Exclusive: “It is Independence or nothing” - The German conditions for Scotland in the EU

CommonSpace speaks to civil servants and strategists close to the German Government about its internal views on Scottish independence and EU membership

“INDEPENDENCE OR NOTHING,” was the statement from sources within the dominant ruling party of Germany when asked about Scotland’s chances of accession to the European Union.

Members of the Auswärtiges Amt, the German federal foreign office, the ambassadorial civil service, media operatives within German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and thinktank directors with deep links to the government have confirmed that German opinion could change swiftly on Scottish independence and the prospect joining the EU.

The comments come after the UK Government presented its Brexit white paper last week which was “not surprising” but also raised German concerns that the negotiations would “not be constructive”.

“The story would be different with independence and our calculus would transform.”

The source, who wished to maintain anonymity and works in the Office of foreign relations (BAB), the international diplomatic and media wing of the CDU, told CommonSpace: “Now - it is, at the moment - lets say as far as the German Government, and for that matter all the political parties, are concerned an internal matter. But the situation could change.

“As far as the German scene is concerned, Scottish independence remains for the time being a type of fantasy. This considers the first vote in 2014. So one can say it is independence or nothing. After independence, then we can talk about EU and all of that. All of it.

“The story would be different with independence and our calculus would transform. And it’s hard to see major difficulties once the story changes for Scotland joining the EU, yes.”

The comments are a marked departure from the official line of the German Government, which during the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the current Brexit crisis has refused to be drawn on any notion of where its preferences would lie.

Opinion in Germany’s coalition government has between torn between seeing the UK vote to leave the EU as a nuisance and occasionally a switch for future opportunities. The UK leaving could result in a much tighter federal union among the remaining 27 nations, with it better able to deal with crises such as the EU-Italian banking debt or the EU-wide migration tragedy.

“Berlin is sensitive to concerns over fractions from countries like Spain and Italy - it doesn't want to seem too strident.” Ulrich Storck

Hans-Hartwig Blomeier, the director of the thinktank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, which is an affiliated organisation of the centre-right CDU in Germany, supports the statements above as accurate appraisal of how the German Government would adapt to a changing situation.

He told CommonSpace: “There is major sympathy in Germany for Scotland, this is not just a public mood but a political feeling as well. Such a feeling is evident in the political class.

“It’s important to say that nothing can happen until Article 50 is triggered and then you have negotiations to conclude the divorce from the UK. Then, after that, if Scotland was independent, there is for sure an opening.

“Of course, you have the fear in Berlin of institutional unravelling. Brexit was a massive emotional trauma for Berlin. A lot of the exceptions [opt outs] won for the UK in the past within the EU were German-won so the sense of grief is real. But change is change.”

Analysts have also cited the upcoming German elections as a reason for Brexit being of little interest. On 24 September election results German will know who the next coalition government of their government will be. Coalitions are a regular occurrence in German politics because of the federal voting system and political culture. The results will show whether the coalition will be led by the CDU or its centre-left current coalition partner, the social democratic SPD.

On Sunday, voter support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative alliance over the SPD dipped to a multi-year low of four percentage points, according to an opinion poll by Bild am Sonntag.

“You have negotiations to conclude the divorce from the UK. Then, after that, if Scotland was independent, there is for sure an opening.” Hans-Hartwig Blomeier

This is good news for the SPD, which is newly led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament and a person known for an uncompromising attitude to the UK Government’s Brexit plan.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Dr Martin Bergfelder, a counsel for the German ambassador in London, said: “The attitude is remarkably unanimous in Germany across all the political parties.

“There can be no cherry picking whether for the UK Government or anyone else. No special deals. If Scotland decides to vote again, this time for a new break then you know anything can happen.”

This rules out the idea that the Scottish Government could appeal to Berlin’s influence with the European Commission, European Parliament or negotiators to give Scotland a specially tailored deal to stay in the single market.

Many advocates of Scotland remaining in the single market stated that a ‘reverse Greenland’ scenario could have been a possibility where Scotland remains but the rest of the UK leaves the common market.

“There is major sympathy in Germany for Scotland, this is not just a public mood but a political feeling as well.” Hans-Hartwig Blomeier

On the topic of an independent Scotland gaining automatic access to the EU, Bergfelder added: “The German Government’s position is hard for this one. There are things one can say and can't say.”

On the other hand, forces next to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have been more open about their sympathies for Scottish independence.

Sigmar Gabriel, currently serving as minister for foreign affairs, chairman of the SPD and vice chancellor, made headlines last year when he expressed positive views of the Scottish cause of EU membership and argued that UK nationals should be given a form of German or EU citizenship.

“There can be no cherry picking whether for the UK Government or anyone else. No special deals.” Dr Martin Bergfelder

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) thinktank, the UK branch of which was founded in 1988 to increase understanding of German-UK social democratic relations – which is close to policy makers and politicians on the centre-left of German politics such as Gabriel – confirmed that although Germans have a fear of disintegration there is a possibility for an ease of passage for Scotland.

Ulrich Storck, director of FES, said: “There is understanding about Scotland's situation but to be honest it went away as soon as the referendum ended. The whole thing back in 2014 was a surprise. You had German journalists rushing off to discover this new thing. Scotland happened. Now there is a focus on an orderly British exit with no special deals.

“The whole idea that you read in some papers about German car manufacturers asking Berlin to soften the blow of Brexit is unfounded. Overall German industry and politics put the national interest first which is EU integrity. 

“Anything I say would be personal at the moment. But there is a chance that Germany could back EU membership after independence. However, Berlin is sensitive to concerns over fractions from countries like Spain and Italy - it doesn't want to seem too strident. But, it is all changing.”

Picture courtesy of Richard Ricciardi

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