Does Mr Barroso have the power to veto Scottish membership of the EU?
Absolutely not! That decision will be one for the 28 member states. Mr Barroso, as President of the Commission has no vote on this matter. (Indeed, his second term as President of the Commission ends in October and it is expected - though not certain - that he will move on).
So what exactly did Mr Barroso say?
In bizarre comments, Mr Barroso sought to suggest securing support from 28 member states would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” based on Spain’s decision not to recognise Kosovo as independent. His logic was that Spain would take a similar approach to Scotland. This is, on a number of levels, absolutely absurd.
Does Mr Barroso speak for Spain?
Absolutely not. Mr Barroso is a former Prime Minister of Portugal who some may recall came to international attention when he hosted the infamous Azores summit between Bush, Blair and Anzar, paving the way for the invasion of Iraq.
What has the Spanish government actually said?
It’s just two weeks since the Spanish foreign minister said pretty much the opposite of what Barroso is predicting. As the Financial Times reminds us today: “Spanish officials have highlighted the fact that the UK has said it would give its blessing to Scottish independence if the nationalist win September’s referendum, a situation in sharp contrast with Spain and Catalonia’s independence campaign and with Kosovo’s exist from Serbia”. They have never said that they would veto Scottish membership. And of course, Spain had no problem with Croatia joining the EU last year.
The Spanish government draws a clear distinction between the referendum process mutually agreed by Scottish and UK governments and other independence movements who are not recognised by the state.
What’s the argument about then?
There has been almost no dispute that Scotland would be a member of the EU. Debate has centred on the precise process of how Scotland gets there, because the situation is a new one for the EU. But it is a pragmatic organisation. Remember, on reunification it took only around 10 months for East Germany to be fully absorbed into the EU in another novel situation. And that process was infinitely more difficult because East Germany had never been a member of the EU. Scotland has been part of the EU for moere than 40 years and fully complies with all the legal requirements!
The Scottish Government proposes an 18-month period of negotiations between September’s referendum and independence day in March 2016. This means by the time Scotland becomes independent, its ongoing membership of the EU will already have been tied up.
What do the experts say?
The UK Government legal adviser Professor James Crawford has accepted that the Scottish Government’s proposed 18 month timetable is “realistic”.
Former EU judge Sir David Edward has rejected the idea that there would be some “midnight hour” when suddenly all our EU rights would be extinguished, and indeed all the rights of EU citizens coming to Scotland. Sir David said EU law “would require all parties to negotiate in good faith and in a spirit of cooperation” prior to independence. There would be no need for an accession treaty but amendment to existing treaties before independence day.
Graham Avery, Honorary Director General of the European Commission, senior member of St Antony's College in Oxford, and a senior adviser at the European Policy Centre in Brussels worked for 40 years as a senior official in Whitehall and Brussels, and took part in successive negotiations for EU enlargement. In his evidence to a Westminster committee he argued:
“Arrangements for Scotland’s EU membership would need to be in place simultaneously with independence
Scotland’s 5 million people, having been members of the EU for 40 years; have acquired rights as European citizens
For practical and political reasons they could not be asked to leave the EU and apply for readmission
Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence
The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries”.
Even the adviser to the No campaign Professor Jim Gallagher has said “it seems pretty likely that Scotland would be an EU member state, probably after an accelerated set of accession negotiations”.
The real risk to Scotland’s EU membership
And of course the real risk to Scotland’s EU membership is the proposed UK-wide referendum on whether to exit the EU. Just as we are regularly outvoted at Westminster elections, there is a real possibility that we could be outvoted in any such referendum and taken out of the common market against our will and against our interests.