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Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment could block an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land’s EU mem­ber­ship if it in­sists on keep­ing cur­rency and bor­der treaty opt-outs ne­go­ti­ated by the UK, sources in the two largest po­lit­i­cal groups in Brussels told EurAc­tiv.

Scot­land will likely have to reap­ply for EU mem­ber­ship as any other prospec­tive mem­ber state, if it votes yes to in­de­pen­dence on Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to MEPs and EU of­fi­cials.

Even if Scot­land can se­cure the unan­i­mous back­ing of the 28 EU mem­ber states – far from cer­tain when coun­tries like Spain and Bel­gium are strug­gling with their own in­de­pen­dence move­ments - its ac­ces­sion will still be put to a vote of the Par­lia­ment.

A So­cial­ists and Democrats source said, “The opt-outs they’re push­ing for would make it very dif­fi­cult for them to get mem­ber­ship.”

Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence lead­ers want to re­main in the EU. But they also want to keep UK opt-outs on the obli­ga­tion to even­tu­ally join the euro, the pass­port-free Schen­gen zone, and the Bri­tish VAT re­bate.

The na­tion­al­ists plan an 18-month twin ne­go­ti­a­tion that would simultaneously achieve sep­a­ra­tion from the UK and EU mem­ber­ship. But it isn’t clear if a coun­try can legally ne­go­ti­ate for EU mem­ber­ship be­fore be­ing in­de­pen­dent.

Sources in the Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party (EPP) and the So­cial­ist and Democrats group said Scot­land could be blocked

OPT-OUTS AT RISK

if it didn’t pledge to move to­wards adopt­ing the euro as any other prospec­tive mem­ber state must.

The so­cial­ist source said, “We are deeply con­cerned about the prospects of a yes vote in the ref­er­en­dum.”

The EPP source said that their agreed po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion is that the EU will not be en­larged in the next five years. But he stressed Scot­land in par­tic­u­lar had not been for­mally dis­cussed when com­ing to that decision.

A sec­ond EPP in­sider said it could be pos­si­ble to find a way around the non-en­large­ment po­si­tion be­cause Scot­land was al­ready part of the EU. But he ad­mit­ted that is­sues such as the euro and Schen­gen were ex­tremely im­por­tant to pro-EU MEPs in all the po­lit­i­cal groups.

Jo Leinen, a for­mer chair and now mem­ber of the Par­lia­ment’s Con­sti­tu­tional Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said that the UK opt-outs would be “at risk” in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process for mem­ber­ship.

Those talks would be ini­tially be­tween Scot­land, the UK and EU of­fi­cials be­fore go­ing to other EU coun­tries and the Par­lia­ment, he said.

The Ger­man so­cial­ist MEP is­sued a press re­lease last week, which said a spe­cial ac­ces­sion treaty could be ar­ranged in the 18 months be­fore the March 2016 in­de­pen­dence day. Although it would need its own cen­tral bank, Scot­land had al­ready im­ple­mented much of Euro­pean law while a mem­ber of the UK, he said.

Ian Dun­can is a Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MEP, who cam­paign­ing for Scot­land to stay in the UK.

He said, “No coun­try has ever ne­go­ti­ated a pre-opt-out. Not one. Ev­ery opt-out has been ne­go­ti­ated after ac­ces­sion.”

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Dun­can, of the Euro­pean Con­ser­va­tives and Re­formist group, said EU of­fi­cials had told him his coun­try would have to ap­ply for EU mem­ber­ship like any other new mem­ber state if it votes to leave the United King­dom.

He said his con­tacts in the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and EU Coun­cil re­fused to make the state­ment in pub­lic.

Dun­can, pre­vi­ously head of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment Of­fice in Brussels for eight years, said, “I asked them and they ab­so­lutely will not go on the record.

“I be­lieve they are fear­ful of cre­at­ing a prece­dent at a time when there are separatist move­ments across the EU.”

The MEP said, “If there is a ‘no’ vote on 16 March, when Scot­land be­comes in­de­pen­dent, I will no longer have a con­stituency in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. I will lose my job. Scot­land will lose its place in the EU.

“What is clear is that Scot­land will not be ne­go­ti­at­ing from a po­si­tion of strength dur­ing the ac­ces­sion talks…and [Scot­tish Na­tional Party leader] Alex Sal­mond has never said what his red lines are.”

NO COM­MENT FROM COM­MIS­SION

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion last week re­peat­edly re­fused to com­ment on the ref­er­en­dum and how it would af­fect Scot­land’s EU sta­tus.

That was de­spite Pres­i­dent Jose Manuel Bar­roso say­ing in Fe­bru­ary that Scot­land would need to ap­ply like any prospec­tive state. Com­ments by EU Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Her­man Van Rom­puy last year about Cat­alo­nia have also been in­ter­preted as sug­gest­ing the same.

Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent-elect Jean Claude-Juncker is an EPP mem­ber. His of­fi­cials are stick­ing to the non-en­large­ment line.

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