Barroso backtracks on Kosovo comments as pressure builds on EC President

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
José Manuel Barroso has signalled a u-turn on claims he made in a BBC interview in which he compared a newly independent Scotland to Kosovo.
 
The EC President has come under pressure to clarify comments he made on the Andrew Marr show after he appeared to suggest it would be “impossible” for a newly independent Scotland to acquire its EU membership.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Barroso compared Scotland to the former Serbian Province of Kosovo which is unable to apply for EU membership due to its independence not being recognised by Spain and four other EU members.

“In case there is a new country, a new state coming out of a current member state, it will have to apply and – this is very important – the application and the accession to the European Union would have to be approved by all the other member states,” Mr Barroso said.

He went on: “It will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state.

“We have seen that Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance.  It’s to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country, and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.”

However, in what will be seen as a major climbdown by the EC President, a spokesman has told Catalonian newspaper La Vanguardia that Mr Barroso had not meant to suggest Kosovo was a “perfect analogy”.

According to the newspaper, pressed on Mr Barroso’s comments, the European Commission said its president, “did not want to interfere in the democratic process underway” in Scotland and Catalonia.

A spokesperson said that Barroso, “did not want to imply” that the former Serbian province “was a perfect analogy”.  Kosovo, the spokesman said, was merely “illustrative of the possible difficulties and uncertainties” of Scotland or Catalonia.

The spokesperson added: “We can not know in advance the result [of EU membership negotiations] and that’s what the president meant,”

Mr Barroso’s decision to compare a newly independent Scotland with Kosovo, has provoked outrage in Scotland with many people angry at what they see as an attempt by the EC president to influence the independence referendum.

Writing on his blog, journalist Iain Macwhirter said he had been “left speechless” by Mr Barroso’s comments.

He added: “I have nothing against the people of Kosovo – indeed, I supported military intervention to stop genocide there in 1999.

“But Kosovo is not in the European Union and has not even applied to join.  It is a small, poor country with profound ethnic divisions and serious security issues. 

“Scotland is one of the richest and most stable democracies in the European Union, has its own parliament, five world class universities, abundant natural resources and fishing grounds that the Spanish fleets have been trawling to extinction for decades.”

Other critics have highlighted the fact that Kosovo declared its own independence unilaterally without agreement, whereas Scotland will achieve its independence with the full agreement of London.

Two weeks ago, Spain’s Foreign Minister confirmed that his country had no intention of interfering in Scotland’s EU membership negotiations in the event of a Yes vote.

José-Manuel García-Margallo said: “If Scotland becomes independent in accordance with the legal and institutional procedures, it will ask for admission.  If that process has indeed been legal, that request can be considered.”

He added: “We don’t interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.  If Britain’s constitutional order allows – and it seems that it does allow – Scotland to choose independence, we have nothing to say about this.”

Newsnet Scotland understands that the EC Office of Mr Barroso has been inundated with angry emails from people demanding an explanation.

The issue has also led to criticism of BBC presenter Andrew Marr who has been accused of allowing the EC President to make his accusations and comparisons without challenge.  On his Sunday Show, viewers saw Mr Marr appear to prompt his guest with leading questions and fail to mount even the most basic challenge to some of Mr Barroso’s claims.

Speaking at an event on Monday, First Minister Alex Salmond dismissed Mr Barroso’s suggestion that EU membership for Scotland would be all but impossible.

Mr Salmond, whose party say they will be able to negotiate a continuation of their existing membership in the eighteen months after a Yes vote, said the EC President’s comments went against the democratic and inclusive spirit of the European Union.