Tuesday

12th Dec 2017

Analysis

EU regionalist parties - speech is silver, silence is golden?

  • The Flemish flag hanging alongside those of Belgium, the EU and the UN (Photo: whitecat sg)

“A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member of the European Union like any state” European Commission President Barroso said mid-September.

He was replying to a question on whether an independent Scotland would automatically remain in the EU. This was bad news for the Scottish National Party (SNP) which claims Scotland would retain its EU membership after seceding from the UK.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A clarification of this matter is urgently needed. The Scottish government intends to hold a referendum on independence in the autumn 2014. The question is key for other regions too.

Clear examples are Flanders in Belgium, where the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) aims to secure EU membership for an independent Flanders and Catalonia, where hundred thousands of people demonstrated on 11 September for an independent Catalonia.

Whereas the SNP claims that Scotland could automatically remain in the EU-club after its independence, the N-VA has stated that Belgium will gradually evaporate leaving only a European macro-level and a Flemish micro-level.

According the N-VA, competences for which the advantages of size are greater than the costs of heterogeneity must be exercised by the EU, while competences where heterogeneity costs are too great must be exercised by Flanders.

This may look nice on paper but the reality is far more complicated.

First, there are no examples in history of ‘evaporated states’. Generally, states cease to exist following an active deed such as a declaration of independence, an international treaty or a civil war.

Drafting a realistic scenario is not easy. The EU Treaties only contain provisions allowing for the accession to the EU or, since the Lisbon Treaty, for the withdrawal from the EU.

Meanwhile European Court of Justice case-law shows regional entities do not have special status under EU law. Therefore, Flanders or Scotland only belong to the EU by virtue of the membership of their ‘mother states’. This implies a would-be independent region would have to go through the entire accession like any other country applying for EU membership.

There are no useful precedents. The only case of an entity escaping the arduous accession procedure was the de facto EU accession of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after being absorbed by the Federal Democratic Republic (West Germany) in 1990.

The key challenge an accession procedure would pose for such a region would not be the democratic, economic or administrative criteria but the political reality. An EU accession requires unanimity among all the EU member states. This is unlikely.

First, the unanimity requirement implies that the member state from which the region seceded would be able to block the region’s EU accession. Secondly, other member states with independence-minded regions would not be eager to recognise a new state.

There are several additional questions.

Would such a new state be able to keep the euro as its national currency (or lose its opt-out in the case of Scotland)? Would its national citizens lose their European citizenship since only citizens of EU member states are EU citizens? Are the many international agreements concluded exclusively by the EU still applicable to the new state? Would such a new state profit from the customs union?

All this shows that it is too simplistic to propose that a region could simply remain in the EU after seceding from its EU member state. This is remarkable because this matter is often the core-business of these regionalist parties. It seems their vague and incomplete EU discourse is the result of strategic choice in order to keep Pandora’s box closed: speech is silver, silence is golden.

The writers are Academic Assistants and Doctoral Researchers at the European Institute, Ghent University

Flemish separatists win Belgian election

A Flemish separatist party in favour of splitting the country into French- and Dutch-speaking parts claimed victory in Belgian elections on Sunday, making it likely that coalition talks will be even more difficult than usual in the divided state.

Magazine

Decision day for EU agencies relocation race

EU ministers will decide on the future location of two London-based EU agencies on Monday. In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies.

Magazine

The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

Magazine

History of the agencies (re)shuffle

The history of how EU agency seats were established shows that political deal-making, not logic or objective criteria, is the decisive factor.

Magazine

The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

News in Brief

  1. EU to Israel: Don't expect us to move embassies
  2. EU Commission condemns anti-semitic 'Jerusalem' protests
  3. Ministers have 'lots of questions' on new CAP plans
  4. Commission: Brexit agreement is 'deal between gentlemen'
  5. 25 EU states sign defence cooperation pact
  6. Netanyahu wants 'hardy' talks with EU on Jerusalem
  7. French centre-right elects new leader
  8. Germany and UK increase arms sales

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Alignment with EU is 'last resort', May tells MPs
  2. Iceland: further from EU membership than ever
  3. Israel presses Jerusalem claim in EU capital
  4. From dark coal toward a brighter future
  5. UK casts doubt on EU deal in 'bizarre' twist
  6. Romania wants EU signal on Schengen membership
  7. Germany says China using LinkedIn to recruit informants
  8. No chance of expanding EU warrant crime list

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level