By a Newsnet reporter
Politicians and EU experts have joined in condemnation of EC President Jose Manuel Barroso after the official compared Scotland to Kosovo and claimed it would be all but impossible for the country to gain its EU membership in the event of a Yes vote.
Since giving an interview to the BBC, the former Portuguese politician has become a poster-boy for Scottish Unionists who have welcomed his attacks on the Scottish Government’s EU membership plans.
However Mr Barroso has come under increasing pressure to withdraw his remarks which have been described as “innacurate” and “absurd”, with suggestions that the EC President may have been “misled”.
Speaking to the Daily Record, former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish accused Mr Barroso of having made a “monumental blunder” when he made his comments on the BBC on Sunday.
The EC President claimed that any attempt by a newly independent Scotland to negotiate a continuation of its EU membership following a Yes vote would be “very difficult, if not impossible”. Mr Barroso also compared Scotland to Kosovo and suggested Spain would block any EU bid.
However within 24 hours of making the Kosovo claim, Mr Barroso began to backtrack saying it was not meant to be an exact comparison and that he was not trying to influence Scotland’s independence debate.
Despite his clarification comments, the EC President has continued to face criticism for what many believe was a clumsy attempt to help those who oppose independence.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Henry McLeish said: “Manuel Barroso has made a monumental blunder in his remarks about Scotland and membership of the EU.
“He has either been misled into making such inaccurate comments or does not understand the context or the nature of the debate.”
The former Labour First Minister added: “It is clear that if Scotland becomes independent then an application to join the EU will be straightforward.
“Membership of the EU will not present significant difficulties.”
Following the intervention from the former Labour First Minister, Tory MEP for North West England, Sajjad H Karim, who is a Legal Affairs Spokesman for the Conservative Party in Europe, on the issue of Scotland in the EU also questioned Mr Barroso’s claims, tweeting:
@SHKMEP: # scotland referendum borosso statement more bark than bite? Wld cmmsn not fall on Spanish to allow Scots in? No EU leadership No backbone.
@SHKMEP: rather deal with actualities. Cmmssn record is nt brilliant on such issues. Btw I hope scot vote to remain in.
Academics and experts lined up to ridicule the EC President:
- Ex-European Court judge Sir David Edward heaped more ridicule on Mr Barroso, branding his comments “absurd”, saying: “There would be a legal obligation to negotiate the outcome to avoid the absurdity that just at the stroke of midnight everything comes to an end.” He said.
- John Palmer, former political director of the European Policy Centre said of Mr Barroso’s comments: “The idea that the Scottish people could be ejected or indefinitely suspended from the EU for opting for national independence is laughable”
- Writing on his blog, Aberdeen University’s Professor Michael Keating said: “Barosso’s comparison of Scotland with Kosovo is utterly misplaced. … Comparing this [Kosovo] process with that of the Edinburgh Agreement, which was a model for democratic ways of dealing with the issue, is dangerous and a disservice to democracy itself. … Incidentally, Barroso has got himself tied in knots with his repeated argument that an independent Catalonia would be outside the EU.”
- James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow SE European Politics at London School of Economics, tweeted: “So, while an unprepared East Germany could join EU under special circumstances, a fully ready Scotland can’t? Ridiculous! … Barroso stance on Scotland is both wrong and an affront to democratic principles! UK accepts referendum.”
- On his blog, Neil Walker Regius Professor at Edinburgh University wrote: “Does he have a legitimate political voice in the debate? Does he speak from a position of legal authority? Or, regardless of his political or legal standing, does he simply have a good insider argument, and one that we should heed? The answer, on all three counts, would seem to be ‘no’.”
Tweeting tonight from Brussels, Scottish Environment Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Informal feedback from Member State delegations here in Brussels at Agri Council of Ministers: Barroso’s indy comments were ‘extraordinary’…”
Suggestions that Scotland would be denied EU membership were described as an “an absolute affront to democracy and to the founding principles of the EU”, by Scotland’s Deputy First minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Commenting, Central Scotland MSP Clare Adamson, who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee, said:
“As a growing number of experts have made clear, Mr Barroso’s comments at the weekend were entirely misplaced. That former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish has also spoken out is welcome confirmation of this.
“As Mr Barroso himself said, the question of Scotland’s membership of the EU as an independent state will not be a matter for the European Commission, but for the people of Scotland and other EU member states – none of whom have said they would veto Scotland’s continuing membership, because it would be against their interests to do so.
“Scotland has been in the EU for the last 40 years, already complies with the terms of membership, and is committed to a positive relationship with the EU as an independent state. It is clear that the only threat to Scotland’s membership of the EU would be a No vote and the increasingly Eurosceptic politics of Westminster – culminating in a possible in/out referendum in 2017.”
Mr Barroso’s suggestion that Spain would block Scotland’s EU membership had already been undermined when two weeks ago, Spain’s Foreign Minister confirmed that his country had no intention of interfering in Scotland’s EU membership negotiations in the event of a Yes vote.
José-Manuel García-Margallo said: “If Scotland becomes independent in accordance with the legal and institutional procedures, it will ask for admission. If that process has indeed been legal, that request can be considered.”
He added: “We don’t interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. If Britain’s constitutional order allows – and it seems that it does allow – Scotland to choose independence, we have nothing to say about this.”
The episode has also led to renewed criticism of the BBC’s coverage of referendum related issues and its role in providing such an uncritical platform for Mr Barroso.