Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Swinney says Barroso wrong over new state membership

John Swinney and Jose Manuel Barroso
Image caption John Swinney disputed Jose Manuel Barroso's position

A Scottish minister believes the European Commission president was wrong to say a newly independent state would have to reapply for EU membership.

John Swinney made his remarks about Jose Manuel Barroso to members of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

The EC president told the BBC that an independent state would have to reapply for European membership "according to the rules".

The Scottish government plans to hold an independence referendum in 2014.

During his appearance before the committee, Mr Swinney also told its members that the Scottish government had been in "dialogue" with the Bank of England about plans for a monetary union, post independence.

He said the "points raised by the bank" in response would be taken into account as experts draw up a model for monetary union.

Asked by Lord Forsyth why the bank would want to act as guarantor for what would be a foreign country, Mr Swinney said that the body was the UK central bank and was as much Scotland's as anybody else's.

The committee began their questioning of Mr Swinney by focusing on the issue of an independent Scotland's status in the EU and the contents of a letter from Mr Barroso to the House of Lords committee.

Members asked the SNP politician what his government was basing its current position on.

He said: "There are a variety of expressions of legal opinion, there was one just the other day there which was expressed by the professor of law for the University Glasgow who made the point in a broadcast interview.

"Prof Tom Mullin says there is no specific provision in the treaty that expressly deals with the situation of a member state breaking up and both parts wanting to stay in and that confirms the view that I am taking."

The committee's Lord Lipsey said that it was "rather bizarre" that on the one hand there was a "considered letter from the president of the EC" and on the other a Scottish government view that did not need to "pay attention to Mr Barroso's advice".

He went on to ask Mr Swinney if his position could be "sustained for a single second".

The Scottish minister replied: "Yes, because I think the point which the committee should be very interested in is the fact there is no foundation in treaty for the comment Mr Barroso has made in that letter."

As Mr Swinney was speaking to the committee, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that a statement would be made to MSPs on Thursday afternoon about an independent Scotland's membership of the European Union.

The Scottish government has also written to the EC calling for "early talks" on the possibility of Scotland becoming independent.

A commission spokesman said it had no comment to make on the letter sent by Ms Sturgeon, but it would reply in due course.

The Scottish government has always maintained that, in the event of a "yes" vote, Scotland would "quite clearly" remain part of the European Union and negotiations would take place "from within that context".

EC president, Mr Barroso, said in his letter to the Lords committee: "The EU is founded on the treaties which apply only to the member states who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a member state would cease to be part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the treaties would no longer apply to that territory.

"In other words, a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the treaties would no longer apply on its territory."

'Seamless transition'

Mr Swinney said that "essentially" he did not agree with the contents of Mr Barroso's letter.

He added: "I can't see where that [statement] comes from.

"It's very interesting in the presentation of the letter that President Barroso gives a very clear treaty reference to countries that apply to become a member of the EU, Article 49, and I completely accept that treaty reference.

"But in the following paragraph, which I agree is a very significant paragraph, there is not a treaty reference because there cannot be any treaty reference because such provisions do not exist."

Mr Swinney argued that Scotland would remain a member of the EU until independence was enacted, provisionally in 2016, giving the Scottish government enough time to negotiate a seamless transition into the EU.

He added: "The EC has been saying for some time that they would only ever comment on a specific scenario if asked to do so by a member state, and the UK government has indicated that it is not prepared to do so.

"What President Barroso has described throughout his media interviews on this question, and he also makes the point in his letter, whilst refraining from commenting on possible future scenarios, without commenting on a specific scenario, President Barroso is making a general observation.

"In making these remarks he may have inadvertently created a specificity about it."

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