THE European Commission has confirmed its view that EU membership would no longer apply to any territory within its boundaries which became independent after leaving a larger member state.
Its president, Jose Manuel Barroso, has used a written answer to Labour MEP David Martin to say he stands by the commission’s view, given in 2004, which declared that a newly independent nation within the EU would “become a third country with respect to the Union”.
That statement also declared that, for such new countries, “treaties would, from the day of its independence, no longer apply on its territory”.
Asked whether that 2004 view was still the commission’s position, Mr Barroso replied in a written answer this week: “Yes”.
His statement came with the SNP facing fresh questions over how an independent Scotland would join the EU, after The Scotsman reported yesterday that European officials had signalled a newly independent nation would have to re-apply for EU membership.
It contradicted claims by First Minister Alex Salmond who has long insisted that, as part of an existing member state, Scotland would automatically retain its membership of the EU after independence.
Scottish ministers agreed yesterday they would have to enter into negotiations on the terms of Scotland’s membership of the EU. However, finance secretary John Swinney said Scotland would not leave the EU following a Yes vote because negotiations for joining it would take place while Scotland was still within the UK. Scotland would not become legally independent until full negotiations with the rest of the UK were concluded.
Scottish officials say the negotiations with the UK would be settled at about the same time as those with the EU, ensuring a seamless move to independence in around 2016.
However, UK ministers last night claimed that Scotland would have to negotiate terms after it was independent, with Britain’s opt-out from the euro and the UK rebate up in the air.
The publication of Mr Barroso’s views come with him being asked by the Lords economic affairs committee to state his view on Scotland’s position in the EU after independence. Mr Barroso has yet to respond to the Lords committee.
Mr Martin’s full question asked him to confirm a conclusion given by former commission president Romano Prodi in 2004, who had declared then that “when a part of the territory of a member state ceases to be a part of that state, eg because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a newly independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply any more on its territory”.
Asked whether this was still the EC’s view, Mr Barroso replied: “Yes. The legal context has not changed since 2004, as the Lisbon Treaty has not introduced any change in this respect. Therefore the commission can confirm its position as expressed in 2004.”
However, the SNP yesterday insisted that Scotland would not be a “new state” because, as part of the UK, it would remain a member of the EU.
Mr Swinney said: “The key point here is that when Scotland votes in the referendum in 2014, and assuming there is a Yes vote as a result of that referendum, Scotland will still be at that stage a part of the United Kingdom. What we have always accepted is there has to be a negotiation about the detail and the terms of Scotland’s membership of the European Union, but, crucially, that will be taking place at a time when we are still part of the United Kingdom, still part of the European Union, of which we have been members for 40 years.
“As a consequence of that, we will be negotiating our arrangements and our membership, and the details of our membership, of the European Union from within the European Union, which is the key point of distinction.”
EU legal figures said last night that Scotland’s membership would be smoothed by the fact it already complied with the acquis communautaire, or the body of EU law, and that the issue was likely to come down to political will from other member states.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Edinburgh Agreement, signed on Monday, 15 October, for the first time outlines an agreed process leading to an independent Scotland. It confirms that the outcome of the referendum vote will be fully respected by both the Scottish and UK governments – both of which have pledged to work in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK, whatever the result of the vote.
“Immediately following a Yes vote in autumn 2014, Scotland will still be part of the UK. Negotiations will then take place on the transfer of powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament along with negotiations on the specific terms of an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union. Ministers have always been clear that these negotiations will be needed – but the crucial point is that they will take place from within the EU.”