By Lynda Williamson
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is to address an invited audience of European Policy Centre Members on Tuesday 26th February during a visit to Brussels.
In this, her first speech in Brussels on the issue of constitutional reform, Ms Sturgeon is expected to stress the Scottish government’s commitment to the EU and discuss the process by which an independent Scotland would take its place as a full member, saying that:
“Scotland is a nation which is already an integral part of the European family – something we have committed to continue in an independent Scotland.”
She will go on to argue that:
“Our ties with our neighbours and friends across Europe are very important to us. That is why, after independence, we intend to remain as citizens of the European Union. Scottish membership will be good for us, good for other nations and good for Europe as a whole”
In the speech the Deputy First Minister will attempt to allay fears, planted by those opposed to independence, that continued membership of the EU following a ‘Yes’ vote, would be problematic, by stating that:
“Scotland will start negotiations in autumn 2014 as a nation whose people are already EU citizens and as a nation whose membership would therefore require minimal change to existing arrangements. Our intention to remain outside Schengen, retain the pound and keep Scotland’s share of the UK rebate will simply be a confirmation of the status quo in terms of our relationship with the EU.”
She is also expected to re-affirm the SNP’s commitment to the European Union by stressing that Scotland is keen to become, “an equal partner in the EU – recognising its benefits, participating in dialogue about its future and contributing to its development and growth. But crucially, for the first time ever, with our own voice and a seat at the top table.”
The European Policy Centre is a not-for-profit think tank which is committed to European integration. It describes itself as being “…at the cutting edge of EU affairs”. More than 400 different organisations are members and the audience which the Deputy First Minister will address is expected to include representatives from the EU Commission as well as Permanent Representatives of the EU and the European Parliament.
However the Scottish Labour party has criticised the Deputy First Minister’s decision to visit Brussels. Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Labour whip James Kelly said: “The minister – should be at home trying to create jobs for the 11,000 Scots no longer in work. Europe for the SNP is the hole Nicola can’t stop digging and she would be better getting on with the day job.”
The issue of Scotland’s continued membership of the EU after independence has been a contentious one. The governing body of the EU, the European Commission, has made clear that it will only comment if asked to do so by a current member state.
EC President Jose Manuel Barroso has refused to answer on the specific scenario of a newly independent Scotland. In his most recent statement when asked, Mr Barroso said: “The Commission would express its opinion on the legal consequences under EU law upon request from a Member State detailing a precise scenario.”
The Scottish Government although not entitled to seek clarification directly, has offered to make a joint approach with the UK government which, as the member state, can ask for clarification. However thus far, the UK government has refused to do so claiming that it will not “pre-negotiate terms” ahead of the referendum.
Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore has claimed that an independent Scotland would find itself expelled from the EU and forced to re-apply. Speaking last month, the Lib Dem MP said: “Scotland would be outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”.
However this claim has been rubbished by others who have pointed out that there currently exists within the EU no mechanism that would see a newly independent Scotland thrown out.
Commenting last year, European Vice President Viviane Reding insisted that there existed no international law that would see newly independent states being expelled from the EU.
Last month Ireland’s European Minister Lucinda Creighton said that she agreed with the SNP’s view that Scotland would be able to renegotiate its EU membership from within the EU after a Yes vote.
In a recent statement to Newsnet Scotland, the Minister, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said that the view expressed by the SNP that membership negotiations would take place between the period of a yes vote in 2014 and independence being officially ratified in 2016, while Scotland was still a member: “sums up the situation quite well”.
The issue divides experts, however there is a growing sentiment amongst most that post referendum negotiations would not be problematic and that the political will would ensure a reasonably smooth transition which would allow Scotland’s continued EU membership after independence.