The good thing about forcing an issue is that you find out who your friends are. Mariano Rajoy appears to be using us as a way of beating his own people with self government aspirations in Catalonia and is relying on the agreed line that Brussels doesn’t want people who vote against the big states. And it is now painfully obvious that the European Union which has enjoyed sustained popularity in Scotland is not among them either. The wilful silence of the institutions on the real legal situation of an independent Scotland is threatening to become a cause celebre of failed democracy and contempt for the rights of European citizens.
Journalists in Brussels were first told after the SNP election win that there would be no statements from the Commission on possible future arrangements because that would be a form on interference in the domestic affairs of a Member State.
It soon became unavoidable though when the pro-EU nationalists declared a smooth transfer to full membership and those same journalists kept on asking the question.
The Commission couldn’t hold the line and had to say something to satisfy demand but as the natural ally of the Member States who are after all the club membership, it couldn’t indicate anything that would contradict the governmental view. Then in September last year after meeting Mario Monti, then the Italian Prime Minister in Rome, Jose Manuel Barroso tried to ride two horses at once, claiming he wouldn’t speak out but then did.
“ I am not going to speculate now about possible secessions, it is not my job. But I can tell you that to join the European Union, yes, we have a procedure. It is a procedure of international law,” he said.
“A state has to be a democracy first of all, and that state has to apply to become a member of the European Union and all the other member states have to give their consent.”
Pressed on whether all new countries were regarded as new states by the EU, Barroso said: “A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member like any state. In fact, I see no country leaving and I see many countries wanting to join.”
Clear? Yes, to every Unionist desperate to hear their country would be thrown out of the club of nations but to Brussels observers who read the spaces between the words, no, definitely not clear. He was speaking about existing EU rules for admitting new applicant states whereas the Scotland question relates to part of a state already in membership. No rules cover that eventuality but as the boss, he could hardly admit it, could he? Some observers think it significant that he was meeting Monti because the troublesome Lega Nord in the north of Italy is agitating for greater powers and their members include secessionists. This pattern is repeated in other countries where sub-state demands threaten the hegemony of the big states – an historically established phenomenon which the EU has markedly failed to recognize and react to, resulting in a mushrooming problem across the continent, one Scotland is currently leading.
So this isn’t just a matter of EU rules and what Barroso calls vaguely “international law”, it is also very much a matter of internal EU politics in which the role of the leadership is to represent the interests of the governments.
Simultaneously though the myriad lawyers of the EU were working away on what might actually happen if the Scots defied the choreographed warnings and voted yes. For these purposes they did not begin with the fundamentalist position that part of a member state voting to extricate itself from a larger entity while remaining committed to Europe would automatically be rejecting continued membership. First, there is nothing in the treaties to indicate that course of action and nothing to say how a country or part of a country could be ejected against its will. In fact leaving the EU voluntarily is now allowed by treaty but they don’t make it easy. You must negotiate withdrawal and it’s subject to a vote in the Parliament. As the former EU judge Sir David Edward says it is question of negotiating an amendment to the treaties to form the basis of Scotland’s continuing membership, a point recently confirmed by a Commission official, Mario-Paulo Tenreiro, as reported by Newsnet. He said Scotland can legally negotiate a continuation of its current membership from within the European Union following a Yes vote.
The orthodoxy also assumes that you go to the end of a queue of applicant countries who are only in a queue because they are converging their systems of government to comply with the EU requirements, while in Scotland’s case that happened 40 years ago. If there was a way of removing Scotland from membership – without any objection from any of the 28 states, including the rUK with whom Scotland will be negotiating at the time – what would happen to the transfer of funds? Would Scotland get its money back? Would all programmes with EU funding stop overnight….for example on business and innovation alone there are currently 44 successful applications across the highlands and island and the lowlands and uplands worth £23m. Do they just stop…do European students pack up and go…farmers hand back subsidies…companies get blocked from the single market? And, if the rUK remains in, there will be no freedom of movement between England and Scotland and, of course, Ireland.
If this fantasy of confusion ever happened what do you think would be the stock of the EU in the eyes, not just of the Scots, but of the world? An organization already notorious for its complex undemocratic institutions would be a laughing stock. I doubt if any Scot would bother applying to their Heath Robinson club after such an insult.
