Despite all the press that UKIP got at the EU elections in May, the continued membership of Scotland in the EU is one of the areas that many have stated as important as they look to decide between independence and continued rule from Westminster. The Scottish Government published a comprehensive report on the reasons for staying in the EU and answering many of the questions around continued membership as an independent nation.
One of the benefits about being an independent nation in the EU is that the electorate (you and I) will be able to democratically determine whether Scotland is better placed in or out of the union. Looking at the recent EU elections (which I blogged about prior to the vote) – 70% of the Scottish electorate voted for centre-left Pro-EU parties, but for the UK at large the majority vote was for parties who want to loosen or cut our ties with the EU with an agenda from the right of the political spectrum. Not only does this demonstrate the divergence in political priorities for Scotland and the rest of the UK but it also highlights the risk that if Scotland votes No, the UK will look to amend its ties with the EU with the aim of cutting some of the workers and societal rights that the EU currently protects (such as holiday allowance, maternity leave etc).
European Commission President
The most quoted individual from the media and No Campaign is the Portuguese man and current European Commission President, Manuel Barroso. He is continually referenced to try and cast doubt over Scotland’s future in the EU as he claimed that it would be “difficult if not impossible” for Scotland’s continued membership to be negotiated, citing the example of Spain rejecting Kosovo’s EU membership bid. The claims from Barroso were easily picked apart as ludicrous and incoherent, but that hasn’t stopped them being one of the cornerstone arguments used by the No campaign.
The fact that Barroso is the only man that the No campaign can quote on this is made even weaker when considering that he will be replaced as the European Commission President later this year by former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. Junker was one of 5 in the running for the post – there was a televised debate between the candidates but the UK media chose not to show it. Given the weight that the UK media have associated with Barroso, this is clearly an important position after all but for some reason the debate was ignored. It is even more curious that it was ignored given that we had 5 high profile politicians speaking from Germany, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg and France all asked the question ‘In Europe there some independence movements, I’m thinking of Scotland, I’m thinking of Catalonia, and some others. If they become independent, should they automatically get EU membership, according to you?’ Not one of them answered that with the answer No – despite the question even being loaded with ‘automatically get EU membership’ when it is acknowledged that there will be some negotiating on the new membership terms.
All of them noted some form of saying that they respect the right of self-determination of peoples and made similar points to the new President-elect Junker who said that ‘It would be good for the EU to not intervene in the debate. It is Spain and the UK’s [respective] jurisdictions. I agree with the principle that one must respect national constitutions. That said, we should not get involved.’ The Edinburgh Agreement is a commitment from the UK and Scottish governments to respect the outcome of the referendum as the determining factor on our national constitution.
Others had a more direct dig at Barroso’s approach but it is also interesting to note the response from Ska Keller of the European Green Party: ‘For me the right of people to decide about their future is very important. So I think also the people in Scotland and in Catalonia should have the right to decide about their future and about the future of their state. If I was Commission President, then I would very much welcome both of those [countries], if in case they would decide to become independent, I would welcome them as well in the European Union.’
Comprehensive Analysis of an Independent Scotland’s EU Membership
Moving on from the European Commission President’s views, I think the most definitive analysis on Scotland’s EU membership has come from Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. During his introduction when presenting evidence to the European and External Relations Committee at the Scottish Parliament he stated that “If I have any claim to expertise, it is on how to join the EU. Further, if I have any claim to be in the Guinness book of records, it is that I wrote the Commission’s opinions on the membership applications of 14 countries and drafted the general negotiating framework that the EU has used in 19 accession negotiations.”
The first of Graham Avery’s contributions to the Scottish independence referendum was to the Westminster Foreign Affairs Committee where he reported the following:
In the debate on Scottish independence it is natural that opponents tend to exaggerate the difficulties of EU membership, while proponents tend to minimise them. This note tries to address the subject as objectively as possible. In summary it argues that:
- Arrangements for Scotland’s EU membership would need to be in place simultaneously with independence
- Scotland’s 5 million people, having been members of the EU for 40 years; have acquired rights as European citizens
- For practical and political reasons they could not be asked to leave the EU and apply for readmission
- Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence
- The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries’
Essentially he is saying that because of Scotland’s existing status as an EU member (where it currently complies with all of the membership requirements), it will be possible to go through the continued membership negotiations in the period between a vote for independence (September 2014) and the planned date of independence (March 2016).
This point was further strengthened in a report for the European Policy Centre in May of this year where it is made clear that it is in interests of all members to ensure Scotland stays within the EU. The report stated the following:
‘From a practical point of view, no member state has a material interest in Scotland remaining outside the EU, even for a short time. This would deprive the EU of the benefits of Scotland’s membership (budgetary contribution, fisheries resources, etc). Scotland outside the EU, and not applying EU rules, would be a legal nightmare for: EU member states, whose citizens and enterprises would lose their rights in Scotland. No member state, particularly not the rest of the UK, would have an interest in creating such an anomaly.’
In this respect, much like with the debate on currency, the interests of the rest of the UK will quickly change from the pre-referendum tactics to the reality of ensuring that an independent Scotland can continue to complement their economy. One of the key points where this will be evident will be on the Schengen Agreement, where it is inevitable that the Westminster government will ensure that an independent Scotland remains outside the Schengen area (as explained on page 96 of the Scottish Government’s report on EU membership after independence).
The full transcript of Graham Avery’s evidence to the European and External Relations Committee (where he is questioned by politicians from both sides of the referendum debate) is worth reading and he finishes on a particularly interesting note.
‘It seems that the case that we are considering, in which the EU would continue to have the same number of citizens but one more member state, would have quite a limited effect on the operation of the European Union as such. It would not alter the EU’s influence on world affairs, and its population and economic weight would remain the same. One could even argue that it would be a plus for the European Union to have an additional seat on the United Nations and other international organisations.
Of course, another way of addressing the question is to consider whether the European Union prefers big or small states. It does not have a policy on that—or it has an institutional set-up that tries to balance the interests of big and small states. In the context of the institutional framework, it is clear that the EU favours small states in certain ways. As members will know, smaller states, through the principle of degressive proportionality, get a bigger voice in the institution than their population would justify.
It is also clear that the number of small states in the European Union has continually increased. It now has 20 states that have fewer than 12 million people and, of those states, nine have fewer than 5 million people. I do not think that one can sustain the argument that independentism is of itself a bad thing for the function of the European Union; I think that it is neutral.’
So in summary, while the EU policy has no specific position on Scotland becoming independent, it is clear that Scotland will have a bigger voice in the EU if we are represented there as a small independent nation.