LONDON: European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned Sunday that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
Barroso’s blunt statement ramps up the pressure ahead of Scotland’s key referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, after Britain’s warning that it will not be allowed to keep the pound sterling if it votes to break away.
The pro-independence governing Scottish National Party (SNP) criticized Barroso’s comments amid growing anger over Britain’s stance on the currency.
“I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to win approval from all other member states in order to join the European Union, Barroso told BBC television.
Scots are due to vote on independence on September 18 in a historic referendum that could result in scrapping its 300-year link with the UK.
The SNP is campaigning for a “yes” vote to independence, while the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in the “no” camp and want Scotland’s 5.3 million people to stay.
“I don’t want to interfere on your referendum here, your democratic discussion here, but of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state,” Barroso said.
“We have seen Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance. So it is to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.”
But he added: “It’s for the Scottish people… to decide about the future of Scotland.”
The comments drew a sharp rebuke from Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“This is a preposterous assertion — as the ridiculous comparison with Kosovo illustrates,” said Sturgeon, who oversees the Scottish government’s referendum strategy.
“Scotland is already in the EU and has been for 40 years.
“As Mr.Barroso rightly says, the question of Scotland’s independent membership of the EU is a matter for the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland and the views of other member states — not the European Commission,” she said.
“The fact of the matter is that no member state has said that it would veto Scotland’s continuing membership.”
Under EU regulations, if part of the territory of a member country ceases to be part of that state and gains independence, then the newly-formed state would need to reapply for membership.
The Scottish government has previously said it will seek to negotiate EU membership in the 18 months after the referendum, should Scots vote in favor of leaving the UK.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, has declared that independence would leave Scots stuck outside the EU and losing influence on the world stage.
Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has already warned that an independent Scotland would have to leave the pound.
Finance minister George Osborne argued Thursday that there was “no legal reason” why the rest of the United Kingdom would have to share the currency.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, who heads the SNP, wants to retain the pound rather than adopt the euro.
Salmond wrote on Sunday to Cameron alleging “bullying” behavior by ministers over the debate.
All three of Britain’s three main political parties will not let an independent Scotland retain the pound.
The referendum will ask voters: “Should Scotland be an independent country?“