George Lyon MEP writes: Scots need guarantees on EU membership before independence referendum

As a Vice President of the European Budget Committee I am busy debating how the EU budget, or what those who stalk the corridors of Brussels call the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), will be distributed in coming years.

As an MEP for Scotland, I am also focussed on getting the best possible deal for my constituents.

With all the constraints that the current economic climate have placed on the budgets of Member States that task is hard enough.

But Scots must also consider that the next MFF, that runs from 2014-2020, will be decided in the shadow of the independence referendum. The consequences for Scotland, should it vote to leave the UK, are a key question in the debate on Scotland’s future

The mantra of SNP ministers and members alike is that “an independent Scotland would automatically be in the European Union.”

Indeed, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon uttered those very words during a BBC debate back in May.

But what is the genesis of this assertion?

It can’t be information directly from the European Commission. While Ms Sturgeon was making her case during the debate she was shown a letter from President Barroso that said the SNP government had not sought clarification over an independent Scotland’s EU status.

If not from the Commission, perhaps it is from the independent European legal experts that the First Minister claims have confirmed that an independent Scotland would remain in the EU?

Well, we can’t be sure of that as the SNP government has decided not to tell the Scottish people if it holds such advice.

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about what the advice says, but simply the fact that it exists at all. The SNP government has chosen to spend thousands of taxpayers’ money on appealing the FoI Commissioner’s order to tell us if they have sought legal advice, in an attempt to keep secret an opinion which the SNP government uses in its own defence.

It is hard for Scottish people to believe that Scotland will retain automatic membership of the EU if the SNP government can’t back up assertion with fact.

In the strongest indication of the Commission’s view stated so far, EC spokesman Olivier Bailly said:

There are two different steps, there is a secession process under international law and the request for accession to EU member state under the EU treaties. In the meantime, of course, the new treaty is not part of the EU as he has to make request for accession.

Now after claim and counter-claim on what the Commission ‘actually meant to say’, the key point was actually dealt with by the First Minister when he said:

Yes, there will have to be negotiations, the negotiations will take place from within the context of the European Union. The negotiations are about the representation Scotland will have and the rest of it.

So not the previously claimed automatic membership, but negotiated membership.

I am sure that most neutral observers will agree that those are two very different propositions that have the potential for very different outcomes.

As an MEP, I know that to most Europe seems remote, and sometimes baffling. When sitting through endless committee meetings and negotiations into the early morning I sometimes agree.

But the “rest of it” as Mr Salmond flippantly states, are some very real benefits to Scotland that must be safeguarded.

Currently, Europe provides £600 million every year for Scottish agriculture through rural development programs. Scottish fishermen receive £50million annually from European funds.

The list of projects partly funded by European monies range from renewable energy projects off the coast of Orkney and preserving the mountain path up Ben Nevis, to investing in Scotland’s colleges and universities and regenerating industrial estates in Glasgow to make them ready for commercial development.

The projects that are funded by money from Europe are important to communities across Scotland.

We need guarantees from the nationalist camp, SNP ministers included, that this funding will continue if Scotland votes to leave the UK and negotiate its own deal with European authorities.

That negotiation will also include important issues like the Schengen agreement, which could dictate an independent Scotland’s immigration policy, membership of the single currency, which has the potential to trust Scotland into the Euro, and of course whether we keep Scotland’s share of the UK rebate.

This is not ‘scaremongering’ as many in the nationalist camp claim. These are sensible, straightforward questions that many people I speak to across Scotland want answers to.

A negotiated entry to the EU leaves an independent Scotland’s future relationship with Europe, contrary to what Alex Salmond claims, not within the gift of the SNP but rather a decision that will taken by the other 27 member states subject to certain terms and conditions.

People in Scotland have the right to see the small print of those conditions before they cast their vote in the referendum.

* George Lyon is Liberal Democrat MEP for Scotland and Vice President of the European Budget Committee.

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22 Comments

  • “,,,,,,,,membership of the single currency, which has the potential to trust Scotland into the Euro, and of course whether we keep Scotland’s share of the UK rebate.”

    What’s to debate on the Euro? I thought new members had to sign up for that automatically? If so, you’re surely just negotiating a time window for entry?

    “we keep Scotland’s share of the UK rebate”
    What UK? There won’t be one will there? Surely it will be up to Scotland to negotiate a rebate. Incidentally if Scotland does not have automatic entry then why would England. I would have thought that there still wouldn’t be a rebate to share as England wouldn’t be paying in until such time it re-entered the EU.

  • Alun Griffiths 12th Sep '12 - 8:23pm

    It is pretty clear that the rUK would be a ‘continuing’ state and remain a member on the same terms (more or less, presumably would lose the scottish MEPs and so on) . My reading leaves me in no doubt Scotland would have to apply as a new member. The process could be shorter given that the date for independence would be known in advance, but the rules eg. having to join the Euro, would be the same.

