February 16, 2014 12:41 pm

EU Commission president says Scotland membership not automatic

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European Commission President Jose Manue...European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso adresses the assembly on October 23, 2013, in preparation of the next European Council meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. AFP PHOTO/FREDERICK FLORINFREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images©AFP

José Manuel Barroso

Scotland’s independence campaign was dealt a blow when José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

His comments marked a dramatic toughening of the commission’s language on EU membership for an independent Scotland. Pro-union campaigners immediately hailed it as a blow to the claims of the ruling Scottish National party that Edinburgh would be able to negotiate seamless membership of the EU.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Barroso said he did not want to intervene in a decision that was for the Scottish and British people. But he stressed that leaving the UK would create an unprecedented situation for the EU and Scotland would struggle to win the necessary backing of every existing member.

“It would be extremely difficult to get approval of all the other states to have a new member coming from one member state,” Mr Barroso said.

His comments come just days after the chancellor, backed by the UK’s two other biggest parties, said he would reject Scottish government plans to retain shared use of the pound and the Bank of England in the event that Scotland votes to end its three-century-old political union with England.

Mr Barroso’s comments are not a definitive judgement on the issue of EU membership, since the union’s response to Scottish independence would be decided by member nations rather than the commission.

The president also did not comment on the legal and political implications of denying EU membership to Scotland, which would be likely to have far-reaching effect on EU citizens studying, working or doing business there.

The comments from Mr Barroso, who had previously made clear he thought an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership as a “new nation” but had not suggested such an application might be rejected, adds to pressure on the SNP.

“We have seen that Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance,” said Mr Barroso, whose mandate as head of the Brussels executive ends in October. “It’s to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.”

However, John Swinney, Scotland’s finance minister, said Mr Barroso’s comments were “preposterous”.

Citing an interview with the FT, Mr Swinney said there was no evidence any member state would veto Scotland’s membership, including Spain.

“The Spanish foreign minister said if there is an agreed process within the United Kingdom by which Scotland becomes an independent country then Spain has nothing to say about the whole issue,” he said.

“That indicates to me quite clearly that the Spanish government will have no stance to take on the question of Scottish membership of the European Union.”

Spanish officials have highlighted the fact that the UK has said it would give its blessing to Scottish independence if the nationalists win September’s referendum, a situation in sharp contrast with Spain and Catalonia’s independence campaign and with Kosovo’s exit from Serbia.

José-Manuel García-Margallo, Spain’s foreign minister, told the FT that Madrid had no intention of interfering in Scotland’s push for independence and was willing to consider an eventual Scottish application to join the EU as a separate state.

Sir David Edward, British judge at the European Court of Justice from 1992 to 2004, has said that EU states and institutions would be legally obliged to launch negotiations on Scotland’s status if nationalists win the September 18 referendum on independence from the UK.

Talks could not be delayed until after Scotland’s separation from the UK because this would lead to the “totally unacceptable situation” of a part of the EU being plunged into legal limbo, Sir David told the FT last year.

George Osborne, UK chancellor last week turned the screws on SNP plans for a post-independence currency union with London, warning Scotland’s voters they cannot keep the pound if they choose to end the union with England.

Launching a combined effort with the UK’s two other biggest parties to destroy a pillar in the SNP’s economic vision, the chancellor said a formal currency union with an independent Scotland could not be made to work.

Alistair Darling, former UK chancellor and head of the pro-union Better Together campaign, said Mr Barroso’s intervention was “devastating”.

“[Scotland’s First Minister] Alex Salmond is a man without a plan on currency and Europe. The wheels are falling off the independence wagon,” Mr Darling said.


Letters in response to this report:

Barroso spoke out of turn on Scotland’s choice / From Mr Xavier Comas

Barroso’s Scotland warning typifies EU arrogance / From Mr Alan Grieve

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