Category Archives: EU

The Swiss capital of the European country

The political class in Westminster tend to look at the UK from a London perspective, and to listen especially to the needs of the City of London (i.e., the big financial institutions). Most of the British media exist in the same bubble, which is why so many topics are being discussed as if everybody in the country was making a very comfortable living working in a multinational bank in London.

This became abundantly clear again yesterday, when a majority in Westminster voted to force the UK government to demand an EU budget cut, which is surely another small step towards the Brexit. In other news yesterday, it was noted that the regional divide is growing within England, and Scotland was fully preoccupied with the question of Scottish membership of the EU.

The problem is that London is to a large extent a global Switzerland, and as such EU membership isn’t necessarily such a good idea — a Swiss solution vis-à-vis the EU and lots of bilateral free-trade agreements would probably suit London best.

On the other hand, the rest of the UK is probably not that different from most of Europe, and although we can save Scotland through Scottish independence, I do fear for the prospects of the north of England if London takes the (r)UK out of the EU.

I often think that independence for Greater London would solve even more problems than Scottish independence, but alas it’s not on offer.

The current state of affairs is a bit like if the Switzerland and France had formed a union at some point and had moved the capital, the company headquarters, the politicians and the media companies to Zürich, with the result that both parts of the union were being run based on what was best for Zürich. I doubt most of France would have flourished in such a scenario.

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.

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.

The wave of new countries 2012-17

Originally uploaded by

Just as very few people in 1988 expected that during the following five years Germany would be reunified and the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia would break up, very few people at the moment expect that we might in just five years’ time live in a world in which Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, the Basque Country and several others are independent, sovereign countries.

However, history might again happen in one rapid wave.

I guess it all started when the SNP gained an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament last year. However, the wave gained strength when David Cameron in January 2012 decided to allow a referendum on Scottish independence. Of course the SNP would have held a referendum anyway, but Cameron in this was legitimised the process in the eyes of the international community, and it strongly inspired independence movements elsewhere.

On the 4th of September 2012, the Parti Québécois became the largest party in Quebec and declared its desire to hold a new referendum on independence.

On the 9th of September 2012, more than 1,500,000 Catalans marched through Barcelona in favour of Catalan independence, and already the Catalan politicans have started to talk openly about independence.

On 21st October 2012 elections will place in the Basque Country, and as far as I know there’s a good chance pro-independence parties will gain a majority there.

What else will happen now? It’s clear the independence movements in various countries are talking to each other, and as soon as the first EU region manages to become an EU member state in its own right, the process will accelerate, because the fear of being chucked out of the EU is one of the major arguments against independence.

We live in interesting times, and I’m proud to be a member of the SNP, the party that started the wave.

The Constitution of Scotland

When Scotland becomes independent, it would be a wasted opportunity if the new (or rather, reborn) country didn’t get a written constitution — the UK’s unwritten one has always struck me as a bizarre contraption.

I’m by no means the first person to have had this thought — see amongst others Better Nation and the Constitutional Convention, as well as the SNP’s ten-years-old proposed constitution (PDF). There are also some plans about crowd-sourcing a Scottish Constitution, which I might write more about another day.

Without going into the details of what it should and shouldn’t say, I have a few ideas about the length and scope:

  • It shouldn’t be too long. If it is (like for instance the doomed Constitution for Europe), it will be too specific, which means that it will need revising all the time, and by doing so, it loses its constitutional nature.
  • It shouldn’t be too specific. Apart from the problem with continuous revisions if it is, it also creates problems if external factors require a constitutional change that there might not be a political will to implement.
  • It shouldn’t be too hard to change. If it is, it will start to be reinterpreted, with the result that nobody really understands what it means. For instance, the Danish Constitution is almost impossible to change (it was last changed in 1953), and when it mentions the king, it means either the queen, the prime minister or the government, depending on the context, which isn’t ideal.
  • It should be easy to understand. Although many laws are by nature highly complex, the constitution should be a straightforward text that school children could learn and discuss at school.
  • It should make us proud. Like the Declaration of Arbroath and other such documents through the ages, a good constitution should be an inspiring document that will inspire its readers centuries for now.

If all of this seems a bit daunting, at least there are plenty of existing constitutional documents from all over the world than can be used as a basis, so it should be doable.