Here at Liberal Democrat Voice, I have occasionally drawn the attention of readers towards the Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs and its inquiry into the economic implications for the United Kingdom of Scottish independence. And this week, the Committee appears to have obtained an answer to a question which has hung heavy over the debate until now, i.e. would an independent Scotland automatically become part of the European Union.
In response to an invitation from the acting Chair of the Committee, Lord Tugendhat (a former two-term European Commissioner), Jose Manuel Barroso wrote;
Whilst refraining from comment on possible future scenarios, the European Commission has expressed its views in general in response to several parliamentary questions from Members of the European Parliament. In these replies the European Commission has noted that scenarios such as the separation of one part of a Member State or the creation of a new state would not be neutral as regards the EU Treaties. The European Commission would express its opinion on the legal consequences under EU law upon request from a Member State detailing a precise scenario.
The EU is founded on the Treaties which apply only to the Member States who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a Member State would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the Treaties would no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory.
Under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU. If the application is accepted by the Council acting unanimously, an agreement is then negotiated between the applicant state and the Member States on the conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties which such admission entails. This agreement is subject to ratification by all Member States and the applicant state.
This would appear to make clear that Scotland would;
In response, Nicola Sturgeon said;
We do not agree that an independent Scotland will be in the position of having to reapply for European Union membership, because there is no provision for removing EU treaties from any part of EU territory, or for removing European citizenship from the people of a country which has been in the EU for 40 years.
We have always said that the specific terms of Scotland’s continued EU membership as an independent nation will be negotiated – but the crucial point is that these negotiations will take place from within the EU, because in the period immediately following a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum, Scotland will still be part of the UK and the EU.
But without doubt, Mr Barroso’s intervention is, to put it mildly, unhelpful to the Yes Campaign, especially given that polls show that Scots voters are yet to be convinced of the worth of the case. Without certainty over retention of the pound and membership of the European Union, their efforts are going to have to be redoubled to make the case.
* Mark Valladares is a member of ALDE Party Council and takes up his role as a member of the International Relations Committee on 1 January 2015