How other Europeans see us (2)

More than 200 from as far away as California, Barbados and Canada as well as Europe listened into/watched our latest webinar on How the EU views the UK and Scotland post-Brexit on December 14, reports David Gow. They heard a series of home truths about what lies ahead once the current transition period ends on December 31 and we are definitively out of the single market and customs union. Talk about bleak mid-winter!

Giles Merritt, head of Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, kicked off by telling us square-on that the EU’s new €1.8 trillion recovery plan and budget would have been impossible if the Brits were still members – and, in the lively Q& A session, made plain that the prospects of having a positive relationship with the EU are “negligible” so long as Johnson remains in power. “As long as there’s a eurosceptic UK government there will be an anglosceptic Europe.”

Nicoletta Pirozzi of the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome (Italy’s Chatham House) foresaw an escalation of competition between the UK and EU, with the UK pursuing even closer relations with the US under Biden. She sees no change in relations between Britain and Europe until at least 2024 when a new round of elections take place in both.

Nicolai von Ondarza of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin said the German government’s attitude to the UK mirrors the disenchantment felt by the general population,. He pointed out that Scotland’s First Minister may have been (officially) celebrated as a committed European and there may be a greater understanding of the debate around independence but Europeans agreed there would have to be legal (agreed) independence before talk of Scottish membership could be meaningful.

Kirsty Hughes of the Scottish Centre on European Relations was scathing about how the UK had damaged its previous reputation as skilled pragmatists and professionals via the chaotic transition period. “The UK has lost its reputation, damaged its image…the way it’s behaved it has become a risible figure…” Our European colleagues don’t see us rejoining for a very long time – and Scottish independence would have to be formally recognised and conceded by the rUK before one could even think of it (re)joining as a Nordic democracy…

Questions, questions…

Our panel, chaired by Mark Lazarowicz, EMiS chairman, could have talked for hours given the breadth and variety of questions posed by the audience but one clear message emerged: if we in Scotland wish to rejoin the EU as an independent country we will have to sort out critical issues such as borders (with England) and currency (our own).

Giles Merritt was blunt (again): “Can Scotland afford to join the EU and can the EU afford Scotland?” “The Scottish economy is too tightly linked to the British economy and its great natural resource, oil, has been frittered away by the English…” Nicoletta Pirozzi foresaw a less onerous accession process but the border trade issue would remain (“risk of having a second Brexit saga…”). Nicolai von Ondarza made plain that keeping the British Pound was not an option and indicated Scotland would have to have had its own currency, central bank etc beforee joining (at the very least).

Kirsty Hughes, who co-organised the discussion with the SCER and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, insisted the Scottish discussion on option “is not bold enough”. But she concluded: “Scotland can be seen as a test-case for how you get back into some sort of relationship with the EU.” At the end of what many of use see as the worst year of lives that may come as some sort of solace…EMiS will step up this debate throughout 2021 and beyond.

Read David Gow’s Can Scotland meet the EU’s criteria here and Kirsty Hughes’s SCER Paper on EU views of the UK Post-Brexit here