Scottish independence would shake up a sleepwalking Europe. Even if the Kingdom stays united, Brussels needs to have a credible strategy. A real independence is a mess, but scaring the European establishment is a great idea.
Let’s briefly imagine “it” happens : The Scots vote “yes” in Thursday’s referendum, prompting even more emergency meetings in London, Brussels, and perhaps any other European capital. What about the flag ? Currency ? EU ? Business ? Economy ? Politics ? What should happen to Scotch ? Or to towns divided by the inner-British border ? “Can they really live on their own?!”
Even the most pragmatic statesman and stateswomen will probably feel anxious while reading prepared reactions to a “yes”-vote : An independent Scotland would perhaps be the greatest administrative, legal and institutional mess the modern European Union will have to go through – but this can only be beneficial on the long run.
For a Union struggling to appeal to citizens, and facing numerous economic, social and political challenges, its reaction to an independent Scotland will be decisive : The EU’s relationship with London isn’t of the best in years ; Spain has a similar, Catalonian problem on its own ; and finally there is no treaty or text to refer to. This is all it needs to create tense in Brussels. Who thought a European country would ever have such a problem ? And still : After Spain, Belgium, where the EU Council President Herman van Rompuy comes from, could be next on the list.
For the slow and heavy machinery in Brussels, thinking about an independent Scotland, and finally having to cope with it, would be something new – and therefore beneficial. In an institutional mindset, change is annoying. This is why Scotland could declare independence – and should reunite with the United Kingdom again as soon as leaders in Brussels, London and other European Capitals have understood that things can change, and will have to change. A real independence is a mess. Scaring the leaders is a wonderful idea.
Coping with an independent Scotland would mean imagining new ways of accessing the EU, the euro or the single market. Dealing with all the legal and political mess Friday morning should lead to a more dynamic and credible European Union. Brussels has to be aware that things can change, even at the very heart of the “old” continent, and that people’s revolutionary will isn’t limited to far-away countries in Africa or the ex-Yugoslav republic.
Brussels has to acknowledge that it’s people deserve to have a voice. The Referendum in Scotland, even without being preceded by military conflicts, should make European leaders question how they deal with “separatist militants” on this same continent, in Ukraine. The Scottish choice should make us all think about what democracy has become. It should make us all aware that “change” is not a far-away illusion, and that even Europe regularly had and will have to adapt to new situations and challenges.
Brussels should show leadership, and prove that a vision for European future exists, that the EU is a credible solution. EU Institutions must not remain too silent, and hide too much behind treaties and political “we-want-to-make-nobody-angry.” There has to be an active European answer to the Scottish challenge, starting with a simple, non-bureaucratic solution leading to a rapid integration of an independent Scotland into the Union – if the Scots want to be part of the club.
Brussels should be prepared for a Scottish independence, even if the Scots vote “no.” By becoming independent, Scotland would start a series of political and institutional questioning, which might lead to a better functioning European Union. Declaring Scottish independence “just for fun” would be a warning shot, right across the bows of European bureaucracy. If, finally, the vote is close to call, and the negotiated solution of more autonomy fits the needs, why should we really engage in what will certainly become the biggest mess in modern European history ? As long as leaders have heard the wake-up call, it should be all right. But the wake-up call should be very real.
Disclaimer : This will not happen. But it sounds like a fancy idea, though.
Photo: "In european spotlight." Caption: The british Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a news conference in Brussels, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Yann Schreiber / File)