AN INDEPENDENT Scotland could find it “impossible” to become a member of the European Union, the president of the European Commission has warned.
In a new blow for First Minister Alex Salmond’s independence plans, Jose Manuel Barroso said it was unlikely that other member states would admit Scotland into the EU after a Yes vote in the referendum in September.
The SNP has claimed that an independent Scotland would automatically be admitted to the EU, despite top European officials saying it would have to reapply as a new member state. In its white paper on independence, the SNP government said Scotland would look to gain membership through article 48 of the treaty of the EU. The white paper – the nationalists’ blueprint for leaving the UK – said such a move could be achieved within 18 months of a Yes vote in the referendum on 18 September.
But Mr Barroso suggested for the first time yesterday that a newly independent nation may not even be allowed into the EU if it applied as a new member.
The EC president said: “In case there is a new country, a new state, coming out of a current member state, it will have to apply and the application and the accession to the European Union will have to be approved by all the other member states of the European Union.”
He added: “I don’t want to interfere on your referendum here, your democratic discussion here, but of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state.
“We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance.
“So it is to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.”
The intervention came after Chancellor George Osborne insisted last week that Mr Salmond’s plan for an independent Scotland to share the pound with the remainder of the UK would “not work” and “was not going to happen”.
Nationalist leaders yesterday attacked Mr Barroso’s intervention as “preposterous”, while Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-Union Better Together campaign, said the “wheels are starting to come off the wagon” of Mr Salmond’s plans.
Mr Darling said that Mr Barroso’s remarks showed Scotland would be “at the mercy” of other member states if it applied to join the EU. The former chancellor warned that an independent Scotland could face years of protracted negotiations over its place in the EU.
He said: “On the two biggest issues for jobs and businesses in Scotland, currency and Europe, the nationalists are all over the place.
“We are being asked to take a huge leap into the unknown.
“When Alex Salmond is told Scotland won’t keep the pound, he says everybody is bluffing and only he is right.
“When the president of the European Commission says there would be huge difficulties with EU membership, nationalists say he is talking nonsense.
“It isn’t credible. Mr Barroso is saying that the discussions about EU membership would be anything but plain sailing and I could see it dragging on for years.
“Scotland would be the first country to break away from an existing state in the European Union and then apply to get back in again.
“An independent Scotland would have to ask the 28 EU member states if it could join and there would be formidable difficulties.
“The EU matter would not be in our hands and we would be in the hands of 28 other states.
“Scotland would be throwing itself on the mercy of the 28 other members states.”
Scotland’s finance secretary, John Swinney, said Mr Barroso’s view was based on a false comparison with Kosovo and Scotland, which he insisted was already part of the EU.
Mr Swinney said: “I think President Barroso’s remarks are pretty preposterous. He’s set out his position linking and comparing Scotland to the situation in Kosovo. Scotland has been a member of the EU for 40 years – we’re already part of the European Union.”
Mr Swinney said there was no indication that any member state would veto Scotland’s membership, including Spain, where Catalan nationalists are campaigning for independence.
He said: “The Spanish foreign minister said if there is an agreed process within the United Kingdom by which Scotland becomes an independent country then Spain has nothing to say about the whole issue.
“That indicates to me quite clearly that the Spanish government will have no stance to take on the question of Scottish membership of the European Union.”
Mr Swinney also called for detailed currency talks with the Treasury and said that Scotland would not be “shoved about” by the Chancellor, following Mr Osborne’s intervention on the prospect of a currency union.
Mr Salmond has faced growing calls to set out a “Plan B” for currency after the SNP’s plan for an independent Scotland to share sterling with the UK was ruled out by the main Westminster parties.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also attacked Mr Barroso’s stance as “preposterous”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “This is a preposterous assertion – as the ridiculous comparison with Kosovo illustrates. Scotland is already in the EU and has been for 40 years.”
Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats said Mr Salmond now needs a Plan B on the EU and currency issues, and called on the SNP leader to set out alternative options in a speech he is due to deliver in Aberdeen today.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said last night: “Tomorrow, Alex Salmond needs to come clean and tell us what his Plan B is – not just on the currency, but now on Scotland’s extreme difficulty in joining the EU.”
The First Minister, meanwhile, will attack the unionist parties for promoting “examples of undemocratic and self-defeating positions” and of saying “whatever campaign rhetoric suits their cause” in a keynote speech to business leaders in Aberdeen today.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie claimed Mr Barroso’s intervention showed an independent Scotland’s EU membership plan could be vetoed by just one member state.
He said: “If even just one country says no, it does not matter how loud Alex Salmond shouts, Scotland will not be in.”
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said that Mr Salmond’s “EU and currency policies are marching to a tune that no-one else can hear” ahead of a series of meetings the Lib Dem Cabinet minister is holding with business leaders.
Ten years at the helm of Europe’s executive branch
José Manuel Barroso is the 11th president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union (EU).
The Portuguese politician has held the post for a decade after being installed as EC president in 2004.
Mr Barroso was re-elected for another five-year term by the European Parliament in September 2009.
A former Portuguese prime minister, his latest intervention in the Scottish referendum debate comes after he previously cast doubt on claims by Alex Salmond that an independent Scotland would automatically remain within the EU.
In late 2012 he said: “A state has to be a democracy first of all, and that state has to apply to become a member of the European Union and all the other member states have to give their consent.”
David Torrance: Nothing for months then it’s two game-changers in a row
Since Prime Minister David Cameron fired the starting gun on the referendum campaign just over two years ago, there’s been a constant hunt for a “game-changer” among the commentariat and political strategists – an intervention that would up the ante either for or against independence.
Everyone had a long wait. Even the publication of the Scottish Government’s white paper last November didn’t exactly make the earth move: it simply told us – admittedly in a lot more detail – what we already knew.
But the events of the last few days do feel significant – the Chancellor’s currency veto on Thursday followed by the president of the European Commission’s statement that it may be impossible for an independent Scotland to successfully apply for EU membership.
For as long as London and Brussels remained vague on their position, the Scottish Government was able to hold its line that a currency union and “seamless” EU membership were possible. That is no longer the case, and it’s interesting that both game-changing interventions originated outwith Scotland.
They serve as a reminder that the Scottish Government and wider Yes Scotland campaign is not in complete control of events. While the white paper was something they could control, pronouncements on the viability of a sterlingzone and an independent Scotland’s place at Brussels’ top table were not.
Pro-independence campaigners believe both share common characteristics – that, whatever the Chancellor and commission president say now, they will quickly change their respective tunes when confronted with the reality of a “yes” vote.
And perhaps that is true. Just as it seems unlikely the Bank of England would cut an independent Scotland completely adrift (indeed Threadneedle Street seems more open to the idea of a currency union than the Treasury), it’s also difficult to believe the expansionist EU would not find some way to accommodate a new state fulfilling all the required membership criteria.
But convincing undecided voters that is the case is another matter. With the electorate clamouring for “certainty”, the UK government and European Commission have apparently provided it while the Scottish Government can only say it’ll be all right on the night.
So it is difficult, but not impossible. Pro-independence campaigners have exactly seven months to convince Scots.