Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney has described claims by EC President José Manuel Barroso as having “no foundation” after the latter suggested a newly independent Scotland would be expelled from the European Union and forced to re-apply.
Mr Swinney was appearing in front of a House of Lords Economic Committee when he was asked about comments made by the EC President in an interview for the BBC.
Responding, the SNP Minister said that he believed that Mr Barroso was simply wrong when he said that states who were already members of the EU would have to re-apply for membership if they chose to become independent.
Asked by a Committee member to explain his reasoning, Mr Swinney replied: “There are a variety of expressions of legal opinion, there was one just the other day there which was expressed by the professor of law for the University Glasgow who made the point in a broadcast interview.
“Prof Tom Mullin says there is no specific provision in the treaty that expressly deals with the situation of a member state breaking up and both parts wanting to stay in and that confirms the view that I am taking.”
Pressed on whether he could maintain such a position in light of an official letter from the EC President in which he repeated the claims, Mr Swinney added: “Yes, because I think the point which the committee should be very interested in is the fact there is no foundation in treaty for the comment Mr Barroso has made in that letter.”
In the BBC interview, José Manuel Barroso had insisted that any territory that chose to become an independent state would be forced to re-apply for EU membership.
In his letter to the Committee, the EC President repeated the claim, writing: “The EU is founded on the treaties which apply only to the member states who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a member state would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the treaties would no longer apply to that territory.
“In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the treaties would no longer apply on its territory.”
However, the Scottish Minister expressed bewilderment in Mr Barroso’s contention and said of the letter:
“I can’t see where that comes from.
“It’s very interesting in the presentation of the letter that President Barroso gives a very clear treaty reference to countries that apply to become a member of the EU, Article 49, and I completely accept that treaty reference.
“But in the following paragraph, which I agree is a very significant paragraph, there is not a treaty reference because there cannot be any treaty reference because such provisions do not exist.”
Mr Swinney questioned the wisdom of Mr Barroso’s decision to make general comments in the media, after his office had insisted it would respond only to member states.
He said: “The EC has been saying for some time that they would only ever comment on a specific scenario if asked to do so by a member state, and the UK government has indicated that it is not prepared to do so.
“What President Barroso has described throughout his media interviews on this question, and he also makes the point in his letter, whilst refraining from commenting on possible future scenarios, without commenting on a specific scenario, President Barroso is making a general observation.
“In making these remarks he may have inadvertently created a specificity about it.”
Constitutional experts have challenged Mr Barroso’s opinion, insisting that there are no provisions in EU regulations for expelling existing members.
Speaking on BBC Scotland on Monday evening, Professor Drew Scott accused the EC President of having exceeding his competence by suggesting that a newly independent Scotland, already an EU member, would be forced out of the EU.
Professor Scott insisted that any decision would affect the EU citizenship of Scots and as such, an attempt to expel Scotland and strip that citizenship from the Scottish people would end up in the European Court of Justice.
He added: “So Mr Barroso has not got the power to make this ruling. It’s his opinion and he will, no doubt, advise member states.
“But what I find peculiar is that we all accept … there is no provision in the EU treaty for this, therefore there is no law and it strikes me that Mr Barroso is actually making the law as he goes along and that’s a rather debatable way to proceed”
There are suspicions that Mr Barroso’s intervention into the Scottish independence debate comes as a result of pressure from Madrid and London. The fears follow a recent episode that witnessed Mr Barroso’s office issue false statements of denial after Spanish newspapers reported his Vice President Viviane Reding as having dismissed claims that an independent Catalonia would be expelled from the EU.
In an interview in October this year, responding to suggestions that international law meant a newly independent Catalonia would be expelled from the EU, Ms Reding was dismissive and insisted that international law said no such thing.
The comment by Ms Reding led to official statements from Mr Barroso’s office denying his Vice President had made the comments. However Newsnet Scotland was able to obtain a recording of the interview that proved the statement had indeed been made.
The episode led to suspicions that Madrid had applied pressure on Mr Barroso’s office. Sadly, despite coverage of the epsode reaching major Spanish newspapers, the Scottish media* ignored the story.
*Our story was eventually reported by BBC Scotland’s Derek Bateman two weeks after we revealed that Mr Barroso’s office had been issuing false denials. However the recording of the comments by Ms Reding, which would appear to support the claims by the Scottish government, have not receved the same coverage from our national broadcaster.