25th Oct 2016

Scottish EU membership is 'no formality'

  • Scotland will vote on independence in 2014 (Photo: The Laird of Oldham)

The rest of the UK should support a 'fast-tracked' application for an independent Scotland to join the EU, according to a report published Wednesday (1 May) by MPs.

But the report, drafted by MPs on the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, warned Scottish EU membership could be a complicated affair.

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"Scotland could still find itself competing against a variety of European political agendas that would make its path to the EU far from straightforward or automatic," it comments.

Scotland will vote in September 2014 in a referendum on whether to remain part of the UK, with the governing Scottish Nationalist party leading the campaign for secession. The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties will all campaign for a No vote.

However, it is less clear what standing an independent Scotland would have in the international community.

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has indicated that he wants to keep the pound sterling rather than join the euro despite the fact that a commitment to join the single currency is in all recent EU access treaties.

Meanwhile, with Scotland having a large fisheries sector and being one of the largest claimants of EU structural funds in the UK, it would be likely to seek its own country-specific exemptions and opt-outs.

There has already been confusion over whether Scotland would have to negotiate its own accession treaty with the rest of the EU. Although Scottish ministers have claimed that this would be a formality, it admitted that it has not sought legal advice. In response to parliamentary questions, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that "a new state, if it wants to join the EU has to apply to become a member of the EU, like any state."

The committee concluded that "it is clear from these statements that there is no formal, automatic right to Scottish membership of the EU."

It noted that regarding Scottish EU membership as a formality "seems to us to misjudge the issue and underestimate the unease that exists with the EU member states … about Scottish independence."

It said Scotland could also struggle to secure the same opt-outs as Britain together with new Scotland-specific exemptions.

Similarly, it dismissed as an "overly optimistic assertion" the idea that Scotland would automatically become a member of military alliance Nato.

A number of countries would be likely to have concerns about an independent Scotland. The Spanish government is embroiled in a similar battle with Catalonia, whose regional government backs independence.

Other countries, including Germany, also have regional authorities with significant autonomy over policy making. Scottish EU membership would require a treaty amendment requiring the unanimous support of all EU countries, including Britain.

Giving evidence to the committee, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would not be seeking a new settlement with the EU. "We would not be arguing for any change in Scotland's current relationship with Europe," she said.

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