Comments made by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso over the EU membership of an independent Scotland have resulted in an angry war of words erupting between Unionist and nationalist politicians.
Speaking in a BBC TV interview, Mr Barroso was asked what would happen if a country, “like Scotland”, chose to become independent.
Responding, the EC President said: “Look, I did not comment on specific situations of member states because I very much respect that it is their right, their sovereign right to decide about their organisation.
“Now, what I said, and it is our doctrine and it is clear since 2004 in legal terms, if one part of a country – I am not referring now to any specific one – wants to become an independent state, of course as an independent state it has to apply to the European membership according to the rules – that is obvious.”
Confirming that terms would have to be renegotiated, Mr Barroso added: “For European Union purposes, from a legal point of view, it is certainly a new state. If a country becomes independent it is a new state and has to negotiate with the EU.”
However, when pressed if negotiations would happen with Scotland remaining within the EU, the EC President refused to be specific, saying: “We are a union of states, so if there is a new state, of course, that state has to apply for membership and negotiate the conditions with other member states …”
Mr Barroso’s comments have been seized on by opponents of independence with UK Prime Minister David Cameron describing them as “very telling”.
The PM added: “The weight of evidence would seem to be that if you leave the United Kingdom, you have to reapply. That is what is being said by the commission and others. I think there is more work we could do on this.
“What I say to Alex Salmond is he in a way wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to say ‘I want to separate from the UK. I want this new future for Scotland’. But on the other hand, he doesn’t want the consequences that flow from that.
“I think it is right we are having this debate, it is right that we are having this referendum. It is frustrating that we have to wait to 2014 but at least we have a deal, so a proper debate can be held. In my view, I think these interventions from Barroso and others are proving very telling.”
The Tory PM was backed by his Better Together ally, Alistair Darling who claimed that negotiations with the EU could take an independent Scotland “years”.
Describing those who would support independence as “separatists”, the Labour MP said:
“The problem that the separatists have is not with the rest of the UK, it is with convincing all of the other member states of the EU that Scotland should be admitted to the EU and not have to join the euro.”
Leaders of the three Unionist parties at Holyrood claimed that independence could variously see borders being set up between Scotland and England, with trade being hit and the country forced to join the euro.
Also seizing on the interview, was BBC Scotland whose news reports claimed that the EC President had “confirmed” an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for membership.
In repeated news bulletins, Radio Scotland reporters Mhairi Stuart and Bill Whiteford reported: “The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has told the BBC that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership as a new state”
However, the claim that Mr Barroso’s interview was definitive confirmation that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for membership was called into question by the EC President’s spokesman who told Newsnet Scotland:
“President Barroso in his BBC Hardtalk interview set out the Commission official position – as expressed already since 2004 in answers to parliamentary questions to the European Parliament. The president made clear in the interview that he was not commenting on a specific situation.”
Asked to respond to the reports being broadcast by the BBC, the spokesman added: “I am sorry – but we are not responsible for how the BBC reports it. I can only give you the Commission’s position which is what I have done.”
Claims that Scotland would be ‘thrown out’ of the EU in the event of a democratic decision to embrace independence, were challenged by Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Insisting that there is no mechanism for stripping an existing territory of its EU membership, Ms Sturgeon said, that there was “No provision to dis-apply the EU treaties”.
The Deputy First Minister added: “We do not agree that an independent Scotland will be in the position of having to reapply for European Union membership, because there is no provision for removing EU treaties from any part of EU territory, or for removing European citizenship from the people of a country which has been in the EU for 40 years.
“We have always said that the specific terms of Scotland’s continued EU membership as an independent nation will be negotiated – but the crucial point is that these negotiations will take place from within the EU, because in the period immediately following a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum, Scotland will still be part of the UK and the EU.
“No serious person can argue that it is anything other than in the interests of the EU to keep Scotland in continuous membership, given this country’s huge natural resources in energy and other aspects which make us such a valuable European partner.”
The Scottish government is reported to be seeking urgent talks with European Commission officials in order to discuss Mr Barroso’s comments.
Mr Barroso’s interview followed false claims last week of a letter sent to the House of Commons that apparently claimed an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership. The claims, contained in an article in the Scotsman newspaper, led to feverish reporting on the part of the BBC. The newspaper subsequently issued an apology after it emerged no such letter had been sent.
This evening it emerged that a letter from Mr Barroso has now been received by the House of Lords.
It states: “The EU is founded on the Treaties which apply only to the Member States who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a Member State would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the Treaties would no longer apply to that territory.
“In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory.”
In a further twist, Newsnet Scotland understands that there is currently consideration being given to a petition demanding that the Commission clarifies the situation with regard to the European Citizenship of Scottish citizens in the event of independence.
Asked to comment on whether Scots would be stripped of their EU citizenship in the event of independence, Mr Barroso’s spokesman declined to respond.
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of pro-independence group Yes Scotland, said: “If the people of Scotland wish to remain in the EU, it is inconceivable that they would be forced to leave or that there would be any circumstances in which the EU would not want Scotland to be a member.”