Europe breathes sigh of relief after Scotland vote
Europe breathed a sigh of relief on Friday after Scotland voted to reject independence from Britain, easing fears of a separatist domino effect on the continent and the risk of a British exit from the EU.
Many European capitals had the jitters before the vote, worrying how they would deal with an independent Scotland’s place in the EU and NATO, and about the effect on nationalist movements like in Spain’s Catalonia.
While the European Union had stayed officially neutral before the vote, there was clear relief in Brussels after the result that the first ever break-up of a member state was off the cards.
European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso — who had angered separatists earlier this year by saying an independent Scotland would find it hard to rejoin the EU — welcomed the result as a boost for a "united, open and stronger Europe".
And while there was no explicit reference to the 2017 ‘In-Out’ referendum on EU membership promised by British Premier David Cameron that Brussels has been watching carefully, the Scottish vote was clearly seen as reducing the risk.
The outcome in Scotland meant Britain "is and will remain an important member of the European Union to the benefit of all citizens and member states," European Council president Herman Van Rompuy said.
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said he was "relieved" and added: "I like a United Kingdom in a united Europe."
Keeping Britain — the world’s sixth biggest economy — in the EU fold was identified as one of the bloc’s top three priorities for the next five years by Van Rompuy in August.
– ‘Brexit’ risk reduced –
"I think it reduces the risk (of a Brexit) in some ways," Simon Hix, Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, told AFP.
"The next couple of years are not going to be taken up with Britain in Europe for this government, but with what to do inside Britain", he said, referring to likely political wrangling over the granting of more autonomy to both Scotland and England.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also weighed in, saying he believed a "unified" Britain would be able to play a strong role in the military alliance, facing its biggest challenge in years as Russia pushes at Europe’s borders.
The Scotland decision meanwhile came as a boost to EU countries facing their own separatist issues.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, facing down a bid by the Catalonia region for its own independence vote, said he was "very happy that Scotland is staying with us", hailing it as positive for "the integration of the European Union".
An independent Scotland would have given succour to separatist movements across the continent, ranging from the Basque region straddling the border between Spain and France, to Flanders, Corsica, Venice and Bavaria.
"There is a wave of relief in European governments, because they had feared a European domino effect," Jeremy Dodeigne, a political scientist at the Louvain Catholic University in Belgium, told AFP.
But Pablo Calderon Martinez, Spanish and European Studies fellow at King’s College London, said Spain’s relief would be "short-lived".
"If anything, the fact that the debate in Scotland and the UK led to a level of engagement in democratic politics not experienced in this country — or perhaps any other European country — for decades will only encourage the Catalan nationalist movement."