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.