In The Press
Sunday Express - Scotland’s EU stalemate could spell the end of Salmond’s master plan
16 September 2012
By Ben Borland
The row that ignited at Holyrood last week over whether or not an independent Scotland would have to reapply to join the European Union may seem like just another storm in a Royal Mile teacup. But if you look beyond the bluster, bombast and badinage of Alex Salmond, Johann Lamont and co, it soon becomes apparent that this is an issue which could easily sink the independence project.
If – and it is a big if – Scotland has to go cap in hand to Brussels for a seat at the European table, thereby potentially losing the UK’s opt-outs on the euro and open borders, the SNP might as well call off the referendum.
Nobody, apart from the most committed of Scottish Nationalists, would vote themselves on board the train wreck that is the slow, desperate unravelling of the single currency.
So it was no surprise when Mr Salmond stood up at Holyrood on Thursday and said once again that an independent Scotland will automatically remain part of the EU and inherit the right to stay out of the Eurozone.
However, the country will have to wait 12 months to ﬁnd out exactly what evidence he has to back up this conﬁ dent assertion. Mr Salmond has promised to publish all of his legal advice on the issue in November 2013 as part of a white paper on independence.
Meanwhile, at Westminster, experts have given evidence to say that Scotland – and maybe the rest of the UK – will have to reapply to join the EU in the event of a yes vote. Last week’s interventions from Europe, by European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly and his boss, EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, did not help clarify matters.
Although they both suggested that Scotland would be treated as a new member state, and therefore would have to apply for membership, their comments were so carefully couched in bland, bureaucratic Euro-babble that they cannot be taken as deﬁ nitive answers.
Yesterday, sources within the EC told the Scottish Sunday Express that the ﬁnal decision on Scotland’s future would be “political” rather than “legal” and would therefore rest with the 27 member states.No matter what the lawyers in London and Edinburgh say, the other nations of Europe would have to ratify a 28th member of the EU – and that would not happen until after Scotland has voted for independence.
This raises the worrying prospect of Scottish voters having to make a decision on breaking up Britain without knowing for certain what the European future holds.The source said: “This would be unprecedented. There have been secessions where new countries left the European Union, such as Greenland in 1985, but there has never been a member state that has split in two.“It is not dealt with in any treaties, so it would be up to the 27 member states to decide.
It would have to be with unanimity – it is not a majority vote. “It would be a political decision – there is no legal precedent in international law.“The Scottish Government’s position is that they will inherit all the treaty conditions that the UK currently has, although Alex Salmond has admitted there will have to be negotiations. “Even if there are no major obstacles put in Scotland’s path then it still has to sign the treaties, and for that it must have the agreement of the other member states.”Although there are no obvious precedents, there have been a number of similar situations for EU lawmakers to study.
Intriguingly, the key to Scotland’s continuing membership of Europe could be found in the tiny Caribbean islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, or St Barts.In 2003, these two tropical paradises voted to secede from Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region of France and therefore part of the European Union and the Eurozone.
Four years later, Saint Martin and St Barts became separate French territories with their own governments and presidents.Crucially the people of the islands remained EU citizens and inherited all the French treaty rights and opt-outs. Saint Martin and St Barts did not have to reapply to Brussels to join the club, and their status within the EU remained unchanged.
However, other examples suggest that Scotland’s continuing membership will ultimately have to be put to a vote. When Germany was reuniﬁed in 1990, the former East Germany’s accession into the EEC had to be agreed by all the other member states at a special summit in Dublin.
The Germans were big enough and important enough to bully their way back in – despite an attempt to block their membership by Margaret Thatcher and ex-French President Francois Mitterand. But the longstanding fear is that some European states, such as Spain, Italy or France, which are all facing independence movements, might veto Scotland’s membership in order to set an example to their own want-away regions.
Phillip Souta, director of the Business for New Europe think tank, said: “I have spoken to senior British ofﬁ cials in Spain and asked if Spain would veto Scottish membership.“The answer is no… but they won’t want Scotland to have a special deal, because that would set a precedent for Catalonia and the Basque Country.
”Mr Souta said Scotland would have to negotiate a new deal with Brussels. He also said that world capitals such as “Washington, Paris and Beijing” had already accepted the view that if Scotland leaves the UK, the rest of the UK would continue as a member of bodies such as the EU and the UN Security Council.
He added: “There is no just provision in the treaties that there should be 28 members instead of 27. It just can’t happen without negotiation, because no such power has been conferred on the EU by its members.“It is probable that Scotland would be able to strike a deal on the pound – but there is no way to have complete certainty, and for the SNP that is a bad thing. Voters do not like uncertainty – they want to be able to choose between two concrete options.”