Independent Scotland 'will have to apply to EU'

Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 00:00

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond’s campaign for a Yes vote in the 2014 independence referendum has been dealt a blow after the clearest signal yet from Brussels that it would have to apply for European Union membership.

This came in a letter from the European Commission to the House of Lords, after one of its committees queried the rules that would be in place to deal with the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The letter, written but not yet sent, says: “If a territory of a member state ceases to be part of that member state because it has become an independent state, then the treaties would cease to apply to that territory.”

Campaign plank

However, the Scottish National Party downplayed the development, saying Scotland would be negotiating “from within” if voters said Yes. However, opponents argued that a central plank of its pro-independence campaign has been taken away.

Scottish finance secretary John Swinney said Scotland’s EU membership would not be in doubt, though the SNP had “always accepted that there has to be a negotiation about the details and the terms”.

Popular support

If accepted by voters, though polls say this is unlikely, an independent Scotland would remain part of the UK for two years while a break-up was worked out, leaving time for EU talks to go in parallel, the government said.

There is popular support for EU membership in Scotland, despite unhappiness about fisheries policies, among other issues. This, however, is the second time in a month that EU matters have put Mr Salmond on the back foot.

For months he objected to the publication of legal advice taken by the government from law officers on Scotland’s future in the EU, only for it to emerge that he had never sought such advice in the first place. Scotland’s negotiating hand would be weakened if the commission’s position is correct, since it would mean it would have to commit to joining the euro rather than having the freedom to decide later.

As Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “Scotland would lose all the opt-outs gained by United Kingdom governments over the years.”

The 2014 referendum could have an effect in Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain. Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo said Scotland would have to “get to the back of the queue” in its negotiation over EU membership.