Scotland and the EU after independence

Published: 30 November 2013

Scotland would have to apply for EU membership.

Scotland would not, and could not, be excluded.

A prolonged accession process would not be necessary.

The reasons are:

  • Scotland already meets the acquis communautaire.
  • The United Kingdom would recognize an independent Scotland following the Edinburgh Agreement.
  • There is therefore no reason for other EU states to refuse to recognition.
  • The Spanish government is clear that this does not set a precedent for Catalonia, since the Spanish constitution does not provide for secession.
  • An independent, democratic Scotland, recognized by all member states and conforming with the acquis could not be excluded from the EU.

Scotland would not have to leave the EU before being readmitted because:

  • Independence would occur after a transition period in which EU membership could be negotiated.
  • The acquis communautaire is incorporated in Scottish law.
  • It would not be in anybody’s interest to disrupt the internal market or to change the status of EU citizens in Scotland.
  • Neither Scotland or rUK is going to erect customs posts.
  • Scottish citizens are EU citizens and could not be deprived of their rights arbitrarily.
  • A fast-track accession could be agreed, either by the accession process of by treaty amendment.

Scotland would not be obliged to adopt the Euro and join the Schengen passport-free travel zone because:

  • No state has ever been obliged to join the Euro against its will.
  • Joining the Euro is subject to meeting the criteria.
  • It is difficult to see the Commission taking the UK and Scotland to court for failing to join Schengen, forcing a new border between them.

However, there is a question as to whether Scotland would want, or get, the other UK opt-outs.

In the longer term, the EU will move towards greater policy and institutional integration and the UK will stand aloof. The question then arises as to whether Scotland will shadow UK policy or will opt into measures of integration.

The rUK might even leave the EU following the proposed referendum in 2017. It is likely that the remaining EU states would proceed to closer monetary and fiscal union, including a banking union and European financial regulation. This would make it impossible for Scotland to continue using the Pound sterling.

Short of withdrawal, the UK Conservative Party proposes to negotiate further opt-outs. This might not be possible and the emphasis seems to have shifted to securing for a general repatriation of powers to all member states. Were the rUK to secure opt-outs, it would pose a challenge to Scotland as to whether it would follow, given the close trading, monetary and labour-market links to rUK.

Scotland faces a choice as to whether to follow the UK’s semi-detached attitude to Europe or whether to engage fully in the European project. There is a danger that it could end up with the worst of both words, bound to UK policy but losing influence in Europe.

There are some lessons from the experience of successful small states:

  • They rarely use their veto powers but seek to be constructive.
  • They seek alliances with like-minded states and those sharing common interests.
  • They contribute actively to policy-making rather than only lobbying for themselves.
  • They select the issues on which they will focus
  • They organize their policy-making structures to as to be aware of European issues and be ready to respond.
  • They are good at networking and encouraging their nationals to work in the institutions.


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