Claims by Lib Dem peer Jim Wallace that an independent Scotland would be thrown out of the European Union have suffered a blow after a senior European Commissioner claimed that no such law existed that meant newly independent states had to leave.
In an interview given to a Spanish newspaper, Vice-President of the European Commission Viviane Reding was asked about Catalonia and whether the Vienna Convention meant that only the parent state, in this case Spain, would remain a member.
Responding, Mr Reding said the matter was one to be resolved between the Spanish and Catalan governments and added that there was no law saying that Catalonia has to leave the EU if it becomes independent.
In a series of questions, Ms Reding responded to points about Catalonia:
- Q: Catalonia is currently considering the possibility of becoming independent. But if it does so would it have to leave the EU and negotiate its entry. Besides, after it left there would be a hole in the free circulation of people and goods in the Union.
- A: I don’t want to get mixed up in affairs of Spanish politics, but I don’t think for one second that Catalonia wants to leave the EU. I’ve known the Catalans for a long time, I was one of the few non-Catalans to receive the Cruz de Sant Jordi, and I know that their sentiment is profoundly European.
- Q: No, I am not asking about the possiblity that Catalonia would not wish to be a part of the EU, but rather about the process which would open up when they cease to be so. The Convention of Vienna says: the state resulting from a mother-state will abandon all the international organisations in which the mother-state may be represented.
- A: Oh come on, international law doesn’t say anything like that. Please, resolve your internal political problems in Spain. I trust in the European mentality of the Catalans.
The comments in the Spanish newspaper Diario de Sevilla are embarrassing for Jim Wallace who, in his role as Advocate General, is supposed to give legal advice to the UK Government.
Mr Wallace, who has repeatedly claimed that an independent Scotland would not inherit membership status, has again insisted that a Yes vote would mean Scotland having to re-apply.
Speaking yesterday, Wallace said: “And the likely consequence is that Scotland would have to apply to join the EU. If it joined the EU, it would do so on terms, and it is those terms which would create considerable uncertainty about the future of Scotland outside the UK.”
According to the former Lib Dem MSP, the break-up of the former Soviet Union is ‘proof’ that the rest of the UK would continue its membership, with an independent Scotland being forced to re-apply.
However, in the context of decolonialisation, international law only makes reference to colonies not being subject to the treaty obligations of their former coloniser. As neither Scotland nor Catalonia are colonies, but rather integral parts of the UK and Spain respectively, this provision does not apply.
Given the means used in order to create the former USSR, it is unlikely this will be seen by experts as a valid precedent, especially since many of the former Soviet republics, such as the newly independent Baltic states, regarded themselves as successors to formerly independent states illegally incorporated into the USSR by force.
Ms Reding’s remarks undermine the claims by the anti-independence campaign which has repeatedly asserted that a Yes vote would mean Scotland being forced out of the EU.
Responding to questions from Newsnet Scotland, a senior spokesperson from the European Commission repeated earlier assertions that it was up to existing member states to deal with the situation themselves.
In a statement that appeared to suggest an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be treated equally, the spokesperson said: “The Commission and the President have made it clear that it is for each Member State to deal with these discussions on the basis of their own legal order or political situation.”
He added: “As you are fully aware the terms and result of any future referendum in Scotland are unknown, as is the nature of the possible future relationships between the parties concerned and between those parties and European Union partners. Until such issues are clear, the Commission does not intend to take a position.”
Commenting, SNP Roderick Campbell – who sits on the European and External Relations Committee – said:
“Viviane Reding’s comments in relation to Catalonia are an important confirmation of the fact that there is simply no provision for an independent Scotland to be removed from the EU.
“Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – there is no procedure for either of these circumstances to change upon independence, and the rest of the UK will be exactly the same position.
“We will both be successor states, with exactly the same status within the EU, and we will both continue to use the pound.
“Instead of scaremongering about an independent Scotland, Lord Wallace would be far better trying to explain why he believes it is better for decisions affecting Scotland to be made by a Tory-led government that has been comprehensively rejected by the people of Scotland.”