A SENIOR European Commissioner has suggested Catalonia would have to leave the European Union if it seceded from Spain, a claim which could have an impact on the future status of an independent Scotland.
Speaking in Barcelona, Joaquin Almunia, the vice-president of the European Commission, said that “a part that segregates itself is not a member”.
Catalonia is looking to hold a self-determination referendum next year but the Spanish government opposes the move.
Mr Almunia urged the Spanish and Catalan governments to discuss the matter “with a cool head and face to face across a table and not by letter,” referring to the Spanish prime minister’s recent letter to Catalan president Artur Mas, in which he effectively shut the door on the possibility of the Catalans holding a referendum on the region’s constitutional status.
The SNP Government hopes to negotiate its EU membership – including opt-outs from the euro, free travel areas and a budget cut – in the period between the referendum in September 2014 and its proposed independence day in March 2016 if Scots vote Yes.
But the future status of an independent Scotland’s place in Europe remains unresolved.
Yesterday, Mr Almunia said: “The European Union is worried about Catalonia. I am constantly being asked about it and not always in sympathetic tones. We all ask that they find a way to sort this out.”
Mr Almunia’s spokesman Pia Ahrenkilde later confirmed that “an independent state will be, by its very independence, regarded as a tertiary by the EU and European treaties will not apply to its territory from the moment it declares independence”.
He added that an independent Catalonia would need to apply for membership and its application would have to be approved unanimously by other member states.
The Catalan finance minister, Andreu Mas-Colell, said he believed that Mr Almunia was speaking in the strictest sense of the law.
The European question is crucial to the Catalan secessionist debate. Polls show that enthusiasm for independence dips sharply if it entails leaving the EU. Many companies that have located their European headquarters in Barcelona would also almost certainly leave if they found themselves isolated from the EU.
Were Catalonia ever to join the EU on its own behalf in the future, it might find itself becoming a net contributor, like Germany, given its high per capita income.
As part of Spain, Catalonia has benefited from billions of euros in development funds. Before the eastern bloc countries joined the EU in 2004, and Spain was one of the poorest member states, it was entitled to cohesion funds to bring its infrastructure up to the EU mean.
Last night, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland is already part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU – as legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, there is no mechanism for this status being removed, and as such an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership.
“The only threat to Scotland’s continued membership comes from Westminster’s proposed in-out referendum.”