Europe question dogs Scottish referendum


European Union membership has taken centre stage in the Scottish independence debate amidst a bitter legal wrangle about Scotland's status if it secedes from the UK following a scheduled referendum in 2014.

A report released last week by Business for New Europe, a pro-European British consortium, says an independent Scotland could only negotiate EU membership with the unanimous consent of all existing EU members, and not “automatically” as Scottish nationalists have claimed.

Negotiating in such circumstances would disadvantage Scotland, and “the more it would ask for in a negotiation, the less likely member states like Spain or Belgium, with their own independence movements, would be willing to give Scotland an easy ride given the precedent it would set,” the report says.

Report issued to counter misleading information

Business for New Europe's director, Phillip Souta, told EURACTIV the organisation published the report “to highlight the fact that it is dangerous and potentially misleading to tell the Scottish people that they are safe to assume Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU if it became independent.”

The report's claims were dismissed by Scottish nationalists who questioned the legal assumptions underpinning the study and said that negotiations by an independent Scotland over EU membership would be exactly the same as those for the remaining part of the UK.

“These claims are wrong and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Scotland’s status – an independent Scotland will not be an accession state to the EU but a successor state inheriting existing treaty rights and obligations, in exactly the same way as the rest of the UK,” a spokesman for Scotland's nationalist First Minister, Alex Salmond, told EURACTIV.

A matter for the Council

Accusing the report of containing "basic errors", nationalist MEP Alyn Smith told EURACTIV that Scotland's independent EU membership would be negotiated by the European Council, using qualified majority voting, adding that lawyers had confirmed that Scotland and the UK would both be treated as successor states.

Smith also dismissed suggestions that Spain and Belgium may take a tough negotiating stance on Scottish EU membership, because of their own difficulties with separatists in Catalonia and Flanders. He said Spain's opposition to Scottish independence was “a myth that has been exploded”.

“Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo said last month that Spain would have nothing to say. No one would object to a consented independence of Scotland,” Smith said.

“Scotland is already part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – and, as distinguished legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, there is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence, and the rest of the UK will be exactly the same position,” said a spokesman for Scotland's nationalist First Minister, Alex Salmond.

“We [the UK and Scotland] will both be successor states, with exactly the same status within the EU – as senior EU sources were recently reported as saying – which will apply to all matters, including inheriting the rebate,” Salmond's spokesman said.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said the Scottish process “is an internal subject which will be resolved within the British constitutional framework, which has nothing to do with the Spanish constitutional framework…they are completely different processes.”

“At no point has any threat been made to the British Government,” García-Margallo told a press conference in Brussels on 23 January.

"The Business for New Europe report contains some basic errors, like the assertion that European enlargement requires adjustments to the founding treaties,” said MEP Alyn Smith (Scotland; Scottish National Party).

“Lisbon changed that and the treaties are now set up to accommodate enlargement without renegotiation. The report also appears to fail to understand that MEP numbers for each State are now determined by formula rather than negotiation and that weighted voting will disappear in November 2014 - just after Scotland votes for independence. The report is a fantasy reliant on inaccurate premises.”

Standard procedure for external accession candidates such as Croatia, which enters the European Union in 2013, involves the unanimous backing of all EU governments.

The procedure that would be followed in the event that Alex Salmond secures a 'yes' vote in Scotland's referendum on independence from the United Kingdom – which will take place in late 2014 – remains unresolved however.

There have been suggestions that the Council could agree by qualified majority vote to re-house the two successor states (Scotland and the remainder of the UK) back inside the EU in a fast procedure.

What is certain however is that Scottish secession would trigger complex three-way negotiations between London, Edinburgh and Brussels, altering the existing voting power of the UK within the EU.

 Second half of 2014: Referendum on Scottish independence to take place

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