CalMac ferries, vitamin supplements, beef bans, cosmetic testing on animals, GM food labelling, free movement of workers, air passenger compensation, fisheries. For an electorate apparently interested these days more in issue politics than parties, the European Union ought to provide plenty of meat to chew on. But electoral turn-out and levels of public awareness alone prove that European politics today remains as far from people's minds as ever.
In one way, successful political changes at home are partly to blame. Devolution, along with the upcoming reform of local government, brings a domestic political scene full of variety, comment and character. 1999 saw the creation of a whole new media village around the Scottish Parliament that was, in part, populated by former correspondents in Brussels. Likewise, Westminster politics is becoming more diverting by the day.
The irony is that whether loved or despised, the EU element is not an optional add-on in UK and Scottish politics. British politics, and particularly devolved politics, demonstrates just how integral EU decisions are to domestic concerns. Employment and social affairs, environmental standards, rural development and fisheries, civil and criminal law have all, to a greater or lesser extent, have been devolved upwards as well as downwards from London.
Complex as it is often made out; the EU is not the hardest thing for students of UK politics to get their heads round. But while school pupils in England and Wales are now taught about the EU in the national curriculum for Citizenship at key stages 3 and 4. In Scotland, any EU content to Modern Studies or languages tends to depend on an enthusiastic and well-resourced teacher.
The institutions of the EU are prettily easily divided and defined. To one side sit the consultative Committees for the Regions and for Economic and Social matters, loosely employers and trade unions. To the other are the accounting and financial bodies - the Court of Auditors, the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank. Further afield are a range of decentralised agencies which monitor national progress in a range of policy areas - such as the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. At the heart of the EU, both geographically and politically lie the original institutions - Parliament, Commission, Council and Court.
Readers of the e-bulletin will need little reminding of the central role that the European Court of Justice plays in overseeing a Union that is based entirely on a set of legal treaties agreed and signed by Member State governments. The European Commission is simply the body that drafts and proposes new legislation on behalf of the Member States - then oversees and regulates its implementation and, where appropriate, its funding. In legislative terms, however, the Commission has no power at all.
The making of EU law is, in most domestic matters shared between the Parliament and Council. The Council of Ministers is simply the arena or chamber for the elected Governments of Member States to sit in subject-specific councils. The Parliament is the only directly elected institution, and represents over 500 million citizens, via more than 160 political parties, in the 25 Member States. Legislation moves from Committees of the Parliament to its Plenary session and on to the second "chamber" of the Council much as it does in most national parliaments.
Easy enough? Well, maybe not. But the only way to change these politics, like any, is to be involved. If you need to do that any time, on any issue, before the next European polling day in June 2009, the European Parliament Office in Scotland is always happy to engage.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own personal opinions and may not reflect those of Shepherd and Wedderburn.