bookmark_borderMore about Scotland and the EU

EU Flag
Originally uploaded by hounddog32

A few days ago I blogged about Scotland and the EU. At the time I wasn’t aware of a rather important document that had just been published by the UK parliament.

This document is a written statement about “the foreign policy implications of and for a separate Scotland” by Graham Avery, Senior Member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre, Brussels, and Honorary Director-General of the European Commission. In other words, this is probably the greatest authority that has ever published an opinion on this crucial question.

Here is what he has to say about the question about Scotland’s continued EU membership:

For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible. From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England. Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK.) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly. From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens. If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

It’s definitely worth reading the entire document.

Needless to say, this document has ignited the Scottish blogosphere. See for instance Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Auld Acquaintance.

bookmark_borderWill Scotland have to join the euro?

Scottish euro coin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

The unionists seem to be in a tizzy about the prospect that Scotland will be forced to join the euro, so let’s have a rational look at the most likely scenarios.

To start with, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that Scotland will be allowed to inherit the UK’s opt-out. In that case, Scotland will have a formal right to remain outwith the euro indefinitely.

However, what happens if Scotland has to let go of the opt-out as part of the renegotiation of the membership terms? It’s not like Scotland would have to introduce the euro at once. Before any member state can introduce the euro, the convergence criteria have to be fulfilled:

  1. Inflation rates: No more than 1.5 percentage points higher than the average of the three best performing member states of the EU.
  2. Government finance:
    1. Annual government deficit: The ratio of the annual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) must not exceed 3% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. If not it is at least required to reach a level close to 3%. Only exceptional and temporary excesses would be granted for exceptional cases.
    2. Government debt: The ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60% at the end of the preceding fiscal year. Even if the target cannot be achieved due to the specific conditions, the ratio must have sufficiently diminished and must be approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.
  3. Exchange rate: Applicant countries should have joined the exchange-rate mechanism (ERM II) under the European Monetary System (EMS) for two consecutive years and should not have devalued its currency during the period.
  4. Long-term interest rates: The nominal long-term interest rate must not be more than 2 percentage points higher than in the three lowest inflation member states.

Currently the UK doesn’t pass any of the tests apart from the last one, and as far as I can tell, the same would apply to Scotland at the moment. Therefore, Scotland wouldn’t be allowed to join the euro at first, even if the people of Scotland so desired.

It is of course possible (and probably also desirable) that Scotland will fulfil (1) and (2) in the longer term, but criterion (3) requires a deliberate step that Scotland can decide not to take.

This is how the Swedes have managed not to join the euro — they’re technically obliged to join the euro, but they have chosen not to join ERM II, which means that they cannot join. Scotland can do the same, even if it’s against the spirit of the treaties.

Finally, by the time the Scottish economy qualifies to join the euro, the European Union and the euro might have changed beyond recognition, and it is entirely possible that there will be a strong desire to join the euro by then.

It’s definitely not anything to worry about at this stage.

bookmark_borderWhich Scandinavian language should I learn?

Scandinavian Flags
Originally uploaded by olemiswebs

The Scandinavian languages are all quite similar, so the normal approach is to learn only one of them properly. But which one should one go for?

Here are the options:

