More about Scotland and the EU

EU Flag
Originally uploaded by hounddog32

A few days ago I blogged about Scotland and the EU. At the time I wasn’t aware of a rather important document that had just been published by the UK parliament.

This document is a written statement about “the foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland” by Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. In other words, this is probably the greatest authority that has ever published an opinion on this crucial question.

Here is what he has to say about the question about Scotland’s continued EU membership:

For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible. From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England. Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK.) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly. From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens. If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

It’s definitely worth reading the entire document.

Needless to say, this document has ignited the Scottish blogosphere. See for instance Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Auld Acquaintance.

Will Scotland have to join the euro?

Scottish euro coin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

The unionists seem to be in a tizzy about the prospect that Scotland will be forced to join the euro, so let’s have a rational look at the most likely scenarios.

To start with, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that Scotland will be allowed to inherit the UK’s opt-out. In that case, Scotland will have a formal right to remain outwith the euro indefinitely.

However, what happens if Scotland has to let go of the opt-out as part of the renegotiation of the membership terms? It’s not like Scotland would have to introduce the euro at once. Before any member state can introduce the euro, the convergence criteria have to be fulfilled:

  1. Inflation rates: No more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the average of the three best performing member states of the EU.
  2. Government finance:
    1. Annual government deficit: The ratio of the annual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) must not exceed 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. If not it is at least required to reach a level close to 3%. Only exceptional and temporary excesses would be granted for exceptional cases.
    2. Government debt:The ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Even if the target cannot be achieved due to the specific conditions, the ratio must have sufficiently diminished and must be approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.
  3. Exchange rate: Applicant countries should have joined the exchange-rate mechanism (ERM II) under the European Monetary System (EMS) for two consecutive years and should not have devalued its currency during the period.
  4. Long-term interest rates: The nominal long-term interest rate must not be more than 2 percentage points higher than in the three lowest inflation member states.

Currently the UK doesn’t pass any of the tests apart from the last one, and as far as I can tell, the same would apply to Scotland at the moment. Therefore, Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to join the euro at first, even if the people of Scotland so desired.

It is of course possible (and probably also desirable) that Scotland will fulfil (1) and (2) in the longer term, but criterion (3) requires a deliberate step that Scotland can decide not to take.

This is how the Swedes have managed not to join the euro — they’re technically obliged to join the euro, but they have chosen not to join ERM II, which means that they cannot join. Scotland can do the same, even if it’s against the spirit of the treaties.

Finally, by the time the Scottish economy qualifies to join the euro, the European Union and the euro might have changed beyond recognition, and it is entirely possible that there will be a strong desire to join the euro by then.

It’s definitely not anything to worry about at this stage.

Scotland and the EU

european union
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo

There seems to be no definitive answer in sight to the question whether an independent Scotland will have to apply to join the EU as a new country or simply remain an EU member as one of the UK’s two successor states.

The issue is that there is no precedent, as pointed out on the Shifting Grounds blog:

Robin Cook asked the Foreign Office’s legal advisers for their opinion on the status of an independent Scotland in the EU back in 1999 when I worked as his Special Adviser. Three conclusions stood out in the advice that came back.

First, there is no existing procedure for handling a breakaway from an EU member state. The Council of Ministers would therefore need to improvise one according to its own design. […]

Lawyers are notoriously unhappy to give advice in cases where there is no precedent, which is why we’re mostly hearing from politicians at the moment.

On the apply from scratch side of the argument, we have a long list of Spanish unionist politicians, such as the European Parliament’s vice-president:

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, the European Parliament’s vice-president, became the first leading Spanish politician to suggest publicly that a fear of separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country would influence his country’s approach to Scotland.

He said an independent Scotland should have to apply for membership and go through the accession process like any other state. He insisted that his views reflected the Spanish government’s position.

Mr Vidal-Quadras said: “If the result of the referendum is that Scottish people want to be an independent state, they should go through the accession process [for the EU].”

Asked if this position was taken because of separatist movements in Spain, he said: “You are exactly right.”

