Bildt warns of British ‘Balkanisation’

Swedish foreign minister enters Scots independence debate

Swedish foreign minister and ex-UN special envoy to Balkans Carl Bildt

Sweden’s foreign minister has warned that Scottish independence would lead to the “Balkanisation of the British Isles” and have far-reaching consequences for the rest of Europe, in the strongest expression of concern from another EU government so far.

Carl Bildt told the Financial Times that there would be “unforeseen chain reactions” in both Europe and the UK if Scotland were to vote for independence on September 18.

“I think it’s going to have far more profound implications than people think. The Balkanisation of the British Isles is something we are not looking forward to,” said Mr Bildt, who was the UN’s special envoy to the Balkans between 1999 and 2001.

“It opens up a lot, primarily in Scotland but also in the UK. What are the implications for the Irish question? What happens in Ulster?”

His comments echo warnings from Lord Robertson, the former secretary-general of Nato, who raised eyebrows in Scotland in April when he said a Yes vote in September’s referendum would be “cataclysmic in geopolitical terms” and could lead to “Balkanisation” across Europe.

Mr Bildt said a yes victory would start a turbulent process in which the smaller “rump” of the UK would probably have to renegotiate some of its own EU membership terms.

“The vote is one thing. But there will then be a fairly painful period of separation and how is that going to affect the EU relationship? I assume there will have to be renegotiation of votes,” he said.

Officials also fear that issues such as the UK’s rebate from the EU budget could be debated anew in case of a Scottish yes.

Sweden is one of the UK’s closest allies in Europe and its centre-right government, led by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, has struck up a close relationship with David Cameron’s Conservatives.

Mr Bildt, a former prime minister and one of the EU’s most respected and influential foreign ministers, also warned of the dangers of the UK leaving the EU in a referendum that Mr Cameron has promised to hold by 2017.

“If we were to lose the UK it would be a significant setback. The EU would lose a significant element of global clout. It would be an even bigger disaster for the UK.”

The UK would be seen as “an island adrift in the Atlantic”, Mr Bildt said.

Mr Reinfeldt is set to hold a mini-summit of northern liberal leaders early next month to discuss the division of top jobs in the EU. As well as Mr Cameron, Germany’s Angela Merkel and the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte have been invited. But both Swedish and UK officials privately worry that the UK’s rhetoric on the EU is already affecting its ability to influence the debate.

He added that the referendums over Scotland and the EU in the UK showed that the debate in Europe was moving away from how to handle the eurozone crisis to a more political phase. “The main challenges in the past five years have been economic ones. Looking ahead for the next five years, it is political challenges in the east fairly obviously and also in the west fairly obviously,” he said.


Letter in response to this report:

If Scotland can secede, what’s stopping less stable states? / From Dr Gautam Pingle

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