An outbreak of common sense

Just today Reporting Scotland led with the claim by Alistair Carmichael that Westminster would have to impose border controls if an independent Scotland had its own immigration policy, apparently forgetting that the UK already shares an open border with an independent state with its own immigration policy – the Republic of Ireland.

Meanwhile in the Basque Country there was an outbreak of common sense which went unreported by the Scottish media, which finds Better Together’s hysterics and nonsense far more worthy of attention.  On Wednesday this week the Basque city of Bilbao hosted a conference organised by Euskal Herriko Unibertsitate (the University of the Basque Country) on the future of Scotland in the European Union. 

Titled “The Scottish referendum and the European dimension”, the conference was addressed by two notable experts in European law and EU enlargement: Prof Graham Avery of Oxford University, honorary director general of the European Commission and considered the leading expert on EU enlargement, and John Edward, former chief of the European Parliament’s office in Edinburgh.

And guess what, these two experts assert that in the event of a yes vote in Scotland’s independence referendum, common sense will prevail and Scotland will make a smooth transition into full EU membership in her own right, without being excluded from the EU.

Prof Avery believes that the assertions of UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that an independent Scotland would be excluded from the EU and would have to reapply like an external candidate state are not realistic.  Which is a polite way of saying that they’re just making things up.

But instead let’s have a look at what was said by some folk who actually know what they are talking about.  I’ve translated the quotes from the report in the Spanish language Basque newspaper Deia, the link is given in the first paragraph of this blog post.

According to Prof Avery:

“If the Scottish people say yes to independence, our political leaders, the heads of state of the European Union and the Council of Ministers in Brussels will have to engage in dialogue on the steps to follow.  The most logical would be, on achieving independence, Scotland joins a series of institutions, like the European Union, the Council of Europe …  The other way would be that it would have to apply for admission and put itself at the end of the queue with Turkey and Serbia, for example, but this second option is not realistic.

“The problem is that the subject has been highly politicised.  One side says that membership of the EU is assured, the other maintains the exact opposite, and the reality is a middle way.  The question is that there is no precedent.  The examples of Greenland and East Germany are given, but there is no point of comparison.”

John Edward added:

“The EU does not have a policy in this respect [the independence of Scotland], this question has more to do with the constitutions of each member state.  There is nothing in the statutes which speaks of it, neither in one direction nor another …  what they do say is that the constitutions of member states must be respected.”

So the repeated assertions by supporters of Better Together and Westminster politicians that Scotland would be excluded from the EU and have to reapply are simply nonsense.  The EU treaties do not specify that this is what must happen.  What is important in EU terms is the constitution of the member state which is dealing with the possible independence of a part of that state.

And there’s the rub for Better Together.  The collection of unwritten practices and written laws which make up what passes for a constitution in the UK permits the holding of an independence referendum in Scotland, and moreover Westminster has pledged to respect its result.  Scotland’s independence will be negotiated with Westminster, and recognised by Westminster.  This makes all the difference in terms of EU membership.

John Edward stressed that the Scottish referendum has been agreed with London, and said, “If the Scots vote for independence, negotiations will commence on the currency, the EU, and other questions.  London will have a tough stance in these negotiations, but it has accepted the principle and the right [to independence].”  Edward believes that the lack of a written constitution in the UK has benefited Scotland in this respect.

Prof Avery went on to highlight some other cases of independence and membership of the EU, or application for membership.  Montenegro and Kosovo were both parts of the former Yugoslavia, both declared independence from Serbia.  Montenegro was a union republic of Yugoslavia, and as such had a constitutional right to self-determination.  Meanwhile Kosovo was an autonomous republic within Serbia.  Montenegro became independent in 2006 after an independence referendum which was agreed with Serbia, Kosovo became independent after a unilateral declaration of independence which was not recognised by Serbia.

Avery said that the two processes produced very different responses from the EU.  In the case of Montenegro, “The referendum was agreed with Serbia, [Montenegro] left and there was no problem of recognition from the European Union.”  Montenegro is currently applying for membership of the EU.

However Kosovo’s desire to apply for EU membership is on hold as five EU member states (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, and Romania) do not recognise its independence, citing the Serbian constitution which prohibits Kosovan independence.  These five states will not agree to Kosovan membership of EU membership until such time as they recognise Kosovo as an independent state.  Kosovo is recognised by the EU as a possible future candidate, but it is not currently an applicant state.

Avery points out that Scotland is more like Montenegro, in that its independence will be agreed with Westminster and recognised by the UK.  This means that no other EU state has any grounds to object to Scottish membership of the EU.

The other case highlighted by Prof Avery was that of the former East Germany, which became a part of the EU as a logical consequence of German reunification.

Prof Avery said:

“This was a case of enlargement of the EU without incorporation – the number of member states did not increase.  Nevertheless, in this case a change was produced regarding the EU population, 16 million new Germans entered.  In the Scottish case, the EU population will remain the same.”

He added:

“This was a democratic process, the remaining member states accepted the most practical solution.  They adopted a plan based in common sense, and in the case of Scotland common sense will also prevail.”

Gosh, who to believe, the Fabulous Alistair Brothers, Carmichael and Darling – just as dated as the Fabulous Alexander Brothers, but their tunes are more discordant and the only thing fabulous about them is their tendency to present fairy stories as fact –  or neutral experts with no particular axe to grind.

Of course the Scottish media would prefer we believe the Fabulous Alistair Brothers, judging by the amount of airtime they’re given to spout their self-interested lies and misinformation.  They’re not interested in common sense, only in Better Together’s hysteria.

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