Taking more or less the same line, Spain’s foreign minister joined the fray:

[Jose Manuel] Garcia-Margallo told Spain’s senate that after independence, Scotland would face a potentially tortuous negotiating process and would also need his country’s support.

He said: “In the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted, needing the unanimous approval of all member states to obtain the status of a candidate country — and to sign the final treaty [of accession].”

He suggested EU members nations would need to check carefully Scotland’s legislation before approving the 35 separate chapters that have to be negotiated before admission would be granted. EC president Jose Manuel Barroso recently made similar claims.

Looking at the other side of the argument, we have already quoted what the European Commission’s vice-president Viviane Reding said:

Diario de Sevilla: The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.

Viviane Reding: Come on, international law does not say anything like that. Please solve your internal political problems within Spain. I trust the European mentality of the Catalans.

Another promininent member of the European Commission agreed:

Joaquín Almunia – a fierce opponent of Catalan independence – said it would “not be honest” to say a breakaway region would be stuck outside the EU if it was independent.

Mr Almunia also insisted citizens of the EU could not be stripped of their rights just because their territory separated from a member state.


He told a newspaper: “You cannot give a categorical answer that somebody who splits off would remain outside and we wouldn’t know anything about them for centuries. It’s not like that. If you are a European citizen you have certain rights.”

So where does this leave us?

There is no doubt in my mind that unless Catalonia has already left Spain and become a full EU member by early 2015, Spain will happily do its utmost to make things difficult for Scotland just to make the Catalans back down. In EU terms that means that if the decision to allow Scotland to continue its membership has to be taken by unanimity, Spain will veto it.

So the question is whether unanimity will be needed, and an EU lawyer denied this would be the case back in January:

However this was dismissed by lawyers for the EU who said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a simple majority vote. No single EU member would have a veto.

A lawyer for the EU told the news agency that a deal could be “done by the [European] Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament.”

To conclude, the EU’s commissioners and lawyers seem to be saying that you cannot throw EU citizens out of the EU, and that continuing membership would be decided by qualified majority voting (which means Spain wouldn’t be able to block it).

I presume the specific legal advice that the Scottish Government are now seeking will be specifically concerned with the use of qualified majority voting in the European Council. I’ll be looking forward to reading the papers they publish subsequently.

Hanging on to the consultation responses was a masterstroke

When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, David Cameron and the rest of the UK government were ecstatic that they had managed to restrict the referendum to a single question, while the Scottish government were saying they had never wanted a second question in the first place, but that they had wanted to keep the option open in case there had been huge demand for it in their consultation.

I thought at the time it was a bit odd they couldn’t find the resources to publish the analysis of the consultation responses before the decision was made, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

However, today the analysis of the responses was published (PDF), and suddenly everything has clicked into place.

The consultation responses showed a big majority in favour of a single question, so the Scottish Government could never have used them to put a second question on the ballot paper.

In other words, if the Scottish government had released the responses a month ago, the UK government would have realised there was no danger that the Scottish government would actually put a second question on the ballot paper, and they would have asked for something else instead in the negotiations.

So by delaying the release of the responses to the consultation until after the Edinburgh Agreement had been signed, the Scottish government managed to get everything they wanted themselves, as well as what the Scottish public asked for in the consultation.

One Nation Labour and what it means for a No vote

Ed Miliband with banner
Originally uploaded by net_efekt

Labour used to campaign for Scottish devolution because they thought it would give them a permanent Scottish power base, but they seem to have realised that it has reduced their influence in Scotland instead. Now Ed Miliband has invented One Nation Labour, and these two strands have potentially worrying consequences for Scottish devolution, as noted by Iain Macwhirter:

Certainly, there is no point giving lectures on how Scots can’t “have it all”, which is what the Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, appears to be doing. She wants to take the cake away altogether. She has gone through almost the entire sum of policies achieved under devolution and dismissed them as “SNP bribes”. Tuition fees, prescription charges, free personal care, concessionary bus fares – they’re all part of the “something for nothing” society. But if you strip out these headline measures – most of them of course introduced by Labour – there’s not a lot left to celebrate about the devolution decade.

Is there perhaps a risk that devolution will be abolished in the aftermath of af No vote?

