Barroso takes the low road
Published in NewEurope online on Sunday 2nd March 2014.
It is not always immediately obvious in Brussels when one intention in one area leads to unintended consequences in another area.
According to his entourage, a sought-after appearance for EC Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on BBC TV two weeks ago had been intended to clip the wings of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU UKIP, which is driving the political agenda in London going into the European Parliament elections in May.
Instead, the headlines homed in on the plain-wrong claim Mr Barroso made to the effect that securing independent EU membership for Scotland would prove “extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
And this, he told rolling cameras, just as an unmistakable, 10-point closing of the prior gap between Yes and No voters, had been accepted universally.
The less-than-europhile prime minister in London, David Cameron, initially hailed as “significant” the opinion of an official who has no vote, only the authority to conduct a detailed, impartial assessment of bid documentation, and whose Commission presidential mandate ends around the same time as the electoral counting in Scotland.
But all that had changed by the time the Conservative Party leader flew his cabinet into Aberdeen a week later, seeking to shift focus onto another favourite of the anti-independence scaremongers -- the prospects going forward for the oil and gas in Scottish waters not squandered in four decades of short-sighted Westminster economic waste.
Instead, Mr Cameron said the London government of the remaining ‘rUK’ would “absolutely” support formal EU membership candidacy through three-way negotiations over rights, assets and liabilities with Scotland and the EU.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond pointed out following that sharp about-turn that the Westminster government head was only falling back into line like the clear, public and logical stance of the Spanish government.
Spain’s foreign minister has emphatically underlined that Madrid will respect the negotiated agreement between Scottish and rUK governments, when it comes to pulling up another chair at the EU summit table.
Mr Barroso’s unsupported speculation also ran immediately into dismissals from experts with decades of experience at the sharp end of EU management.
These include, on a judicial level, barriers to stripping decades-old and hard-won EU citizenship rights from legal residents of all national origin eligible to vote.
This despite Scotland and distinctive Scots law’s full compliance with the EU ‘acquis’ and a planned formal declaration of intent to assume independent control of existing bloc membership terms.
Mr Salmond said it succinctly after the Commission head drew a confused parallel between Scotland and the accession track being tackled by Kosovo.
The EU is founded on the principles of democracy, freedom and solidarity and continues with the business of enlargement, so to remove Scotland would mean the bloc turning back on these founding values.
The tone is all too depressingly familiar, although as the polls increasingly narrow, also bearing diminishing returns.
Mr Barroso jumped in while in London fresh from similarly destructive rhetoric by British finance minister George Osborne, who seems to want to fight the next UK general election on a vow to lay low millions of English businesses with a currency exchange ‘tax’ on their No. 2 export market.
That is, if you believe a menace to block the use of the pound in a country with a democratic founding stake in the Bank of England.
Ticking off the checklist of EU compliance headings would need perhaps just “four minutes,” according to one Commission official engaged in processing ongoing enlargement applications and with knowledge of the amicable division of the former Czechoslovakia into today’s two EU member states.
A former Scottish Labour first minister said after Mr Barroso’s outburst -- in stark contrast to that party’s hierarchy, fully entwined with the Conservative-led coalition -- that the one-time Portuguese premier’s remarks had been “entirely misplaced.”
Fortunately, those I speak to within the EU community around the city, entirely agree.