What happens when a State divides in two? This question lurks just over the horizon for several bits of the Empire which is keeping a weather eye on events in The United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain against the day when, as is perfectly possible, a part of one of them makes a dash for Independence.

Fortunately we have had considerable recent experience of such events with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR), the separation of the former Czechoslovakia into two states and the liquidation of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) so that there is a considerable body of recent state practice upon which to draw.

Scotland and Catalonia present similar profiles as to which of the above situations they might be compared. Both are small parts of a much larger whole: Catalonia has 16% of Spain’s population and 6.3% of its area. Scotland has 8.5% of the UK’s population ad 32% of its land area. The most likely scenario in respect of both these entities, should they opt for independence, is that the very much larger remaining nations, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Spain, would be recognised worldwide as the successor state of the UK and Spain respectively. As such this would follow the clear precedent of the Russia which was recognised by the world and its former constituent parts as the successor state to the defunct USSR. Russia assumed all the Treaty obligations of the USSR and hung on to the USSR’s Permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its UN seat. Ukraine and Belarus had, despite being part of the USSR, somehow managed to get their hands on UN seats as original members in 1945 but all the other states which split off from the USSR had to apply for membership of the UN separately and sign up to a wide range of International treaties such as, for example, the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

In the case of Belgium, it can be argued that this would be much more akin to the situation that obtained in Czechoslovakia. In this case the former Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two wholly new states emerged: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In size terms the former had about 65% of the population in 61% of the territory, so in broad terms it was a 2/3 – 1/3 split. Czechoslovakia simply informed the UN that it was about to cease to exist and that the two new states would apply for membership of the Un immediately thereafter. There are, however, as we shall see, other considerations at play as regards Flanders is concerned.

The case of the SFRY is more complex because of the wars that surrounded its break up. One by one its component Republis slipped away from Serbia’s grasp. Nonetheless there came a time when the international community concluded that there was no successor state to the SFRY or Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which by late 1992 had been reduced to a rump of Serbia and Montenegro. Accordingly the UN General Assembly took a hand:

By General Assembly resolution A/RES/47/1 on 22 September 1992, the UN “considers that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) cannot continue automatically the membership of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the United Nations, and therefore decides that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) should apply for membership in the United Nations and that it shall not participate in the work of the General Assembly.”

In the event, Serbia-Montenegro had to wait until 2000 to gain a seat at the UN, in part because of its behaviour in the region. All the other states had likewise to apply for UN membership and were not regarded as successor states to the former SFRY.

In the context of Scotland this is an issue of very great importance. Alex Salmond and the SNP have tried to pull the wool over Scotland’s eyes concerning what would happen in the event of independence, suggesting, wrongly in my view, that Scotland upon independence would slip seamlessly into membership of the European Union without so much as missing a beat. All precedent suggests most strongly that this is not the case and the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland would be universally recognized as the successor state and Scotland as a totally new state. Thus UK E&NI would, as Russia did, assume the UN seat and permanent place on the Security Council held by the UK. In addition the UK would be recognized as being a member of the EU.

Scotland, as a new state would, on the other hand, as the EU has said on at least two occasions, have to apply for membership of the EU. In 2004 when Romano Prodi was asked by Welsh Labour MEP Eluned Morgan a general question about whether a newly-independent region would have to leave the EU and apply afresh for accession, he wrote:

“When a part of the territory of a member state ceases to be part of that state, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory.

“In other words, a newly-independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the (European) Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply any more in its territory.”

He went on to make it clear that as such any newly independent state would have to apply for membership of the EU and that an application would require negotiations on an agreement about the conditions of admission.:

“This agreement is subject to ratification by all member states and the applicant state”.

Again recently the EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said:

“On the issue concerning Scotland’s independence, that’s not my competence to assess or to evaluate but if, for one moment, we were to assume that Scotland gained independence and therefore is eligible as a new member state for the European Union, I would see that, legally speaking, the continuation of the membership would remain with the rest of the UK – less Scotland. And, therefore, Scotland, as a newly independent state, would have to apply for membership.”

There are reports of both statements here and here.

As to the latter it provoked more than 1000 comments on the Scotsman’s website, an extraordinary number. Much of the comment was deeply ill-informed but there was, to my mind a distinctly uneasy, even panicky flavour to much of it. The SNP has been peddling the line that if Scotland became independent it would remain at all times a ‘member’ of the EU with all that that implies. In particular they are thereby suggesting that there would in effect be no change and Scotland could immediately start digging in to the handouts to which it has become so accustomed as a net recipient of UK cash under the Barnett Formula.