  • Swedish: Swedish is spoken by 10m people, so it’s by far the biggest Scandinavian language. It’s the language of August Strindberg, Selma Lagerlöf and Astrid Lindgren — and Stieg Larsson, of course. Many Finns know it reasonably well, because it’s one of the two official languages of Finland. Also, Norwegians tend to be relatively good at understanding Swedish, whereas many Danes find it difficult.
  • Danish: Danish has less than 6m native speakers. It’s spoken by a minority in northern Germany, and the Greenlanders and Faroese know it well, and it’s also an obligatory foreign language in Iceland. It’s the language of Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Karen Blixen and Peter Høeg, and many Norwegian writers before WWII (such as Henrik Ibsen) wrote in a language that was closer to modern Danish than to modern Norwegian. Norwegians are very good at reading Danish, but they might find the spoken language difficult to understand; Swedes find it even harder.
  • Norwegian (Bokmål): There are about 5m Norwegians, and they tend to speak their local dialect rather than one of the official written language, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Appr. 80% of them them write Bokmål, which is very similar to Danish. However, both Norwegian languages allow a lot of variation, and spelling reforms are frequent, which can be confusing to a learner.
  • Norwegian (Nynorsk): Written by less than 1m Norwegians, this is by far the smaller of the two Norwegian written languages. Very few internationally known authors write in Nynorsk. However, Nynorsk is arguably a better basis for understanding the Norwegian dialects — if you learn Bokmål, the Norwegians will understand you, but you might find it very hard to understand them. Also, Nynorsk is closer to Swedish and Icelandic in many regards, so you might find it more useful as a basis if you’re planning to learn Icelandic (or Old Norse) and Swedish later.
  • Icelandic: Icelandic is very close to Old Norse in its written form (although the pronunciation is quite different from the one reconstructed for Old Norse) — it has preserved all the nominal and verbal inflections — so it is useful if you plan to move on to Old Norse and the sagas. However, given that it is only spoken by a third of a million people, and given that it isn’t mutually intelligible with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, it really isn’t be most useful language to pick from the list.
  • Faroese: Sorry, but I can’t see any good reason to learn Faroese, unless you’ve got Faroese family or are into Faroese dancing. Because the Faroe Islands are a part of the Danish Realm, all Faroese speak Danish well, but linguistically Faroese is much closer to Icelandic.
  • Old Norse: If you’re not really interested in modern Scandinavia but love the sagas, you might as well learn Old Norse instead of one of the modern languages. However, it would be a bit like learning Old English without having any knowledge of Modern English.

bookmark_borderScotland and the EU

european union
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo

There seems to be no definitive answer in sight to the question whether an independent Scotland will have to apply to join the EU as a new country or simply remain an EU member as one of the UK’s two successor states.

The issue is that there is no precedent, as pointed out on the Shifting Grounds blog:

Robin Cook asked the Foreign Office’s legal advisers for their opinion on the status of an independent Scotland in the EU back in 1999 when I worked as his Special Adviser. Three conclusions stood out in the advice that came back.

First, there is no existing procedure for handling a breakaway from an EU member state. The Council of Ministers would therefore need to improvise one according to its own design. […]

Lawyers are notoriously unhappy to give advice in cases where there is no precedent, which we’re mostly hearing from politicians at the moment.

On the apply from scratch side of the argument, we have a long list of Spanish unionist politicians, such as the European Parliament’s vice-president:

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, the European Parliament’s vice-president, became the first leading Spanish politician to suggest publicly that a fear of separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country would influence his country’s approach to Scotland.

He said an independent Scotland should have to apply for membership and go through the accession process like any other state. He insisted that his views reflected the Spanish government’s position.

Mr Vidal-Quadras said: “If the result of the referendum is that Scottish people want to be an independent state, they should go through the accession process [for the EU].”

Asked if this position was taken because of separatist movements in Spain, he said: “You are exactly right.”

Taking more or less the same line, Spain’s foreign minister joined the fray:

[Jose Manuel] Garcia-Margallo told Spain’s senate that after independence, Scotland would face a potentially tortuous negotiating process and would also need his country’s support.

He said: “In the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted, needing the unanimous approval of all member states to obtain the status of a candidate country — and to sign the final treaty [of accession].”

He suggested EU members nations would need to check carefully Scotland’s legislation before approving the 35 separate chapters that have to be negotiated before admission would be granted. EC president Jose Manuel Barroso recently made similar claims.

Looking at the other side of the argument, we have already quoted what the European Commission’s vice-president Viviane Reding said:

Diario de Sevilla: The Vienna Convention says this: the state resulting from a parent state leaves all international organisations in which the parent is represented.

Viviane Reding: Come on, international law does not say anything like that. Please solve your internal political problems within Spain. I trust the European mentality of the Catalans.

Another promininent member of the European Commission agreed:

Joaquín Almunia – a fierce opponent of Catalan independence – said it would “not be honest” to say a breakaway region would be stuck outside the EU if it was independent.

