Friday, 31 August 2012

Busting an EU myth

In an article on the Public Service Europe website an anonymous columnist lays out the reasons why s/he thinks that EU membership will be difficult for Scotland.  The argument is piffle, and I thought I’d dissect it a little:
European Union membership is not for the asking.
Actually, it is.  Asking is the only way to get into the EU if you’re not already in it; application is followed by the accession process.  Note the purpose of the accession process and, in particular, the accession criteria.      
Scotland would satisfy the cardinal requirement of democracy and a respect for human rights. The number of its members of the European Parliament and of the Economic and Social Committee, as well as its voting strength in the European Council, is a matter of simple arithmetic. Most of the rest would be hard going.
It was going so well up until that last sentence.  I thought it was going to go on to say that Scotland is already in accord with the acquis communautaire – I feel a little sad inside!
It does not want to join the eurozone and would have to negotiate derogation. This is not given lightly since the beneficiary escapes increasingly tight eurozone discipline.
Actually, that’s massively inaccurate, Scotland will be a successor state and will inherit the obligations and rights that the UK has under the treaties.  In any case, new Member States are not obliged to join the euro.  Let me introduce you to our good friend Sweden; joined the EU in 1995 and had a referendum on joining the euro in 2003 where the Swedish people took the opportunity to decline membership of the euro.  The EU response was, as no-one who reads the Daily Mail would expect, accepting:

"Olle Schmidt (ALDE, SE) inquired whether Sweden could still stay out of the Eurozone. Mr Rehn replied that it is up to the Swedish people to decide on the issue."

The idea that any nation would be forced into the euro was always daft but the idea that the ECB would now want to let nations in before they were ready and before the eurozone was ready is simply barking.
The other member states would ask searching questions about additional financial regulation and to the Scots, for whom this is a major industry; it would be as negative as the City of London has been.
Now there’s a sweeping statement putting attitudes and opinions into the heads of other Member States (I’ll be charitable and assume just their governments) and ‘the Scots’ (homogenous lot that we are).  Why would Scotland “be as negative as the City of London”?  A sweeping generalisation of my own – we Scots, as a nation, understand the need to have financial institutions properly regulated and that international markets require proper regulation too.
The Scots would ask to continue to exempt themselves from a contribution to bail-out funds.
You know, I’d help my neighbour if his house was on fire and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t.  The eurozone trouble affects us in the sterlingzone and we should be helping.  It’s not as if the funds contributed are a gift; it’s a loan and we should be helping our neighbours where we can.  I don't think that 'the Scots' would want to turn our backs on our European partners.
As long as the remaining United Kingdom has not subscribed to the Schengen agreement on passport-free travel - which means never - Scotland would likewise stay out. But it would want to obtain a special arrangement for cross-border travel within the island and with Ireland.
Actually, the Schengen Agreement is about much more than border control and the UK is signed up to most of it.  London won’t want to introduce travel restrictions after the UK is no more, and it’ll sign up to the rest of Schengen in time – in great part because of the trade losses suffered by UK businesses as a result of not being in the free travel area.  Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus still apply border controls for the time being while non-EU members Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein allow free movement.
The Scots would consider that they qualified for a share of the former United Kingdom's 'Thatcher rebate', which reduces the payment into EU 'own resources' by two thirds. But the former United Kingdom might have other ideas - and the EU at large might want to reconsider the rebate 'ex nihilo', its word for a new start.
Firstly, the rebate is on its way out.  Secondly, it isn’t all that big; the rebate in 2010 was €3.56bn which is about £2.9bn or around £46.30 per year for each person in the UK – less than 13p a day each.  On the other hand, Scotland as an independent nation would keep the 25% of monies collected here for the EU – cash which currently goes to the Treasury in London.

Additionally, the rebate is (roughly and very simplified) two thirds of the difference between what the UK puts in and what it gets out so is essentially 66p coming back for every £1 not claimed through an EU programme.  It’s regarded by UK politicians as something of a virility symbol, though, which helps explain why UK Ministers don’t encourage engagement in EU programmes.  This is emphasised by the UK Government which points out that “the UK currently has the lowest per capita receipts from the EU budget”. 

Total EU funding coming to Scotland with a population of 5.2m is currently around £760m per annum – about €950m or €183 per head.  Comparable nations come in like this: Finland 5.4m people, €243 per head; Denmark 5.6m, €272 ph; Ireland 4.5m, €459 ph; Slovakia 5.4m, €353 ph; Lithuania 3.2m; €501 ph; Latvia 2.2m, €383 ph; Slovenia 2m, €378 ph.

