Financial Times

September 16, 2014 11:29 pm

Scotland warned rejoining European Union ‘will take years’

By Christian Oliver in Brussels

The leader of the centre-left bloc in the European Parliament has poured scorn on Scottish independence advocates’ claims that a separate country could quickly rejoin the EU, saying “it will take years” before clearing all the political hurdles.

Italy’s Gianni Pittella, head of the Socialists and Democrats group, warned on Tuesday that Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist party, was gambling with his country’s place in Europe rather than building a basis on which to build a more just society. Mr Pittella’s S&D grouping includes Britain’s pro-union Labour party.

“It is clear Scotland’s admission to the EU will not be as automatic and easy as Yes supporters claim,” Mr Pittella said, noting a new application to join the 28-country bloc would likely be held up by countries “worried about the implications for independence movements at home”.

Spain, which is facing a separatist movement in Catalonia, is widely seen as the most resistant, and Madrid’s EU minister recently warned it could take five years to clear all the political hurdles. All 28 countries must agree unanimously to admit a new member. Mr Salmond has argued that as a region that abides by all EU laws, restoring membership should prove seamless.

In his statement, Mr Pitella, a member of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic party, said that once Scotland left the EU, its border with England would become “a customs frontier, with controls and tariffs”, adding that EU development funding would also end.

He also warned that even if Scotland were to renegotiate EU admission, it would likely lose its portion of the British rebate and was unlikely to win opt-outs to euro membership and the EU’s passport-free Schengen travel area – something the UK currently has.

“No new member has been accorded such special treatment,” Mr Pittella said.

Scotland’s referendum is being closely watched in Brussels through fear that independence could kindle a series of secessionist movements in Spain, northern Italy and Belgium. This would present the incoming commission of Jean-Claude Juncker with complex additional challenges on top of the conflict in Ukraine, flagging competitiveness and threatened energy security.