Mr Almunia also insisted citizens of the EU could not be stripped of their rights just because their territory separated from a member state.


He told a newspaper: “You cannot give a categorical answer that somebody who splits off would remain outside and we wouldn’t know anything about them for centuries. It’s not like that. If you are a European citizen you have certain rights.”

So where does this leave us?

There is no doubt in my mind that unless Catalonia has already left Spain and become a full EU member by early 2015, Spain will happily do its utmost to make things difficult for Scotland just to make the Catalans back down. In EU terms that means that if the decision to allow Scotland to continue its membership has to be taken by unanimity, Spain will veto it.

So the question is whether unanimity will be needed, and an EU lawyer denied this would be the case back in January:

However this was dismissed by lawyers for the EU who said an independent Scotland could be treated as one of two successor states, and that a separate seat for Edinburgh would require only a simple majority vote. No single EU member would have a veto.

A lawyer for the EU told the news agency that a deal could be “done by the [European] Council, using qualified majority voting and with the required say-so of the European Parliament.”

To conclude, the EU’s commissioners and lawyers seem to be saying that you cannot throw EU citizens out of the EU, and that continuing membership would be decided by qualified majority voting (which means Spain wouldn’t be able to block it).

I presume the specific legal advice that the Scottish Government are now seeking will be specifically concerned with the use of qualified majority voting in the European Council. I’ll be looking forward to reading the papers they publish subsequently.

bookmark_borderHanging on to the consultation responses was a masterstroke

When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, David Cameron and the rest of the UK government were ecstatic that they had managed to restrict the referendum to a single question, while the Scottish government were saying they had never wanted a second question in the first place, but that they had wanted to keep the option open in case there had been huge demand for it in their consultation.

I thought at the time it was a bit odd they couldn’t find the resources to publish the analysis of the consultation responses before the decision was made, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

However, today the analysis of the responses was published (PDF), and suddenly everything has clicked into place.

The consultation responses showed a big majority in favour of a single question, so the Scottish Government could never have used them to put a second question on the ballot paper.

In other words, if the Scottish government had released the responses a month ago, the UK government would have realised there was no danger that the Scottish government would actually put a second question on the ballot paper, and they would have asked for something else instead in the negotiations.

So by delaying the release of the responses to the consultation until after the Edinburgh Agreement had been signed, the Scottish government managed to get everything they wanted themselves, as well as what the Scottish public asked for in the consultation.

bookmark_borderBuchwider Bräu ζ₁

Buchwider Bräu ??
Originally uploaded by viralbus

Shortly after my ?? I decided to brew something completely different: a stout.

I used a recipe that was supposed to produce something similar to Guinness, but I must admit it doesn’t taste like that (and the foam isn’t white).

However, if you forget about Guinness, it’s actually a very nice stout, dark and earthy. I wonder whether I should have added a wee bit of liquorice — I think it would have suited it well.

By the way, I guess I ought to summarise Buchwider Bräu’s current naming scheme:

  • ?: German Weizen
  • ?: Belgian wit
  • ?: Maibock
  • ?: Irish red ale
  • ?: Kölsch
  • ?: Stout
  • ?: Rye
  • ?: Belgian Christmas
  • ?: Scottish IPA
  • ?: Berliner Weiße

bookmark_borderBuchwider Bräu ε₁

Buchwider Bräu ??
Originally uploaded by viralbus

I took a brief brewing holiday after my ?? disaster, but last month I then fired up the kettle again.

I decided to brew a beer in the style of Kölsch, and I’m very happy with the result. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a real Kölsch, so I obviously cannot compare it to the original, but the result is a very pleasant beer with a fruity nose.

It’s also quite strong at 5.9%, but it’s very mild and drinkable.

My only criticism is that it has too little flavour to be drunk after a darker beer, and it doesn’t really shine with food.

However, for drinking on its own or with a bag of crisps it’s clearly the best beer I’ve brewed, and I’ll definitely brew it again.

Brewing notes: The yeast I used was Wyeast 2575 Kölsch II, and that’s definitely a yeast I would recommend to others. On a different note, I’m still having head-retention problems — I hope I’ll resolve that soon.