Scotland’s bid to join the European Union as an independent nation could be blocked by Members of the European Parliament if the new Scottish government insists on keeping British-gained opt-outs from the Euro and on open borders, and the VAT rebate, EurActiv has reported.
Leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign for Scottish independence have previously indicated that they will seek to undertake a twin negotiation with Brussels and London if they win the referendum on Thursday, with the intention of having Scotland both leave the UK and join the EU on the same day in 2016.
However, sources within the European Parliament have said that they likelihood of Scotland being allowed to fast track the membership process is fairly slim. Most countries have to go through a long application process which takes many years, in which they seek to prove that they comply with the thousands of regulations and stipulations required by the European institutions.
Sources within the European institutions have said that Scotland may not get the unanimous approval of each of the other 28 member states, as is required, as both Spain and Belgium are wary of rewarding secessionist movements. Both of those countries have areas pushing for independence within their own borders.
Even if the bid does gain the approval of all of the member states, it will still need to be voted on by Members of the European Parliament, at which point the sought-after opt-outs may pose a stumbling block.
Both membership of the Eurozone and of the Schengen Area – a borderless region that allows for free-movement across the EU – are requirements of EU membership, and are seen as fundamental to the spirit of the project. The UK secured opt-outs during the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty which came into force in 1993 bringing the European Union and the Euro into existence, although the currency came into general use in 1999.
“The opt-outs they’re pushing for would make it very difficult for them to get membership,” a Socialists and Democrats group member told EurActiv. A source in the pro-EU, right wing European People’s Party (EPP) likewise indicated that his group, which is the largest in the Parliament, would not look favourably upon a Scottish application that sought opt-outs on what are two of the most fundamental policies of the Union.
Jo Leinen, former chair and current member of the parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee said that the UK secured opt-outs would be “at risk” during the negotiation process.
“No country has ever negotiated a pre-opt-out. Not one. Every opt-out has been negotiated after accession,” said Ian Duncan, a Scottish Conservative MEP and No vote campaigner. Duncan, who was previously head of the Scottish Parliament Office in Brussels, has said his contacts in Brussels have made it clear to him that Scotland would have to go through the application process like any other nation. “I asked them and they absolutely will not go on the record”, he said. “I believe they are fearful of creating a precedent at a time when there are separatist movements across the EU.
“What is clear is that Scotland will not be negotiating from a position of strength during the accession talks…and [Scottish National Party leader] Alex Salmond has never said what his red lines are.”
The European Commission has so far refused to comment on the matter, but earlier this year former President of the Commission Jose Manuel Barroso said that Scotland would find it difficult to apply for EU membership. Speaking to Andrew Marr he said “accession to the European Union will have to be approved by all other member states of the European Union. 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 our countries getting the agreement of the others.”
Leinen has suggested that a special accession treaty could be drawn up, allowing Scotland fast-track membership in light of the fact that they have already adopted Brussels’ laws as part of the UK: “We have no precedent for this but, formally, if you separate from a member state you are a new state and you have to apply for membership.
“I don’t believe the Commission has formally prepared a Plan B. They have no scenarios […] but speaking from a constitutional affairs point of view I would be extremely surprised if there was an automatic accession to the EU.”
The Commission refused to comment on the idea.