  • Richard Dean 12th Sep '12 - 8:35pm

    Why is it that the only “benefits” people talk about are those involving EU subsidies? Other benefits include free access to European markets, participation in the development of technbical standards, etc.

    It seems completely illogical that the UK would keep Scotland’s share of the UK’s rebate. If anything, that share would go to Scotland.

    The EU commission’s responses also seem hurried and wrong. If Scotland becomes independent of the rest of the UK, then the rest of the UK becomes independent of Scotland. So if Scotland suddenly has to negotiate entry into the EU, so does the rest of the UK.

    In effect, the EU commission’s statement indicates that we will all be automatically out of the EU, we will all lose all rebates and subsidies, and we will all need to go through the two steps of a re-entry that will not be guaranteed in any way.

    The UK’s obstructionism with respect to the Euro crisis, and its objections to solutions to the control of banks currently being proposed, suggests that there may be a majority in Europe who might be quite happy to exclude the re-formed UK for good.

  • @Alun Griffiths
    “It is pretty clear that the rUK would be a ‘continuing’ state and remain a member on the same terms (more or less, presumably would lose the scottish MEPs and so on) ”

    Why is it clear? If the UK is actually the union of the kingdoms of Scotland and England, then surely Scottish independence would mean that there was no longer united kingdoms but 2 independent states? Otherwise surely Scotland could also lay claim to the title UK and insist that England re-enter the EU?

  • Foregone Conclusion 12th Sep '12 - 8:46pm

    @Chris_sh,

    For the same reason that Russia replaced the USSR on the UN Security Council – England, Wales and NI are bigger in terms of area and population.

    It would be interesting to know what the Spanish think about Scottish EU membership. Given their problems with the Basques, Catalonians etc., they may be a bit unwilling to accept an independent Scotland into the EU.

  • @Richard Dean
    I must admit, I did find it strange for a LDP MEP to making statements like:

    “That negotiation will also include important issues like the Schengen agreement, which could dictate an independent Scotland’s immigration policy, membership of the single currency,”

    After all the talk over the years, I would have thought it would be put forward as a step forward (e.g. “….. Schengen agreement, which means that at least this part of the Island will be integrating with the EU”) rather than in such a negative way.

  • @Foregone Conclusion
    Except, are not all treaties signed as the UK , if the UK does not exist then the treaties would have to be redrawn. The EU may be willing to make an exception, but I would hope people aren’t betting their shirt on that.

  • cynicalHighlander 12th Sep '12 - 8:58pm

    Treaty of 1707 was joining of the English Parliament and the Scottish Parliament to form the UK parliament aka Westminster. We now have a reinstated Scottish Parliament and a rUK Parliament who are both bound by the jointly formed treaties on EQUAL terms. Rather than try and conjure up nonsensical questions to combat Independence get the EU budget audited so we know who is ripping off the system as that is what we pay you for.

  • @Chris_sh
    Isn’t it the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ??

    Without NI isn’t it just Great Britain ?

    I guess you could still have a United Kingdom without Scotland as England, Wales and NI would remain linked. My NI history is limited to the bad parts but I think both Wales and England had numerous Kingdoms that were united over time so I don’t see a problem with UK. GB is more problematic, perhaps “Not so Great Britain “(particularly in Tennis terms!).

    On to the real matter at hand I think the EU Commissioner and spokesman’s comments did more than suggest the rest of the UK would remain and that the part that decided to split would be treated differently. I’m not sure that seems fair but I think the Westminster Government should simply ask for the question to be considered by the Commission and the Council of Ministers and reported back at least 12 months prior to the referendum. That would stop the game playing on both sides. That and other issues such as whether Scotland can keep the pound need to be on the table however unpalatable to those in either camp.

    Were we to live in a grown up democracy with adults deciding the rules I would have thought that a list if such questions would be mutually decided and answers provided prior to asking people to make such a significant decision. Some issues should perhaps be put to a referendum of the remainder of the UK should Scotland decide to leave.

  • How can remaining part of the UK possibly guarantee that Scotland remains in the EU? It seems pretty clear that remaining in a UK where there is a very real risk of a future euro-sceptic Tory government calling a referendum on EU membership puts Scotland’s place in the EU at risk . How can remaining part of the UK possibly guarantee that Scotland remains in the EU?

    It is time the George Lyon and his chums in the tory-led no campaign came clean on the very real risks to Scottish jobs and trade of remaining part of a UK that has a very real chance of electing a euro-sceptic government at some point in the future.

    By staying in the UK, Scotland’s membership of the EU will never be in the hands of the Scottish people. Only through independence can Scotland’s own place in europe and the world be kept in Scottish hands.

  • @Steve Way
    “Isn’t it the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ??”
    It is indeed – I was under the impression that this was the legal term used in the various EU treaties – although I admit I could be wrong. I may bow to Cynical above if I am corrected, but I thought 1707 actually created GB and it became UK with the addition of Eire (now it’s just NI of course). In the event of independence, I don’t see how England would have any real right to class itself as GB as this name is meant to cover the whole Island.