This is not so: in my view, as matter of customary international law, Scotland would not be a member of anything on independence and would have to apply for membership of the UN and the EU. And here is why Salmond is so desperate to hoodwink its people as to the true position. In that event Scotland would have to agree, as all new members now do, to join the Euro, with all the implications that has concerning fiscal policy and getting public spending under control. As Scotland has a huge public sector, there will not be so much as a squeeze on public jobs as a visit from the Grim Reaper himself who will scythe down huge swathes of publicly funded positions.

In addition Scotland will find itself impelled to place its Fisheries into the Common Fisheries pot which, bearing in mind the suggestion that independence is somehow going to allow Scotland to recover its control over its fisheries, will be a serious blow to any incoming government. Whilst it may only take a few months to get accepted into the EU, it could take a couple of years as Scotland learns to live in the real fiscal world instead of one where it happily swings on England’s hind teat. And with the EU increasingly seizing control of every aspect of Government policy, the idea that Scotland will have the benefit of “its” oil for very long may prove to be as ephemeral an idea as a mayfly in spring.

Of course Salmond, who one suspects knows only too well what the law is on this issue, will keep this truth from the people of Scotland as long as he can. The truth, when it dawns, will be all the more shocking. The people of Catalonia are likely to find themselves in a similar legal situation.

Belgium is rather more problematical. Much depends on what happens to the Wallonia. If it is subsumed into either Luxembourg or France then it is likely that the world would then recognize an independent Flanders as the successor state to Belgium and it would retain membership of the EU as such. But if both parts of Belgium opt for statehood, then it is more likely that they would feel constrained to follow the Czechoslovak model of both accepting that the old State had gone and two entirely new ones had arisen in its place. Thus both, in theory, would therefore have to apply to join the EU, if that is what their people wanted to do.

The matter is not, however, that straightforward. There is the question, and it is a delicious one, of Brussels. In theory it should form a natural part of Flanders but the linguistic and cultural nature of Brussels has changed over years so that it is now officially a bi-lingual entity at the heart of Belgium.

What would happen to the institutions of the EU if they and all the Euro MiniCrats and Euro Nabobs awoke one morning and found that they were now based in a country outside the EU, namely an independent Flanders? What a nightmare that would be!

The answer, one very strongly suspects, is that, whatever might happen to Wallonia, which as a Socialist aid junkie would not exactly be catch of the month for the EU, the latter would come up with some intellectually utterly dishonest idea that means that Flanders gets the nod as the successor state of Belgium, on exceptionally generous terms (for now, of course) and gets to keep the Brussels district as part of its territory, but which is then leased to the EU at an eye-watering annual rent which the rest of the EU will then have to cough up.

Therein lies yet another threat to the independence of all the EU member states, for such an entity will increasingly take on the appearance of a ‘Capital’ city of the EU and greatly tempt the EuroNabobs yet further down the line of making the EU into a Sovereign independent state.

Again, though, one is bound to ask why Flanders would necessarily allow itself to be ingested into the fetid maw of the EU. The whole point of unshackling herself from Wallonia is to rid herself of having to prop up a Socialist, corporatist, statist entity which sucks the very life blood out of her successful capitalist economy. To join the EU will mean replacing Wallonia with the goat-farmers of Greece and Cyprus as the end recipients of Flanders’ hard-earned money, for rich little Flanders will be seen by the EU as being eventually a nice little milch-cow to be milked often and hard. If, like Britain, you are rich and successful in this world, your reward is to keep the goat-farmers of Greece and Cyprus, the French economy, French farmers and therefore any French President who needs their votes, going. After all Belgium was last year a net-contributor to the EU to the tune of €711 million (£500 million) for which you might buy an awful lot of those wonderful chocolates!

Finally, ask yourself why the EU has gone out of its way to point out the consequences of independence so clearly? Could it be that having States declare independence is a threat to the Empire, especially if they have rich fisheries, a successful capitalist economy or, perhaps, lots of oil? And does it not suggest that the EU is deeply worried about anything which might set a trend of little nations escaping from their clutches? For such a thing would suggest that some people no longer believe the EU is in their interests. And that would never do, would it?

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