Scotland and the EU: the facts

I am often asked whether an independent Scotland can become an EU member.

The answer is simple: it can, but not without going through a lengthy procedure with several potential pitfalls.

The EU treaties list the member states. Scotland is not on that list. To become a member state with a seat at the table of the Council of Ministers, the treaties need to be changed to include Scotland. This cannot be done without the unanimous agreement of every one of the 28 national governments and ratification by every country’s national parliament (or in some countries possibly referendum).

This is true for both of the two possible mechanisms for doing this: an accession treaty or amending the treaties (the latter anyway being subject to questions as to whether that is a legally appropriate way of doing it).

Now, you don’t need to be an expert to know that there are several governments in Europe who won’t be keen to make such a treaty change a simple matter-of-fact “no problem, just sign here” matter, nodded through on the quick. Some of them are actually terrified at the precedent that it will create, and see it as an open invitation to those who want independence for Catalonia, Flanders, Corsica, Northern Cyprus, parts of Italy and so on.

If just a single one of these governments says No, or takes its time, then Scotland will find itself outside the EU at least for a time, and possibly for a long time.

The problems with this are considerable. Scotland outside the European Union (even for just a few years) means the English-Scottish border becomes a customs frontier, with controls. Scottish goods exported to Europe (including the remaining UK and Ireland) would face tariffs. EU regional funding would end. Fishing rights would have to be re-negotiated from outside. And that is just the start of a very long list of disadvantages.

After that, if there are accession negotiations, Scotland would have no automatic right to the various special treatments that the UK has been granted over the last few decades, from the budget rebate to having no obligation to join the euro or participate in the Schengen area of travel without frontier controls. No new member has been accorded such special treatment. Scotland may find that most of the other countries would be willing to grant them the same derogations that the UK has, but if a single one of them doesn’t agree, there is a problem that won’t easily be solved.

There is no sign that the SNP has thought this through. If you point it out, you are accused of negative campaigning, but no answer comes.

The SNP does say “better together” when it comes to Europe, even if it doesn’t when it comes to Britain. But it keeps quiet about the pitfalls that a separate Scotland would face in joining the European Union as a new member state.

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  1. Thank you for this article.
    I really can’t see Spain accepting Scotland in the UE. Spain would veto any solution because Catalonia is in much the same position as Scotland.
    Corsica would need a huge bombing and burning campaign to obtain a referendum!
    Don’t you think that this urge for independence in Scotland dates back to the time when a certain lady Prime Minister and her governments gave the impression that the rich of the South of England were entitled to become richer and the “rest” ok the UK, viz Scotland, poorer and poorer?

  2. “There is no sign that the SNP has thought this through” — I’m sure they’ve thought it through, just they’re not so keen to highlight these points for people!
    It would be hard for current EU countries to deny Scottish people, who are currently EU citizens, continued EU membership just because they’ve exercised their democratic right to self-determination.

  3. Good article. Looking at it from the Netherlands, i’m afraid that your PM has underestimated the feelings of people in Scotland. Some federal systems like the Germans have in their “Bundesrepublik” may bring a workable solution for Scotland and the rest of the UK. United for the outside world and independent inside the UK. One currency and one foreign office, but independent on other issues. that should have been the third option in the referendum I think.

    I wonder why can’t people in the rest of Britain vote for the future of the UK? Its in their interest as well, isn’t it?

  4. New Zeland:
    – No Whisky like that of Scotts
    – No North Sea Oil like that of Scotts
    – No close to Europe like that of Scotts,

    New Zeland is INDEPENDENT and SOVEREIGN country that perform well and share UK’s queen.
    Scotland will be INDEPENDENT and SOVEREIGN country that will perform well and share UK’s queen.

  5. After I read this article, I had one question left. Why is it that an Independent Scotland is not atomatically EU member, while the combination of England/Wales and Northern Ireland are. This state without Scotland isn’t the same EU member as well and should re-apply for membership like PM Cameron says an independent Scotland should do. Including losing every opting-out in regarding to the Euro. New member states don’t get any opting out as we know.
    The Scots may even argue that they continue the UK membership because they consider themselves as more pro EU. (I don’t know if they are though).

    • Under international law, the rest of the UK would be regarded as the continuing state, given that the bulk of the pouplation remains there and Scotland is leaving. This means that for international organisations such as the UN and also for the EU, etc, the remaining UK would continue to be recognised as the member.

  6. Voilà en quelques lignes comment comprendre la situation en Ecosse, et les relations “à suivre” avec l’Union européenne; cette excellente analyse nous donne une vue pertinente de l’intérieur des institutions: chaque citoyen se doit aujourd’hui d’être un défenseur des valeurs qui font que l’Europe est unie ! merci Richard Corbett ! Ambroise Perrin

  7. So it turned out that Scotland’s only hope of staying in the EU was a Yes vote in 2014. Now, I hope Scottish labour see the light and get behind Indy ref 2.0.

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