No matter the political situation, it's always the economics that triumphs in the end. Photo: Getty
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The best currency for an independent Scotland would be Norway’s kronor

If Scotland votes for independence, it will create a completely different economic context for the two new countries that emerge.

Scotland’s referendum debate has so far centred mainly on practical issues and medium-term choices like currency, new entities' share of public debt, and membership of the EU.

Far less has been said about how the different players influenced by the outcome will be affected in the longer term. It is well worth considering how independence would eventually affect the Scottish and UK economies, particularly in relation to North Sea oil. The reality is that this constitutional change could alter the macroeconomic foundations of the political map of Europe.

Aside from the UK, Norway and Denmark are the two other countries which now explore the North Sea. In 2013 the total proportions of North Sea oil produced by these three countries were 27%, 66% and 7% of the total respectively. By my estimates, Denmark’s oil sector provided around 5% of the country’s GDP, once you include petroleum production and dependent industries such as petroleum services, pipelines, refineries and so forth. For the UK it was somewhere approaching 20%, while for Norway it was 23%.

Oil and European integration

There is a strong correlation between these oil sector figures and each country’s economic and political choices. Norway stays out of both the EU and European monetary union. It has its own independent currency, whose rate of exchange is determined by the market.

At the other end of the spectrum Denmark is a member of the EU and is part of European Exchange Mechanism II (ERM II). The Danish krone’s exchange rate is tied to the euro, making it practically another form of euro. The UK is in the middle: a member of the EU but not in ERM II or the euro.

If Scotland votes for independence, it will create a completely different economic context for the two new countries that emerge. This new macroeconomic framework will work against the currently declared goals of both countries' governments.

The economy of an independent Scotland would of course be much smaller than the economy of the new UK. This means that with the same absolute oil extraction, you can estimate that the sector would contribute more than one-third of Scotland’s GDP. In the new smaller UK, on the other hand, it would only contribute something like 1% (coming from the mainly gas fields off east England).

Future choices for Scotland and the UK

This suggests that it would suit the two countries to make completely different economic and political choices. If North Sea oil dominates the Scottish economy to an even greater degree than in the case of Norway, it would suggest that it would be even less inclined towards the EU and euro than the latter country.

The logic behind this point is that oil changes the economic cycle of a country. The easiest way to think about this is to reflect on the effect of the oil price. If the oil price is high, a country that heavily relies on oil production does well and non-producers tend to do less well, because they are paying higher prices for their fuel. When oil prices are low, this reverses.

Anyone who had a passing interest in the eurozone crisis will know that the problems between the Mediterranean periphery countries and their northern neighbours were partly caused by the fact that they needed different levels of interest rates to suit their economies. An independent Scotland would suffer a similar fate, albeit for different reasons. The more that oil dominates an economy, the less well suited it is to European integration.

For the same reason, the rest of the UK would be inclined much more towards these European institutions than beforehand. The Danish experience suggests that it might lead not only to membership of ERM II but also even to adoption of the euro.

In turn, this would also lead to changes in the EU. The sheer size of the new UK would enhance the core of EU international member states, greatly increasing GDP for example. At the same time, the relative strength of socialist-inclined France would be reduced, raising the prospect of a more Atlanticist free-market approach to European unification.

On the other hand, Scotland and Norway would be naturally pushed closer to each other. They might be joined by Sweden and Iceland – Iceland and Norway share fishing interests, while Sweden and Norway’s economies are closely aligned. This could lead to much closer political co-operation between these countries, plus a kind of monetary co-ordination, if not monetary union.

Some might dismiss these arguments, pointing out that Scotland has aspirations towards the EU and that England is increasingly eurosceptic. But such people should remember the example of the UK’s brief membership in the first European Exchange Mechanism in 1990-91. The lesson was that no matter the political will, the economics will be fundamental in determining how situation evolves.

In view of these observations, it is hard not to reach several final conclusions. The Scots are not making a choice in September that is fully informed in economic terms. And the UK and EU do not seem to be fully aware of the possible long-term consequences either.

The ConversationPiotr Marek Jaworski does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.