Scotland would be better off without the rebate and taking part in the EU programmes – so would the UK which receives only €108 per head.
Since Scotland would not be subject to British law, it would be necessary to re-enact under Scottish law the whole body of applicable EU legislation. The catalogue would run to thousands of pages but a Scottish Consolidation Act could perhaps use a general formula. Surviving opponents of independence could spend weeks combing through the pile to ask whether specific pieces were in the country's interest.
Here in old Scotland we have our own law already – we’ve had our own legal system and laws for quite a wee while now; the odd century or eight – and EU law is already written into it because we’re a member of the EU.  That will continue after independence and ‘surviving opponents of independence’ already have the opportunity to ‘spend weeks combing through the pile to ask whether specific pieces were in the country's interest’ in Holyrood – they don’t, by and large, because they would be as horrified by the idea as any nationalist would be.
There would be a separate triangular contest over fishing rights. The Scots would want a piece of the old UK quota, and more. The (old) UK would cling to most of what it has and the other quota countries would seize the opportunity to try to recalibrate the system in their favour.
Oh, those devious, underhanded people who’ll stand up for their nation’s best interests!  I’ll bet they’re just waiting, rubbing their hands together and cackling …

Scotland’s actually quite well respected in fishing.  It was research done at the NAFC Marine Centre in Shetland that influenced ICES and changed the way that the EU looked at fish quotas, for example, and the conservation work initiated by Scottish fishermen has been world-leading.  Quotas are negotiated annually and Richard Lochhead has been in the room for Scotland’s Government the past few years; I’m sure he’ll be welcomed back representing an independent Scottish Government and that he’ll do well for Scotland.
Likewise for the cohesion fund, the Scots would put in a large bid claiming part of the UK allocation. The new UK would fight back, contending that for domestic political reasons Scotland had previously been unduly favoured.
That shows a real ignorance of how the cohesion fund works and an ignorance of the changes coming from 2013 onwards.  In fact, it suggests that the author hasn’t even bothered to look up the web page to see what the cohesion fund is.
Scotland would nominate a European Commissioner and a phony job would be created for the appointee.
Madame’s bloomers are showing!  As a Member State, Scotland will have the same right of representation in the Commission as every other Member State.
It would allege that it would be under-represented in the staffing of the institutions and would ask for a special recruitment programme.
 I would doubt that – Scots are quite well represented in the staffing of the institutions.
Scots Gaelic, alongside Irish Gaelic, would become an official but never a working language.
Actually, Irish is an “official and working language”.  Whether Scotland would press for Gaelic to be added to the list, or Lallans or Doric or Dundonian or Norn or any of the other languages of Scotland to enjoy that status is questionable, given that nearly all of our current MEPs and, one would hope, future MEPs are capable of conversing easily in the official and working language that most of our nation converses in most of the time – English.  It would be lovely to have all of our native leids as official and working languages but I don’t think we’ll be pressing for any of them (Norn least of all).
Beside all the problems of separating Scotland from the UK - the monarchy, the currency, the armed services, opposition to a nuclear weapons base and so on - EU involvement would be a side issue.
Problems?  They’re not problems; they’re just things that have to be worked out.  Oh, and the Queen is Queen of quite a few countries – even Canada never removed her from her post when it became independent in 1982.  Far from being a side issue, though, EU involvement will be right at the heart of the debate, a turning point upon which we decide which direction we want our nation to head in.
But it would irritatingly divert the EU from the other huge problems it has to grapple with. It would not be an easy ride, you have been warned.
Little old Scotland would divert the EU?  I’d like to be vain enough to think that Scottish independence is dominating the conversation in the Brussels steamie but I’m fairly sure that the interest will be understated and the enduring pragmatism of the EU will take it all in its stride just as it did when it found a way to accommodate the new state after German unification in 1990 when there were rapid negotiations to ensure that the five Lander joining the EU (the old East Germany) were smoothed into the EU in the last three months of 1990 without much fuss.

Besides which, with Croatia joining next year, Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, Iceland and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all lined up to join, and with Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina hoving into view as potential candidate countries, the EU is expanding.  Who seriously thinks that Scotland would have any trouble from any other EU Member State?

Scotland is a nation with our own laws already in conformity with the acquis communautaire, a nation that fits all the criteria of EU membership (mainly as a result of our current membership) and would be welcomed with open arms if we had been in the position of having to apply.  Scotland, like the rump UK, will be a successor state to the current UK, though, and we’ll have to take on the responsibilities and rights that the UK has under international treaties so we’ll be a Member State as of independence day.  If we want to leave the EU we’ll have to invoke the Lisbon Treaty and negotiate our way out.

1 comment:

j purdie said...

Here’s the nub right here:

"Mr Rehn replied that it is up to the Swedish people to decide on the issue."

The SNP should do the most sensible thing and say that the issue of Scotland being in or out of Europe rests with the Scottish people in a referendum on EU membership. It takes it right out of the Unionists' hands when they bring it up.

The same with currency, the head of state and all the others: I would propose a multi question referendum with membership of EU, NATO, the currency, head of state, etc. as straight yes or no answers after Scotland votes yes. That way the SNP can get on with painting a positive picture of an independent Scotland* to convince the electorate it is the right way forward. Dotting t's and crossing i's - whatever the size of them - can be done after independence is won. Of course, there is nothing to stop the ‘Our position is ...’ with the caveat of ‘decision to be made by the Scottish people.’

*Indeed the SNP are missing a trick here. As the Unionists don't want an independent Scotland (why hasn’t the SNP said to the Unionists “youse don’t even want a referendum, so get yer face oot the question”?) the SNP can paint any picture they want: tory and labour MPs elected to the Scottish parliament must wear makeup and clown shoes when in public. Once the unionists argue about what will and what won’t be a part of an Independent Scotland they are conceding to one.