EC Honorary Director General lays bare ‘false arguments’ on an independent Scotland's membership of the EU
The Honorary Director General of the European Commission Graham Avery has criticized the ‘false arguments’ made by politicians who have claimed that Scotland would have to ‘join the queue’ for membership of the EU if it vote to become independent from the UK in September.
Mr Avery is one of the architects of European enlargement who negotiated the UK's entry into the European Community in the 1970s, and made the comments at a public debate organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Wolfson College on Wednesday.
At the event, entitled Could Scotland Join the European Union?, Mr Avery debated the question of an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU with Michael Keating, Professor of Scottish Politics at the University of Aberdeen, and Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Professor of European and Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, who addressed the political, legal, constitutional, and human rights implications of Scotland’s membership of the EU, both within the UK and across Europe.
Mr Avery demonstrated how the debate has been fiercely polarized by parties on either side of the Scottish independence debate, and claimed that, “False arguments around Scottish membership of the European Union are being used as a ‘weapon of mass dissuasion’ in the debate over Scottish independence”.
Mr Avery discussed the Scottish independence referendum in the context of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, promised by David Cameron in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next election. He described as “quite worrying” the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond’s claim that the best way for Scotland to retain EU membership is to vote for independence from the UK, since the loss of 5 million predominantly pro-European Scottish voters would make it significantly more likely that British voters would choose to leave the EU, should a referendum on the issue be held.
Addressing the comments of the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso earlier this year that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU, Mr Avery argued that, while the process would undoubtedly be a complex one, the overwhelming interests of both the UK and Europe that Scotland remain in the EU would hold sway.
Mr Avery’s comments were supported by Professor Douglas-Scott, who argued that Barroso’s position misrepresents both the spirit and the letter of EU law, which foregrounds the rights of European citizens across member states. She cited the obligation of good faith present in the EU treaties in support of her claim that the EC would be duty-bound to negotiate the terms of membership with Scotland, in order to ensure that the rights of Scottish citizens under the European Convention on Human Rights would continue to be respected.
Professor Keating sought to identify the likely terms of just such a negotiation, discussing policies concerning the Schengen Agreement on free movement of citizens, and the significance of the proposed monetary union with the UK for the fiscal rules that Scotland might be bound by. He argued that Scotland would seek to secure its opt-out on Justice and Home Affairs, but that it ought to play a more positive and participatory role in Europe than the UK in recent years.
Professor Keating also addressed the possible destabilizing effects of an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU with respect to independence movements across Europe, for instance in Catalonia and the Basque country in Spain, and Flanders in Belgium. He concluded that, while Scotland would set a significant precedent, this would not be decisive in the claims of such regions within Europe, either to independence or to membership of the EU.
The event brought to a close a full programme of events this term, which covered issues including business obligations in the fight against human trafficking, the legal and political implications of the rise of social media, and the policy issues raised by the implementation of gender quotas in corporate boards. Full details and resources from all our events are available on our News pages.
A podcast of the debate will be available from our Podcast pages next week, and a policy brief on Scotland’s membership of the EU by Graham Avery is available to download on the right. To be updated of future events as they are announced in the autumn, and to receive all our latest resources, you can subscribe to our bimonthly e-newsletter, or follow us on Twitter.