García-Margallo’s EU comments give no comfort to anti-independence campaign


  By a Newsnet reporter

In a debate in the Spanish Parliament, the Cortes, in Madrid on Wednesday, Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo made remarks about Scotland’s possible future within the EU.  The foreign minister’s comments were immediately siezed on by anti-independence campaigners as “proof” that Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership.

Replying to a question from PNV (Partido Nacional Vasco – Basque National Party) representative Iñaki Anasagasti on the opinion of the Spanish government on the agreement reached between Holyrood and Westminster on the independence referendum, Mr García-Margallo asserted that if the independence option triumphs in 2014, the “territory” would be “automatically be left outside the EU” and “would have to put itself at the end of the queue” if it wanted to rejoin the European club.   

Its future entry into the EU, in the opinion of the foreign minister, would be subject to approval by all member states in a unanimous vote, who would first vote to approve Scotland’s status as a candidate, then each act of adhesion would be negotiated, which would have to be ratifed later.  

The minister made no comment on how Spain would vote in any such negotiations, although he has previously stated that the Spanish government would have no problem with the independence of any country which was negotiated and was not a unilateral declaration.  

More tellingly, neither did Mr García-Margallo make any mention of the status of the rump-UK, which the Scottish government holds would be in exactly the same legal position as Scotland with respect to the EU.  Scotland did not sign the EU accession treaties, but if Scotland has to leave the EU and reapply as a new candidate member, then so would the rump-UK, as it didn’t sign the EU accession treaties either.  

This opinion was expressed by an anonymous Labour Lord Chancellor, speaking privately to former Conservative cabinet minister Norman Tebbit and reported in Mr Tebbit’s Telegraph blog in February 2012.  Mr Tebbit wrote:

“When I asked a former (Labour) Lord Chancellor if that would mean that the new state of Scotland would need to apply for EU membership, if that was its wish, he said he thought that would be so. Then after a moment’s thought he said: ‘But what about the new state of England, Northern Ireland and Wales? Would we remain members? After all our new state would not have been a party to the Treaty either.'”

Like Mr Tebbit, Mr García-Margallo also apparently recognises that the Kingdoms of Scotland and England would be in the same position with respect to the EU if Scotland were to become independent, although in deference to Westminster’s sensitivities during a time of Spanish economic crisis has not said so explicitly.  Indeed, Madrid must adhere to this position if it is to maintain its legal argument against Catalan independence.

Speaking in San Sebastian-Donostia on Tuesday last week during a meeting with Carlos Urquijo, the Spanish government’s representative in the Basque Country,  Mr García-Margallo said:  

“Every country has its own different constitutional order and different history and in [the case of] Scotland, the creation of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, was born as a consequence of the union of two kingdoms, that of Scotland and that of England.”

He added: “The British constitutional order foresees a referendum of this type, something which does not occur in any other country of the European Union.”  

This accords with the Scottish government position that the UK was formed in 1707 by the union of the parliaments of Scotland and England (Wales was legally a part of England in 1707, and Ireland was a crown possession).  With a Yes vote in the independence referendum, Scotland and England would revert to their legal position prior to 1707.  Both would equally be successor states to the UK in the same way that both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are successor states to the former Czechoslovakia.  

The remarks of the Spanish foreign minister must be understood within the context of the increasingly bitter and shrill war of words mounted by the Madrid government against the Catalan government, which has announced its intention to hold an independence referendum within the next 4 years.  

Mr García-Margallo was seeking to assert that the Spanish constitution, which declares that Spain is one indivisible nation, overrides the right of Catalonia to independence.  There is considerable interest in Catalonia on developments within Scotland, and Mr García-Margallo remarks were aimed at discouraging the Catalans from taking inspiration in the Scottish example. 

Earlier this week, he warned the Catalan government that an independence referendum like that planned in Scotland in 2014 “is not possible within the Spanish constitutional order”.

The remarks follow revelations last week that EC Officials had been sending out false statements relating to an interview in a Spanish newspaper by EC Vice President Viviane Reding.  Ms Reding, asked if Catalonia would be expelled from the EU should it opt for independence replied that there was no such international law requiring such a move.

Following pressure from Madrid, Commission officials swiftly moved to deny Ms Reding’s remarks and the newspaper who published the interview issued a retraction.  However Newsnet Scotland obtained a full recording of the interview in which it was clear that Ms Reding did indeed dismiss the suggestion that international law would see an independent Catalonia expelled from the EU.

Our exposure of the false Commission statements received widespread coverage in Catalonia, in both broadcast and written media, but was ignored by the Scottish media, including the BBC who were sent a link to our article.