17 Feb 2014

Barroso, Scotland, EU (and Nato?)

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was ready to fire his salvo against Scottish independence at his LSE speech on Friday but was surprised to find he didn’t get a question on the subject (his own introduction to the amazing indifference you find in the rest of the UK to the convulsive struggle in Scotland).

So Mr Barroso unleashed his thoughts on Andrew Marr’s programme yesterday morning before being serenaded by Boy George on screen.

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Friends say Mr Barroso knew the Kosovo example he cited would be picked apart by independence supporters as Scotland, unlike Kosovo, has been in the EU already. But Mr Barroso felt the point to make was that you need EU unanimity to get (back) in and Spain is not afraid to block when it wants to do so.

I’m told that privately Mr Barroso sees Spain as the biggest obstacle, but not the only one, for a newly independent Scotland seeking to come back into the club. He believes that Belgium would also make trouble and possibly Germany too (the former has celebrated divisions, the latter has worries about Bavaria and doesn’t want to feed them). You have to assume this is informed by private discussions at a top level with the countries concerned.

Mr Barroso’s strident message on Scotland slightly obscured a life-line he threw to David Cameron on EU renegotiation. He is still saying a treaty must happen and that David Cameron’s timetable of getting one by 2017 isn’t bonkers.

Not everyone agrees, though Mr Cameron might get a supportive remark from Chancellor Merkel when she visits the UK soon. You’re bound to wonder though if Chancellor Merkel is simply trying to avoid rocking the boat and if President Barroso, whose term of office ends soon, has his eye on getting nominations from national governments for another big job – Nato boss maybe? He’s never ruled it out.

One other point on the EU and Scotland. Alex Salmond knows because he has heard it said to his own face that some senior EU diplomats think his timetable for getting Scotland safely back into the EU in the same time it takes to agree a treaty with rump UK is wildly unrealistic. The Dutch ratification process alone would take 18 months, EU sources say, and that’s after a negotiation for new membership.

So getting the whole “let us back in” membership deal signed and sealed within the 18 months Mr Salmond says it would take to get treaty deals signed with the rump of the UK would be “impossible,” one European diplomat told me.

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