Which is why the little piece of analysis by Professor Robert Wright in today’s Scotsman
(see the bottom of the item) is laughably simplistic. The idea that there are strict rules covering Scotland’s case and they would be ruthlessly enforced even when it was counter productive to do so shows a lack of understanding of the pragmatism on which the EU thrives.
Wright takes the Old Guard view that Scotland has nothing to offer Europe. What an astonishing statement by an academic because, as Murray Pittock points out in the Herald, Scotland has a world-leading position in university provision and is third in the world in terms of influence of its research. And how do you grow your economy? By producing graduates who drive the next stage of development.
Put to one side the growing importance of renewables (25 per cent of EU tidal power) to Europe and the status of largest oil producing nation, does he think there is no interest in Spain in our fisheries? Clearly not. Whereas, in fact, it is a key reason why Spain will think long and hard about any attempt to exclude Scotland because it would cause riots among its own fleet, the largest in the EU, which uses quotas in Scottish waters off both coasts. On a wider scale, the whole thrust of the EU – its very DNA – is expansion and inclusion which any move to deny Scotland would flatly contradict, causing internal EU division and global scorn. Also would Washington happily see Scotland excluded when it is desperate not only to deal with Edinburgh as a partner but to have Scotland in NATO? Any rejection by Brussels would precipitate a backlash that could mean us staying out of EU influence with a knock-on effect on NATO membership and public demands for immediate Trident removal.
Professor Wright seems to think the EU rules are hard and fast so Scotland will join the Euro because it won’t have an opt-out. Yet only 17 out of 28 EU nations are in the currency and only three have opt-outs. He is a professor of economics who can’t count. Nobody is forced to join the Euro. Again there is no such demand on membership, simply an acknowledgement that it is an EU aim.
He ends with the common presumption – that Spain, or anyone else, will have a veto. Which brings me back to the work of those lawyers in Brussels. They know the veto offers potentially a threat but it only apples to new member states. If Scotland’s accession is presented as something other than enlargement, the lawyers say the veto need not apply. Can they get round the rules? Well they did when 16 million generally impoverished East Germans joined the EU in one of the biggest “enlargements” in EU history. They got round the problems associated with so many new citizens with genuine needs by allowing them entry under the existing West German Republic which was renamed Germany. So, despite a massive influx, as if by magic, no enlargement. Or look at Kosovo which still isn’t recognized as a legitimate democratic state by some EU countries. It is negotiating its way in to the EU and has active encouragement from the institutions which have a permanent presence in the country. Only this month EU prosecutors indicted 15 former rebels for war crimes, some of them from the party of the prime minister Hashim Thaci, in a sign of how raw the brutal past still is. Kosovo is being nursed to meet basic standards including the critical rule of law to prepare it for joining. Compare that picture with modern, democratic, peaceful, uncorrupt, trouble-free wealthy, already-a-member Scotland. Would any organization gently nurture such a fragile fledgling as Kosovo and yet reject Scotland, brimming with rude democratic health?
The arguments against Scotland come down to politicking on one hand and strict reading of rules on the other as if there were no alternatives. I’m told the EU lawyers have found a formulation to aid Scotland’s accession but the reason we won’t hear it is that there is a contrived campaign to deny the Scots the information they need. Brussels would prefer a No vote, so would the members of the European club and we know London’s view. As a result, the EU institutions, aided by our own taxpayer-funded MEPs and assorted Unionists, are determined you won’t know the truth before you vote. This week a Commission spokesman confirmed the view that they will inform London as Member State if it presents a “precise scenario” which means in effect Scotland voting yes and London accepting the decision as per the Edinburgh Agreement. I expect little better from the champions of limp democracy in London and their Scottish allies who refuse to ask Brussels for clarification which the Commission has promised to deliver if asked. But senior EU officials are now deliberately pretending not to hear a Member State Prime Minister make public assertions about another Member’s domestic affairs. For the EU itself to remain quiet against the interests of its own citizens is threatening to become a symbol of all that is wrong with the great project launched in the post war period by Schumann and Monnet as a vehicle for peace and prosperity in a rebuilt Europe. To knowingly deny its own citizens the information that already exits to make an informed democratic choice is a denial of democracy itself. I’ve been pro-European all my adult life and, although I favour reform, I have remained committed in the belief that it offered a better vision than the British state…until now. Even if this produces a negative outcome for the Yes campaign, we have a right to know how the EU would treat us before we vote. To find Brussels now conniving with London against the interests of the Scots is transmitting the clearest signal that not all Europe’s citizens are equal.