Sunday 4 November 2012

Scotland and the EU

There has recently been yet another flurry of media comment about whether an independent Scotland would or would not be an automatic member of the EU.  Leading to headlines along the lines of Further Blow for Salmond over Europe.  The sole source for all this shindig seems to be a letter from Viviane Reding from the European Commission.  This letter was in response to a question from Iñigo Mendez de Vigo, the European Affairs Minister in the Spanish government about independence for Catalunya.   Reding's letter is very brief and merely states that she agrees with de Vigo's interpretation of what the current EU treaties mean in the case of a unilateral declaration of independence.  De Vigo claims that in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence, Catalunya's independence would not be recognised by the EU.  You can read her letter and the original request from De Vigo, here, in Spanish.  It is also worth pointing out that the European Commission has since the publication of Reding's letter officially stated that the Commission has not issued any formal statement about the independence of a part of a member state.  Furthermore the Commission would only do this in response to a formal request from a member state in which the precise constitutional framework for such independence was clearly laid.  Also worth noting that the Spanish government has confirmed that it will not be requesting such a ruling.  Now as observant readers will have noticed De Vigo's claim, even if true, has nothing whatsoever to do with Scottish independence.  This eventuality will come about as the result of an agreed, legal process as established in the recent Edinburgh Agreement.  The UK government has stated that it will respect the result of the independence referendum in 2014.  All of which rather begs the question of why our media were so keen to misrepresent the context of Reding's letter.   Can the Unionists be so desperate that they need to resort to this blatant lying?

As regards Scotland, the process and legal framework for independence is quite clear.  First,  there will be the referendum, in 2014.  Now despite the impression that some commentators want to make, even if we vote Yes in 2014, Scotland will not become an independent state the following day.  A Yes vote merely signals the beginning of the serious, detailed negotiations that will lead to full independence.  These negotiations are likely to take between one to two years to complete.  The negotiations will cover everything that needs to be in place on the exact moment when Scotland does become independent.  These negotiations will be primarily between the Scottish and UK governments, but some third parties will be involved, the UN, WHO and of course most important of all, the EU.  As part of the independence negotiations, Scotland, the UK and the EU will have to work out the details of Scotland's representation within the EU.  These negotiations will also at the same time have to work out the details of the representation of the rest of the UK within the EU.  So the Westminster government will have every incentive to ensure that these particular negotiations reach a successful conclusion.  While the details of Scotland's membership of the EU will therefore have to be negotiated, at no stage in this process will Scotland have ceased to be a member of the EU.  For the simple reason that during this period Scotland will still be part of the UK.  It is only if no agreement with the EU was reached would we face the prospect of Scotland being denied membership of the EU.  In which case somebody should be asked to produce valid legal opinion on exactly how the EU could legally deny Scotland membership.  For a fuller and more detailed analysis of the procedure for an independent Scotland to become a member of the EU, Graham Avery has provided us with a succinct and learned outline of the key issues, which you can read here.  This is his submission to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee's hearings on The foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland.

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