the future of the Western Balkans is in our union” and “calls for the acceleration of the accession process”. Agreement was reached on “enhancing economic integration of the Western Balkans with the EU” while it also made reference to the establishment of a new branch of the College of Europe in Tirana, Albania.

The second summit was a gathering of the European Council – a key part of the EU’s political framework composed of the heads of state or government of the 27 members of the EU. It meets several times a year and helps set the general political direction and priorities of the EU.

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This meeting was significant in that it confirmed the opening of EU accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, as well as granting candidate status to Georgia. There was some controversy over Viktor Orban’s abstention on opening negotiations with Ukraine but he did not veto it (as he could have and later did on the Ukraine Facility, a €50 billion fund package of economic assistance).

This change in the EU’s view on enlargement is not to be underestimated. The war in Ukraine has helped concentrate minds in Brussels while the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and rising global insecurity from Latin America to the Sahel to the South China Sea has underscored the need for the EU to have a strong common foreign and security policy.

Indeed, with regard to Ukraine, I would reiterate that we must maintain our support and do what we can to support a fellow European country fighting against authoritarianism. One line though that stood out from the European Council’s conclusions was that it “underlines that enlargement is a geo-strategic investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity”.

This has implications for those in Scotland who want us to be an independent country back in the EU.

The National: Scotland should be watching the process of accession of other countries into the EU very closelyScotland should be watching the process of accession of other countries into the EU very closely (Image: PA)

I and others are watching the accession process of these countries with close interest since there will be lessons for us to learn from their experiences. Indeed, as the seventh paper in the Building a New Scotland series outlines, we already fulfil many of the criteria for membership and follow a significant portion of the acquis communautaire from our previous stint of being part of an EU member state.

So we will already be in a significant position to start our own journey to being the newest member state.

It is why we must continue our engagement with our European partners even while the UK remains consumed by its own internal dramas. There is a sympathetic audience in Brussels that nonetheless needs to be charmed and persuaded of the merits of our own case.

The EU has its own interests to consider after all and we can play a key role in supporting them in a mutually beneficial way.

As we gear up for next year’s General Election, we must keep our eyes on the prize of independence in Europe and act accordingly – I am confident that with the support of Scotland’s independence movement, we can do so.