AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would have to apply to join the European Union if voters back the SNP’s plans to break away from the United Kingdom, officials in Brussels have warned.
In a significant blow to the Nationalists, the European Commission has written a letter intended for a House of Lords committee stating that if Scots voters back independence, existing treaties which cover the UK’s EU membership will “cease to apply”, The Scotsman can reveal.
Alex Salmond’s Scottish Government has always claimed that because Scotland is already a member of the EU as part of the UK, it would automatically be given membership upon becoming independent.
However, in a letter drawn up for the Lords economic affairs committee, the European Commission has contradicted this claim.
The letter, seen by The Scotsman, states that independence “would not have a neutral impact”.
It adds: “If a territory of a member state ceases to be part of that member state because it has become an independent state then the treaties would cease to apply to that territory.”
The letter goes on to say that by fact of its independence, Scotland would become “a third country” – a technical term for a European state outside the EU which would need to apply to join the 27-member organisation.
In a further setback to the SNP, the letter makes clear that the rest of the UK would remain within the EU as the successor state.
On application, it says that the new state, like other applicants, would have to comply with article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty.
This means its application needs to “fulfil the usual obligations” and be “accepted unanimously by the members of the council [member states]”, and that “the applicant needs to enter negotiations with the member states”.
A Downing Street source last night said that they were aware of the letter and its contents.
And a spokesman for the Scotland Office said: “The UK government has been consistent and clear in its view that an independent Scotland would most likely need to seek re-entry into the EU on renegotiated terms.
“The Scottish Government has failed to acknowledge this point or address the issues it raises from agricultural support, to fish quotas, to structural funds. People in Scotland have a right to know the full implications if Scotland were to leave the UK family.”
Previously, the SNP has stated that as Scotland, as part of the UK, has been a member of the EU for almost 40 years it would remain a member.
Speaking on behalf of the SNP in a recent Westminster hall debate, Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart said: “Scotland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom. We are currently a member of the European Union. After independence, we will continue to be a member of the European Union.”
He also claimed that if Scotland is not allowed to continue its membership the rest of the UK would have to re-apply too.
The Scottish Government last night insisted the letter changed nothing because independence would not begin immediately after a Yes vote, giving Scotland time to negotiate membership while still part of the UK and in the EU.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “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.
“Scotland has been an integral part of the European Union for almost four decades and an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership. As legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU, and there is no provision for those circumstances to change upon independence.”
The contents of the letter were also relayed to the Lords EU committee yesterday during a fact-finding trip to Brussels to examine EU expansion.
Labour peer Lord George Foulkes, who is on the committee, said: “I understand [the president of the European Commission] Jose Manuel Barosso will be replying to the [Lords] economic affairs sub committee on the economic impact of separation and we have had evidence here in Brussels confirming Scotland would have to seek accession to the European Union.”
The letter appears to answer the questions surrounding one of the most controversial issues in the independence debate.
In a statement to MSPs in Holyrood last month, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that the Scottish Government had not received formal legal advice on the country’s position in Europe following a vote for independence, but was now seeking it.
Some EU member states have already made clear their resistance to an independent Scotland not having to reapply.
The Spanish government, which is opposing separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country, has already made it clear it would not back an independent Scotland’s direct entry into the EU.
In October the Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told his parliament Scotland “would have to get to the back of the queue” if it wanted to apply.
It has also been reported that the Cypriot government would want an independent Scotland to join the queue.