We’ll be in EU queue of one

This piece originally appeared in the Express on the 19th of March 2016


Remember that old joke about Brits happily forming an orderly queue of one? Well, I wasn’t laughing this week when I posted an article in which Spanish Foreign Minister Al fonso Quecedo declared that Scotland would have to “join the queue” to become a member of the European Union.

My Twitter feed was awash with Cybernats declaring I was a “liar” who “didn’t understand anything” about the EU and was just “talking down Scotland.”

When Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief spokesperson confirmed that an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership from outside the EU using the “normal accession process”, you would have thought he was guilty of a crime against nationalism.

Of all the challenges facing a would-be state seeking EU membership, you would have thought the least important would be the “queue” issue. Since the Twitter kerfuffle, I’ve been trying to work a way of describing the holding pen for members seeking EU membership.

The best I can come up with is it is like the queue outside a nightclub. It doesn’t really matter when you joined the queue, if you are pretty, the bouncers will let you in. If you’re not, they won’t.

Three countries are currently negotiating membership (Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia), two have had their application accepted but negotiations are yet to begin (Macedonia and Albania) and Bosnia & Herzegovina has applied to join but has not yet been granted candidate status.

Turkey has been “queuing” for a long time, with three states (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007,

Croatia in 2013) entering while the Turks shuffled their feet outside. Macedonia has been outside for quite a while, trying to catch the bouncer’s eye. Kosovo wasn’t even allowed to join the queue.

Are these would-be EU members really in a queue? In the UK, a queue is an orderly progression to the front of the line. However, no one could claim EU applicants make an orderly progress. In the case of Macedonia, Greece objected to the very name Macedonia. So, despite Macedonia lodging its application in 2004, it is still on the outside. Spain objected (along with four other EU states) to Kosovo’s declared independence, putting paid to its application.

The simple fact for those countries in an EU membership holding pattern is your chances rarely have anything to do with you, but everything to do with the domestic affairs of someone else. You might be standing at the bar, a crisp £50 note in hand, but if the barman has been told not to serve you, then you are going to get thirsty.

It is true Scotland, as part of the UK, is compliant with EU law.

However, would Scotland really want to commit to all aspects of EU law during the membership negotiations? Accepting fisheries law would bring fishermen back into the Common Fisheries Policy. I’m not sure that would be popular in Alex Salmond’s back yard of Banff and Buchan.

Scotland would also face a titanic struggle to retain any opt-outs enjoyed by the UK: the share of the UK rebate negotiated by the Prime Minister in 1984, the VAT exemptions, exemption from the euro, etc. Every fight would be a challenge, take time and almost certainly result in defeat for Scotland.

Last month, Esteban Pons, leader of the largest group of Spanish MEPs, told Scotland’s Minister for External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop: “If once the UK leaves, and Scotland

decides to leave the UK, then you can join the queue after Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Turkey to join the EU.”

Pons’ comments are important because they again demonstrate the unease of the Spanish government and the risk that Scotland’s membership ambitions could be halted as a result of internal Spanish issues. In truth, the issue isn’t the veto, it’s what Scotland has to give up to avoid the veto.

One thing is crystal clear, there would be no escape from the Common Fisheries Policy in any future SNP negotiations.

Again, when I pointed this out on social media, there was uproar. This time it was Pons who didn’t know what he was talking about, didn’t speak for Spain, had been mistranslated and so on.

However you describe the process of joining the EU, the truth is the decision on whether you get in rests in the hands of someone else. In an independent Scotland’s case, that would be 27 pairs of hands, all asking for a little of something that Scotland has. Give it all up and entrance could well be swift.

Until these matters are resolved, an independent Scotland would remain on the outside, forming an orderly queue of one.