    “Wales and England had numerous Kingdoms that were united over time so I don’t see a problem with UK”
    Yes for England, open to debate I believe for Wales, hence Wales is not actually a kingdom but a principality.

    “I’m not sure that seems fair”
    No it doesn’t, and if I lived in Scotland I’d be hopping if that was what was actually going to be the case,

    “On to the real matter at hand I think the EU Commissioner and spokesman’s comments did more than suggest the rest of the UK would remain and that the part that decided to split would be treated differently”
    Without actually knowing the exact question he was asked, I would say you have to be a bit careful on that assumption. If he was only asked about Scotland then he may not have seen the need to talk about any of the other nations.

    ” but I think the Westminster Government should simply ask for the question to be considered by the Commission and the Council of Ministers and reported back at least 12 months prior to the referendum. ”

    Well that would seem to be quite a logical course of events, I don’t really see why the onus is on Scotland to get the question answered as it is actually a UK issue.

    “Were we to live in a grown up democracy with adults deciding the rules I would have thought that a list if such questions would be mutually decided and answers provided prior to asking people to make such a significant decision.”

    Ah, you are a dreamer I see 😉 😀 But you are absolutely right of course.

    @Foregone Conclusion
    I meant to comment on the second half of your comment and forgot – I know there was a story in the Indie about this, but the Spanish Gov. have denied that they would ever stand in the way of an independent Scotland joining the EU.

  • The EC has basically told the Catalans where the land lies. If they “leave” Spain then they have to reapply for EU membership. So, it follows automatically that if the separatists get their way and Scotland goes independent, Scotland will have to reapply to rejoin the EU.

    Of course, applications for the EU have to be agreed unanimously amongst current member states. The UK may block any Catalan application, and Spain may block any Scottish application.

  • cynicalHighlander 12th Sep '12 - 10:32pm
  • Thrilling.

    Then there should be actually no problems for the Dalek in proclaiming this to all and sundry. That they are not, indeed fighting every FoI request that they actually have legal advice (an excellent use of the taxpayer’s cash that) is not really confidence boosting is it…..?

    Still. What Scotland gets up to is Scotland’s business. However a) get on with it and b) do not pretend that everything will be the same with the UK after it happens which is what the SNP like to pretend. It won’t be. Common Travel Area – up to the UK, common currency (up to the UK) etc etc…

  • @cynicalHighlander

    Thank you for that link, and the additional link shown on it, If the statement (show below) from Alan Smith is correct (and I have no reason to doubt it) :

    “In June of this year, lawyers for the EU said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states.”

    then in EU terms the UK would not exist and England and Scotland would be treated as separate states, but there are no indications that they would take a different approach between the two,

    In other words, if people are saying that one will have to jump through hoops to re-join, then it is highly likely that the other will also go through the same. Would that be a fair interpretation?

  • Ohhhh…

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/9303587/European-Commission-Separate-Scotland-forced-to-reapply-for-EU-membership.html

    Sorry Keith. But THERE is a process for countries to secede from the EU. You have obviously not read the Lisbon treaty.

  • cynicalHighlander 12th Sep '12 - 11:26pm

    #Chris_sh

    Basically yes as both parliaments will be on an equal footing as it is only the arrogance of Westminster and their hangers on in trying to muddy the waters for political gain which is shameful in a supposed democracy.

  • @Chris Sh

    The very idea that because 8.5% of the population of a state choose to go and sulk in a corner means the United Kingdom should have to change its name or renegotiate international treaties is quite preposterous and wouldn’t be entertained by any other major country or body dealing with the UK for one instant.

    What Scotland would do if it secedes from the union is its own business, but the rest of the UK, with close to 60m population, will carry on as before.

  • The irony would be that a Scotland leaving the UK for a newly federal EU would have the same or even less autonomy than it does at the moment.

    1) Control of national budget? No
    2) Control of foreign policy? No
    3) Control of defence policy? No, not in future
    4) Control of monetary policy and banking? No
    5) Control of taxation? No

    Becoming an independent Scotland within the newly constituted EU structures as they are currently being planned would lead to it becoming a less autonomous and relatively less important part of a much bigger whole.

  • @RC
    Perhaps you missed my point, if Scotland is independent then these is no UK of GB and NI – if the information from Alan Smith is correct then the EU would treat us as two successor states with all that entails.

    Normally such things would be covered by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, wherein the successor would still be tied by previous treaties (along with the other signatories of course), however I don’t think the EU is a signatory to that convention so there is a possible effect on membership for both sides of the border.

    As per the comments from Steve Way, wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask what would happen, rather than everyone making assumptions and crossing their fingers. The EU may be reluctant to do this, I think they are trying their hardest to stay out of it so that they don’t influence the outcome, but without clarification how can people make an informed decision?

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