To some extent, I think it would suit the unionist parties to the ground if Scotland became an English region like Yorkshire — abolishing the Scottish Parliament and introducing English law, the English school curriculum, English holidays, the English NHS, tuition fees and so on.

Even many nationalists agree that the status quo isn’t optimal. For instance, two months ago Jock Morrison wrote an interesting article in The Herald in which he argued that Scots have to stop pretending to be separate from England while being part of the same country:

That’s the reality Scots have to face up to. If your country is not on the map, it’s not in the heads of other people. […] We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be part of England […] and expect foreigners to recognise the distinctiveness of Scotland. People around the globe have no interest in getting their heads around ‘Great Britain’, ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and the ‘United Kingdom’. After all, these are just fancy titles for England, aren’t they?

Commenting on this article, Doug Daniel wrote:

I desperately want Scotland to be independent, but if the rest of Scotland disagrees, then it’s time we faced reality and stopped trying to be this wee pretendy nation. The Better Together campaign tells us we have “the best of both worlds”, suggesting we can have all the advantages of both and avoid the disadvantages, but that’s a very juvenile way of thinking. Is it not time we grew up and decided to accept our responsibilities one way or the other? If we’re not brave enough to stand up on our own as an independent nation, then what right do we have to insist on separate education, law and health systems? If we want the “shelter” that being joined to England supposedly provides, then after 300 years of dragging our heels, is it not time we made a commitment to this “relationship” and formally make Britain a country, rather than a collection of countries?

Almost all Scots I know think of Scotland as a proud nation, and most people here think that devolution should be extended, not rolled back (even if many Scots still think full independence is a step too far at the moment). However, we have to accept the possibility that a No vote will lead to devolution being rolled back instead, especially as that will fit better into One Nation Labour’s narrative.

Viviane Reding on Catalan independence

Viviane Reding’s recent words about Catalonia’s continued membership of the EU has attracted a fair amount of attention in Scotland (see for instance the SNP’s press release).

However, this is important enough that it’s worth going back to the source. It appears she made her comment in an interview with the Spanish (not Catalan) newspaper El Diario de Sevilla. Here are the interesting bits together with my translation:

[DdS:] Cataluña plantea actualmente la posibilidad de independizarse. Pero si lo hace debería abandonar la UE y negociar su ingreso. Además, desde su salida habría un agujero en la libertad circulación de personas y bienes en la Unión. [Catalonia is currently raising the possibility of becoming independent. But if it goes ahead, it would have to leave the EU and negotiate its entry terms. Moreover, as soon as it left there would be a hole in the freedom of movement of people and goods within the Union.]

[VR:] No querría inmiscuirme en asuntos de política española, pero no pienso ni por un segundo que Cataluña quiera dejar la UE. Conozco a los catalanes desde hace mucho tiempo, he sido una de las pocas personas no catalanas en recibir la Cruz de Sant Jordi, y sé que su sentimiento es profundamente europeo. [I would not want to interfere in matters of Spanish politics, but I do not think for a second that Catalonia wants to leave the EU. I have known the Catalans for a long time, I was one of the few non-Catalan to receive the Cross of Sant Jordi, and I know that they feel profoundly European.]

[DdS:] No le pregunto por la posibilidad de que Cataluña quiera o no ser parte de la UE, sino por el proceso que se abre cuando dejen de serlo. Lo dice la Convención de Viena: el Estado resultante de un Estado matriz abandonará todos los organismos internacionales en los que la matriz esté representada. [I am not asking whether Catalonia wants to be part of the EU or not, but about the process that begins when Catalonia ceases to be a member. The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.]

[VR:] Vamos, hombre, la legislación internacional no dice nada que se parezca a eso. Por favor, resuelvan sus problemas de política interna en España. Yo confío en la mentalidad europea de los catalanes. [Come on, international law does not say anything like that. Please solve your internal political problems within Spain. I trust the European mentality of the Catalans.]

I’m finding the leading questions by the Diario de Sevilla almost as interesting as Viviane Reding’s answers. If they’re typical of the Spanish discourse outwith Catalonia, it’s clear the Catalans are facing a monumental struggle to become independent.