30 Years of networking Scotland in Europe

Every great story starts somewhere, and Scotland Europa’s began in 1992. The Scotland Europa Centre, based at Square de Meeûs 35, was opened in May 1992 by Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Lang. The very first Chair of Scotland Europa was Scottish Enterprise Chief Executive Crawford Beveridge. Beveridge took a lead role in the set-up, and early running of Scotland Europa. Whilst focused on representing Scottish Enterprise and Scotland’s economic development interests - continuing the work of earlier Scottish Trade International and Scottish Development Agency work in Brussels - Scotland Europa was founded as a membership organisation to ensure a broad range of Scottish interests could receive support for their European Union (EU) policy influencing, networking and project development, and to ensure that Scotland would be an increasingly proactive European player in Brussels.

Scotland Europa’s tagline was ‘Networking Scotland in Europe’ and that has remained our focus to this day, thirty years on. Networking Scotland, Scottish stakeholders, and our knowledge and experience to our European partners is at the core of the work we have done over the last thirty years and is at the core of what we want to continue to do in the years to come.

Over the last thirty years, generations of the Scotland Europa team have been able to experience first-hand some significant historical and political changes. In 1993, the Single European Market was launched, and saw the Scotland Europa membership expand to 25 organisations, including some of our longest standing members, VisitScotland and Scottish Financial Enterprise! The first edition of the Scotland Europa Papers series was published in 1995, entitled ‘Europe’s Regions: Engines or Millstones?’ - written by our then Chief Executive Charlie Woods - focused on the role of regions in European policymaking, back when this was a very new idea.

1996 saw the first-ever St Andrews Lecture, delivered by the former head of the Industry and Environment Departments of the Scotland Office, Gavin McCrone, who delivered his lecture ‘Scotland, a European Perspective’. The St Andrews Lecture has since become an annual event, allowing us to mark the celebration of Scotland’s patron saint with a topical speech from a prominent Scot. We have had some fantastic speakers delivering the St Andrews Lecture over the years, including The Hon. Judge David A.O Edward CMG, QC, FRSE of the European Court of Justice, Professor Sir Neil MacCormick MEP, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Chair of the British Council, writer Alexander McCall-Smith, Lord Thurso, Chairman of VisitScotland, and founder of Brewgooder, Alan Mahon, right up to 2021, with our very own Scottish Enterprise Chief Executive, Adrian Gillespie.

In 1999, following devolution, Scotland House Brussels officially opened, moving the Scotland Europa team to our new home at Rond-Point Schuman, setting up a ‘one-stop shop’ with the new Scottish Government EU Office. Our move to Scotland House was marked by hosting the first-ever Scotland Week, showcasing Scottish industries, culture and produce. Through Scotland Week, as well as the EU’s own thematic conferences such as European Week of Regions and Cities, Green Week, and more, we have had some fantastic opportunities to showcase the best that Scotland has to offer over the last thirty years.

As the importance of the contribution of regions to EU policy making and delivery grew, so did our work with European partners. One of our key networks, today ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network) was established in 2001, with the aim of supporting members to enhance their regional and local research and innovation capacities. Scotland Europa was a partner in the EU Research & Innovation programme-funded project upon which the network was founded, and over the years, we have been able to play a key role in developing the network – our head of office, Sarah English, was Chair of ERRIN from 2020-2022 and is now Vice-Chair and Treasurer, our colleague Valentine Willmann, is co-chair of the Energy and Climate Working Group, and James Sharples is co-chair of the Policy Working Group. Networks are a central part of our past, present, and future work here in Brussels.

The Scotland Europa team have had many fantastic team members over the years, all of whom have gone on to do great things both during, and after their time with us – in Brussels, in the UK, and beyond. Some friends have unfortunately passed away, and in remembering our thirty years of history, we wanted to remember two former colleagues who are sadly no longer with us but will always be an important part of the Scotland Europa team. Donald MacInnes, who was Chief Executive of Scotland Europa from 1998 to 2012, and Kirsty MacDonald, who joined the team as Senior Executive in 1999 and became Head of Office until she left in 1997. Both Donald and Kirsty played pivotal roles in developing Scotland Europa, Scotland House Brussels, and Scotland’s wider work in Europe, and will always be a central part of Scotland Europa’s story – they set a very high bar in how to tell our story and tell it well!

In a constantly changing environment, Scotland Europa has grown and adapted over the last thirty years. Our evolution has been guided by our colleagues in Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Government, as well our members and partners, and their commitment to offering knowledge exchange and opportunities for economic development back to Scotland and continuing to strengthen and deepen our ties with other countries, regions and European partners and friends.

 

We would not be where we are today without our membership. The knowledge and experience from across Scotland, our public sector, academia, and a range of key sectors has been invaluable to making us trusted partners of choice for European colleagues. Over the years, we have worked hard to build strong relationships – both in Brussels and Scotland - that help us to really showcase what Scotland has to offer to our European audience. We work not just with formal networks such as the European Association of Regional Development Agencies (EURADA), ERRIN, and the Vanguard Initiative, but also through crafting our own informal networks, all of which allows us to deliver on our core commitments and tell Scotland’s story.

We have been offering policy monitoring, insights, and EU funding guidance, such as EU alerts and the Scotland Europa Papers, to our members since the very beginning. We have continued to build on this, adapting to our changing context – not least in the past two years! For example, Insight Europe has progressed from a monthly publication to an online webcast, and we have developed new services, such as our Brussels Bulletin newsletter, online and hybrid policy seminars and more. Our most recent development will be the launch of our new podcast series ‘the Scotland Europa podcast’ (stay tuned for this one!). Like everyone else in 2020 we had to move all of our service delivery online, adapting our membership services to a fully digital world. Our new digital services continue to be a core part of our daily work now.

 

Thirty years of history is hard to sum up in just one article – from devolution, elections, to the development of funding programmes such as Horizon Europe, the formation of new networks and institutions, significant changes to the EU project itself, as well as a few referenda along the way - Scotland Europa and its staff over the years have seen it all! And even after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in 2020, coupled with the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has remained the same: that is the commitment of Scotland Europa, our colleagues, members, and our partners to continue this work. Our status in the EU may have changed, but Scotland’s expertise, knowledge, and commitment to collaborating to develop better responses to shared challenges has not. Continuing to Network Scotland in Europe is perhaps even more crucial to Scotland’s economic development now than ever before.

To mark this, we will be dedicating time this business year to celebrating, and sharing learning from these past 30 years, both on and offline – including the launch of our podcast, our ongoing communications campaign and upcoming 30th anniversary event in Brussels in June. You can get involved with social media campaign by using the hashtag #ScotlandEuropa30!

You can also listen to the teaser for our podcast here

We cannot wait to see what the next thirty years holds in store for our work – watch this space!

Lorna Murphy - Scotland Europa - May 17, 2022