By a Newsnet reporter
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, has made a rare statement on EU citizenship for Scots or any other nation or region within the EU which gains independence from the state which currently governs it.
Italian federalist politician Mara Bizzotto asked Mr Barroso if “regional citizens” would immediately lose their status as EU citizens, and the resultant rights and obligations, if the “region” secedes from the member state.
In a carefully worded reply, Mr Barroso said:
“In the hypothetical event of a secession of a part of an EU Member State, the solution would have to be found and negotiated within the international legal order.”
Mr Barroso’s remarks were immediately leapt upon by Unionist politicians, who claimed that the comments exposed the Scottish Government’s claim that Scotland would automatically be accepted into the EU as “total nonsense”.
Labour MEP Catherine Stihler said: “Scotland will not automatically assume the many rights of the UK. There will have to be long, detailed negotiations with a great many bodies and institutions. The outcome of which can never be taken for granted.”
For its part, the Scottish Government maintains that there is nothing in Mr Barroso’s response that suggests that Scotland will not retain its place in the EU, and denounced the response by the anti-independence parties as “desperation”.
The EU Commission President’s remarks are similar to a response given by another EU official earlier this year when asked a similar question on EU membership of both a newly independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK. The reply strongly suggested both would be treated as equal partners in any negotiations.
The official statement said that: “the nature of the possible future relationships between the parties concerned and between those parties and European Union partners” were not yet known, and confirmed that: “the terms of any European Union Treaty are decided by the Member States of the European Union”.
Should Mr Barroso’s comments mean that the new entities would have to renegotiate terms of membership, then the rUK would also find itself in the same position as newly independent Scotland, but without many of the negotiating advantages such as oil, gas, renewable energy and of course fishing.
The view that re-negotiations would also include England along with Wales and Northern Ireland would was expressed in a private conversation between a former Labour Lord Chancellor and former Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit.
According to Mr Tebbit, writing in his Telegraph blog in February 2012, the former Lord Chancellor claimed that Scotland would have to renegotiate its membership terms with the rest of the EU, but added:
“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.”
According to a report in the Scotsman the same month, this ‘equal treatment’ scenario is also the opinion of the EU’s lawyers. The EU would treat Scotland and the rump-UK equally as successor states. Both would continue as EU members, but both would have to renegotiate their terms of membership.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: “An independent Scotland will remain an integral part of the EU, and nothing in [Mr Barroso’s] answer suggests otherwise, despite the desperation of the anti-independence parties to say so.
“As many experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU. There is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence.”