EuropeMonday, February 17, 2014
EU commission dampens Scotland’s hopes
Body’s president says membership bid would be ‘difficult, if not impossible’ to achieve
LONDON —European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was criticized by Scottish nationalists yesterday after branding their bid for EU membership “difficult... if not impossible” in controversial comments made in an interview with BBC television.
Barroso said states breaking away from existing EU countries would struggle to gain membership to the union, further complicating already uncertain plans for independence.
In the interview on The Andrew Marr Show, broadcast yesterday, the former prime minister of Portugal said it would be nearly impossible for the European Union to grant membership to such states — just days after the British government said an independent Scotland would not be able to keep sterling as its currency.
The timing of the remarks will heap more pressure on the independence movement.
Scotland is due to hold a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in September. A recent poll showed around 29 percent of voters in favour and 42 percent against, with 29 percent undecided.
Barroso, 57, declined to comment directly on whether an independent Scotland would be welcome to join the EU. But he said pointedly that all EU states would need to back the membership of any new country that emerged from a current member state.
“It would be extremely difficult to get approval of all the other member states... I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” he said.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which is fronting the independence campaign, is banking on retaining both EU membership and the pound.
John Swinney, an SNP deputy in Scotland’s Parliament, told the BBC Barroso’s comments were “preposterous” and that no EU state had indicated it would veto Scottish membership.
Secession is a sensitive subject for several other countries that have regions seeking to form their own states. Spain, which Barroso said in the interview had been “opposing even the recognition of (former Serbian province) Kosovo,” is for instance wary that a vote for Scottish independence might encourage the separatist movement in Catalonia.
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, also went on the offensive yesterday against critics of the independence campaign.
Writing in The Sunday Times newspaper, he accused the British government of bullying over the currency issue and said he had asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to rein in his campaign to keep Scotland’s 307-year union with the rest of Britain intact.
Salmond said recent remarks by British politicians had broken with the spirit of the Edinburgh agreement, which laid the groundwork for September’s referendum.
Give up the pound
Only on Thursday, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, warned Scotland it would have to give up the pound if it voted to end the union, declaring the currency could not be divided up.
The leader of the “Better Together” campaign to keep Scotland in the UK, former British finance minister Alistair Darling, sought to take advantage yesterday, claiming the independence campaign was beginning to unravel.
“Alex Salmond is a man without a plan on currency and Europe. The wheels are falling off the independence wagon,” Darling said.
Barroso has previously said that any newly independent state would have to re-apply to join the EU.
His comments are at odds with Scotland’s blueprint for independence, published last year, which says that it hoped to agree a “smooth transition” to membership of the EU as an independent state, taking advantage of Article 48 of the Lisbon treaty.
The Scottish government paper said they believed transition could be agreed without interrupting its EU membership in time for a potential independence declaration in March 2016.
Barroso and other officials on the current EU Commission are due to step down when their term ends at the end of October.
Herald with Reuters