Scotland's vote weighs on Europe

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Image caption Glasgow: The Yes campaign has narrowed the gap with the pro-Union camp, polls suggest

Amongst the officials of Europe, Scotland is a topic they recoil from.

No one wishes to take a public stand which could influence the outcome of Thursday's referendum. It is a matter, they add, for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

But privately the European instinct is against the break-up of established countries. It is a core defence of the European project that a global world requires countries to relinquish sovereignty and to integrate more.

The outgoing President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said a few years ago that "a rising tide of nationalism is the EU's biggest enemy.

"In every member state there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It's a lie... the time of the homogenous nation state is over."

Now Scotland is not seeking to survive alone in the world but, on the whole, European officials do not want to see EU states breaking up.

So the EU establishment has said very little about Scottish independence. And there is no section in the EU treaties for the splitting-up of a member state.

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Image caption Will the Scottish Saltire one day join the others in Strasbourg?

Back to the lawyers

What Brussels has said is that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU. The formula of words was set out in a note to a House of Lords committee: "a new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory."

In truth there is much that is unclear. Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party has suggested that negotiations for EU membership could be concluded within 18 months. It argues that, because Scotland has already adopted EU laws, it could use what is called the Ordinary Revision Procedure under Article 48. This would be a way of amending the treaties.

But to use Article 48 would require the unanimous backing of all member states and Spain, with an eye to the independence movement in Catalonia, might not agree to any procedure that makes the path easier for Scotland.

Much more likely is that Scotland would have to apply for EU membership under Article 49.

It is hard to see how those negotiations could begin while Scotland was still negotiating its independence from the remainder of the UK, which will take up to March 2016.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The No campaign says separation means economic uncertainty

New EU terms?

When the serious talking with Brussels begins, some in Scotland envisage what they call "continuity of effect": that the existing arrangements for the UK will continue. But much of this is uncertain.

Would Scotland be exempt from a commitment, one day, to join the euro? Would an independent Scotland continue with the UK's EU budget rebate? Other countries might claim it would give a new member state an unfair advantage. Would an independent Scotland wish to be part of the open borders of the Schengen area?

Jo Leinen, a member of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee, said that the "UK opt-outs would be at risk" and other MEPs share that view.

Charles Grant from the Centre for European Reform says "like any country applying to join the club, Scotland would find that it had to accept the terms imposed on it by the other member states and EU institutions". Spain and other countries may not be in an obliging mood.

Yet for all the unknowns it remains the case that it would be hard to deny Scotland EU membership. It would have a democratically elected government already implementing the rules and regulations of the single market. Over the long term it would be very difficult to block a free and democratic Scotland from becoming a full member of the EU, but some countries might wish to confine Scotland to the slow lane if it submitted an application.

Nationalism

An independent Scotland would undoubtedly inspire others. Already the Catalans are pushing for their own independence vote, although Madrid says it would be illegal under the Spanish constitution. The Basques might follow.

And that is the fear - that several states would unravel. Independence movements in Flanders or Corsica or Veneto and South Tyrol would be emboldened. And this is a big "if': if others followed Scotland where would that leave the EU? Would it make it more difficult to manage? Would these new states carved out of others be more jealous of their sovereignty? Would it derail moves towards closer integration?

In 1993 Czechoslovakia broke up, with Slovakia and the Czech Republic operating two currencies. There were some painful moments but Slovakia has embraced economic reforms and is regarded by many in Scotland as a success story.

EU officials may not have said very much because the break-up of a member state takes them into unknown territory.