By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Europe would have “everything to lose” if it immediately excluded states like Scotland from the European Union following a vote in favour of independence, according to the former chief of staff for the French Minister of European Affairs.
Yves Gounin, who worked in the role until 2012, made the comments in an article for French journal Politique Etrangere, and added that the most reasonable course of action should Scots vote for independence would be to simultaneously negotiate EU entry alongside independence talks.
Mr Gounin said: “Neither the Vienna convention of 1978, nor customary international law, nor strict application of EU law which submits new states to the ordinary accession procedure, and therefore to the veto of the member states, provide a simple solution. The specific nature of the EU and common sense argue for a negotiated solution, at all stages.
“The most reasonable solution would be to negotiate the independence simultaneously and the accession to the European Union… A negotiation of good faith would be in the interests of everyone… The legal argument from the European Commission is not disqualifying.”
The comments follow recent reports casting doubt on Scotland’s position in terms of the EU following independence. In November, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy – who is expected to take a hard line on Scottish independence ahead of a Catalan independence referendum this year – claimed that an independent Scotland would be required to apply to the EU as a new state, therefore complicating the independence separation process.
However, the comments were dismissed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said that legal advice from Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland showed there were provisions under Article 48 of the Lisbon treaty that would allow Europe’s 27 member states to agree to a simpler process for Scotland’s entry into Europe.
The SNP welcome the latest comments on the legal wrangle.
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, who is also the Convener of the European and External Affairs Committee, said: “This is an excellent contribution by Yves Gounin – more expert opinion backing the common sense position for Scotland, the rest of the UK and Europe of negotiating independent Scottish membership of the EU between a Yes vote in September and independence day in 2016.
“The only threat to Scotland’s membership of the EU comes from a No vote and Westminster’s efforts to drag Scotland out of Europe in 2017 against our will. As the debate continues, the more people are recognising the value of a Yes vote and the gains of independence.”
Mr Gounin’s view has echoed comments previously expressed by Sir David Edward, who was a British judge at the European Court of Justice between 1992 and 2004, that EU talks should begin before Scotland’s official independence date.
He said: “If nothing is done by March 2016, then there is a totally unacceptable situation. All the recent discussion presupposes that nothing happens until the moment of separation. My simple argument is that is absurd.”
First Minister Alex Salmond has previously described claims of a difficult entry into Europe for an independent Scotland as “scaremongering”, and in November Mr Salmond told the Scottish Parliament that a letter from the office of the EC secretariat general stated that it would be “legally possible” to negotiate membership from within the union ahead of Scotland’s official separation.