Monday, 8 September 2014

Killer arguments

In releasing correspondence with the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro last week, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury seems to be claiming that he’s come up with some sort of killer argument against an independent Scotland using sterling as its currency.  One of the statements contained in the correspondence was that “No country has ever joined the EU while using only the currency of another country at the point of accession”.
As a statement, it’s an indisputable fact – but what does it really tell us?  As a comparison with Scotland, Alexander refers to the case of Montenegro as though it were a direct comparison.  Whilst it’s the nearest - and the only – comparison that he can find, it isn’t really a very direct one, because the territory and population of Montenegro are outside the EU; that is not true for Scotland.
The point is that ‘internal enlargement’ is not something that the EU’s rules cover; it’s an entirely novel situation.  And that means that it’s really impossible for anyone – on either side – to make any definitive statements about how rules designed for a rather different situation would actually be applied.  Given the concerns of other EU states about independence movements within their borders, one thing of which we can be pretty certain is that the EU’s rules will not be changed to deal with internal enlargement unless and until such a situation becomes inevitable.  That may be after the referendum in Scotland in a fortnight; it may be after the proposed Catalan referendum in November; it may be a result of a break-up of Belgium.  Or it may be at some other point in the future; at this stage, we simply can’t be sure.
But when the point does arrive, how will the EU and its member states respond?  My own view is that the answer is ‘pragmatically and rapidly’.  After all, that’s what happened when Germany was reunified – another situation for which the rules never allowed; a way was found in which the EU could and did do the sensible and obvious thing.  I can see no reason why the same would not happen to accommodate what is, in the grand scheme of things, simply a change in governance arrangements for a small area within the existing EU borders.
Danny Alexander strikes me as a not unintelligent man (about as complimentary as I get for a Lib Dem).  It is entirely credible to me that, having considered the matter carefully, he firmly believes that independence is the wrong way forward for Scotland.  I disagree; but it’s an honest and honourable position for him to hold.  There’s nothing unpatriotic about believing that one future is better for Scotland than another.
But I don’t find it in the least bit credible that he really believes that the EU would respond other than in a pragmatic fashion to the situation which will come into being if the Scots exercise their right to choose self-determination.  By claiming that he does indeed believe what he’s saying about the ‘impossibility’ of what is being proposed, he merely casts doubt on the credibility of anything else he says.

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