The European Commission could agree to look at an application informally without commitment and the UK could allow a Scottish nationalist spokesman to address the council while sitting behind the UK nameplate. But the other EU member states would not be obliged even to ‘take note’. In any case, this is not the EU way – writes our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude
The President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso says that it will be difficult and even impossible for an independent Scotland to become a member of the European Union. It is grossly improper for him to say so. He is not an independent observer. The commission is charged with examining applications for EU membership and reporting to the Council of Ministers on whether the applicant satisfies the conditions of membership. You cannot have its head man saying far in advance that a free Scotland is a no-hoper. Neither he nor anybody else knows what the Scots may ask for in an eventual application for membership.
The paradox is that until it is a nation state, Scotland is not eligible to apply for EU membership. When it becomes a nation state, it is automatically not a member of the EU. As demandeur, it needs to apply for ‘candidacy’ – conferred by the council and to undergo ‘screening’ conducted by the commission. The screening of 32 chapters need not take long since Scotland manifestly meets most of the conditions. If it wants exemptions such as from the treaty obligation to join the eurozone, they will take time to negotiate. They are not automatic just because the United Kingdom has them.
The commission reports the results of screening to the Council of Ministers. The council debates the report and decides, by unanimity, whether the candidate will be admitted to membership. The Scottish nationalists talk vaguely but confidently about ‘continuity of effect’ by which they appear to mean that Scotland would seamlessly continue to be an EU member after independence, as it was when part of the UK.
There is no such provision in the EU process. The Scottish nationalists also assume that they can put through their membership application before the country becomes independent. They have no right to expect it. The commission could agree to look at an application informally without commitment and the UK could allow a Scottish nationalist spokesman to address the council while sitting behind the UK nameplate. But the other EU member states would not be obliged even to ‘take note’. In any case, this is not the EU way. Informality is infectious and due process, in strict accord with the treaties, is de rigueur.
Spokesmen for the future free Scotland have every right to foresee that their country will become a member of the EU. But not in the way and on the timescale they so confidently predict.