Challenges to Scottish single market membership without independence, EFTA say 

European Free Trade Association say two agreements required for Scotland to join EFTA

TWO BARRIERS stand in Scotland’s way for joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), while it remains stuck inside the UK Brexit process, according to the secretariat of the trade alliance. 

Senior EFTA officials addressed MSPs in Edinburgh today [Thursday 17 November] on the work of the association and possible applications to join from the Scotland or the UK. 

Dag Wernø Holter, EFTA Deputy Secretary General, told the Culture, Tourism, Europe & External Relations Committee that Scotland would require an agreement with Westminster then support from EFTA members to join. 

EFTA has four members - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, which all have close trading and free movement agreements with the European Union. 

Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are all members of the European Economic Area - the EEA - which includes membership of the European Single Market for the free trade of goods, capital, services, and people. 

Holter told the committee: “The EFTA convention says that any state can apply for membership in EFTA. Now as to how this is to be interpreted, that is definitely not for the secretariat to judge.”

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He added: “If Scotland would like to join the EEA along that path, the first question would of course be to reach an agreement on your relations with the UK. Secondly, it would have to be settled with EFTA. The question of statehood would be the crucial question. And again its not for the EFTA secretariat, definitely not, to have any opinion on that.”

Applications are made to EFTA through article 56 of its convention treaty

The convention reads: “Any State may accede to this Convention…Such an agreement shall be submitted to the Member States for acceptance and shall enter into force provided that it is accepted by all Member States.”
 
The vote in England and Wales to leave the EU, without any clear plan for the aftermath, has caused constitution and economic chaos - with the Tory exit plans struck down by the High Court and the Scottish Government seeking to maintain its position in the European Single Market. However, its unclear whether this is possible without being an independent country.

Scotland can “rule nothing out, nor in” regarding EFTA membership, says MEP

The Scottish Government wants Westminster to maintain close trading and political links with the EU - but Tory ministers have insisted that they are willing to wreck such agreements if they cannot include powers to hit migrants’ rights. 

Scottish Government minister Mike Russell has pledged that a compromise agreement - with Scotland inside the single market even if rUK leaves - will be presented before the end of 2016.

However, such an EFTA style agreement for Scotland raises challenge of signing international agreements without the full recognition of an independent state. 

MSPs asked Holter about the status of the Faroe Islands, which has expressed interest in reaching its own agreement with EFTA.

“There is an interest expressed on the part of the Faroe Islands to set up a closer relationship with EFTA, possibly in the way of membership of EFTA,” he said.

“These are models that we're looking at.” Nicola Sturgeon

“This is also an issue where several issues need to be clarified. First of all the Faroe Islands, their status within the kingdom of Denmark - as you know they are not an independent state, they are part of the Kingdom of Denmark with certain autonomy. First of all, this must be clarified with Denmark. Then, secondly, the question of statehood has to assessed by the EFTA member states.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday [Wednesday 16 November] that an EFTA style agreement is one option being considered by the Scottish Government. 

She told MSPs: “If the UK is intent on a hard Brexit and coming out of the single market, I want to look at how we could, and I'm not for a minute saying there wouldn't be challenges associated with this, but whether we could find a way of protecting Scotland's place in the single market.

“And of course models like EFTA, Norway is in EFTA, EFTA countries apart from Switzerland are also in the single market through the European Economic Area.

"So, of course, these are models that we're looking at and we will, as I've said previously, publish some proposals and an option, or perhaps different options, about how this could be achieved hopefully before the end of the year.”

All 32 electoral areas of Scotland voted in favour of remaining inside the European Union. 

Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV

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