By Bob Duncan
The European Commission has today confirmed that its position on an independent Scotland’s EU membership remains unchanged from previous statements, following yesterday’s comments about the possible secession of Catalunya from Spain.
The EC said that comments made yesterday had been misinterpreted by many and that they wished to make it clear that they would not interfere in the internal affairs of Member States – including on Scottish independence.
In a statement by EC spokesman Olivier Bailly, whose response to a question on Catalunya was interpreted by some as indicating an independent Scotland would not automatically be given entry, the EC’s position was clarified.
Mr Bailly said: “The position of the Commission remains unchanged and has been set out clearly, including in replies to Parliamentary Questions. In the hypothetical scenario of a part of a European Union member state wishing to leave that member state, it is first and foremost an internal matter within that Member State to define the arrangements.
“There are several theoretical scenarios envisageable under international law. The Commission cannot speculate on which choices would be retained: in any case is not our business.
“The reference to one scenario in reply to a question yesterday cannot be taken as an indication of any Commission view on which scenario might apply in any hypothetical case.”
The “unchanged position” to which Mr Bailly refers is based on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and was laid out by EC lawyers in January 2012 who said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a majority vote among member states.
At the European Council, where leaders stage decisive summits, a deal could be “done by the Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament,” said one of those lawyers.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said that as far as it was concerned the situation remained that an independent Scotland would remain an integral part of the EU, “as it has been for almost four decades, and by definition Scotland already meets all the criteria of EU membership”.
He added: “As many legal and constitutional experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – there is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence, and the rest of the UK will be exactly the same position. We will both be successor states, with exactly the same status within the EU.”
The clarification is a blow to Unionist politicians who seized on the original statement, unaware that it referred to Catalunya. However, despite Mr Bailly’s claim there had been “misinterpretation” of his comments 24 hours earlier, anti-independence campaigners continued to insist it meant Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership.
A spokesman for the Conservative-led Better Together campaign said: “Will we be a member of the EU? Will we have to scrap the pound and join the euro? Will we have to introduce border controls across the rest of the UK? These are questions that need to be answered.”
Responding to the original comments from the EU official, SNP Cabinet minister Keith Brown told BBC Radio Scotland: “It is simply our position, and it always has been, that Scotland will accede to the EU simply because we take on the same obligations and treaties that we currently have. There is no process for countries to secede from the EU, that is an established fact and nobody is saying otherwise.”
Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office has now also waded in by accusing the Scottish Government of not knowing what independence will actually mean.
A spokesman said: “The Scottish government needs to be clear on the facts of what independence actually means in practice.
“The UK government is undertaking its own detailed research into the benefits of Scotland’s place within the UK, including membership of international organisations. These conclusions will be published in due course.”
SNP MEP Alyn Smith, who is an alternate member of the European Commission’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, responded to Mr Bailly’s clarification, saying:
“The Commission has made it absolutely clear today that it will not interfere in Scotland’s independence negotiations, saying that it is an internal matter for us and that it is not the Commission’s business.
“Scotland’s membership of the EU after independence will continue; we are citizens of a Member State of the EU now and we’ll continue to be citizens of a Member State of the EU after independence.
“In 1998 the Guardian reported that ‘A spokesman for the commission in London said that Scotland could be admitted to the EU on the same day that it became independent, after completing a series of formalities.’
“That was backed up by Labour MEP David Martin who said, at a public conference we were both at, in January 2008, that the reality of the situation was that ‘a way would be found to keep Scotland in the EU’.”
Mr Smith added:
“In June of this year lawyers for the EU said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states.
“The whole point to the independence discussions is that the people of Scotland will be in charge of their own future.”