Scottish breakaway bid - can of worms

2012-02-14 19:44

Brussels - When British Prime Minister David Cameron enters Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's lair this week, fellow EU leaders trying to prevent their own nations from splitting will look on with interest.

Cameron is travelling to Edinburgh on Thursday in a bid to iron out the terms of a Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

The pro-independence Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, wants the vote to take place in 2014 although polls show that he still faces a battle to persuade a majority of voters to back the break with London.

Analysts in Brussels say Scottish independence could trigger a fundamental redrawing of the relationship between Britain and the European Union - something that could have profound implications for countries such as Belgium, Spain and Italy which have their own powerful separatist movements.

"Would the way the EU handles Scotland also apply if other states were to split, like Belgium or Spain?" asked Piotr Maciej Kaczynski of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"The impact on other countries, especially Spain and Belgium, could be enormous," he said.

Analysts predict that some member states could target a multi-billion-euro rebate Britain gets from the EU budget, as well as "opt-outs" from the troubled euro and the Schengen open borders agreement.

These political analysts also tip rival European Union powers to seize on perceived weakness in London.

British opt-outs

"If you are angry with the current government of the UK, it might be a scenario you'd like," Hans Martens, who heads the leading European Policy Centre in Brussels, told AFP.

Kaczynski agreed that there would "probably be some attempts by Continental politicians to convince the Scots to revoke the British opt-outs," with the aim of weakening London's position.

Denmark is the only other EU state apart from the UK to enjoy an opt-out from the euro, but Martens - a Dane - says the currency's current travails may not last.

"Right now, the boot may be on one foot in terms of the UK putting pressure on Scotland by suggesting it may have to move into the eurozone," he said.

"But by the time independence came about, in another three or four years' time, I think it will be sterling that is coming under pressure - and the positions could look quite different again."

Cameron's policy on taking office in May 2010 was to rule out euro adoption for five years; Salmond, who secured a majority in the Scottish Parliament a year later, has doubled that to 10 years during the pair's chess match over the constitution since the New Year.

The head of the Catalan government in Barcelona has already cited Scotland in demanding fresh talks with Spain.

But Salmond's deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, told the New York Times in Brussels last week that Scottish independence "would not set any precedent in other parts of Europe" given a "particular set of circumstances in the United Kingdom".

She was referring to the 1707 treaty between England and Scotland, which eurosceptic Conservatives also see offering potential for London.

No more UK

If Salmond has his way, voters from age 16, whether native or immigrant, will cast their ballots in late 2014 - the 700th anniversary of the Scots' famous victory over England in the Battle of Bannockburn.

They will decide whether Britain should be shorn of a third of its landmass, 5.2 million citizens and 90% of its oil and gas reserves - taken together, the European Union's biggest.

One of former premier Margaret Thatcher's right-hand men, Norman Tebbit, wrote in his Daily Telegraph blog this week that "if Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom, the 1707 Treaty, and with it the UK, would be no more".

He said he had asked a former Lord Chancellor, the top legal adviser in Westminster, if a new Scotland would need to apply for EU membership, which he thought would be the case.

Tebbit added: "Then after a moment's thought he said: 'But what about the new state of England, Northern Ireland and Wales? Would we remain members?

"After all, our new state would not have been a party to the [1707] Treaty either."

Read more on:    alex salmond  |  scottish independence

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