How could an independent Scotland join the European Union?

An independent Scotland

'Europe' / CC
Photograph: TEXT / CC

If Scotland were to go independent of the United Kingdom would they be able to join the European Union? What processes would be involved? Would they need to adopt the Euro as a currency? All these questions will be answered very shortly.

On the 18 September 2014 Scotland held a referendum on independence, with 55.3% of the Scottish electorate voting against independence. However, on 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. 51.8% universally voted to leave the EU, but 62% of Scots voted to remain a member of the EU. This raises the chances of a second Scottish independence referendum being on the table. Will Scotland remain a member of the UK and pursue Brexit? Or will Scotland become an independent state and attempt to join the EU?

The obligations of EU membership

Were Scotland to break away from the UK and be successful in joining the European Union, they would be bound by certain obligations that each EU member state is bound by. These obligations are both beneficial and hindrances to a nation. Scotland would have to pay contribution fees to the EU. Their domestic law will be inferior to EU law. Scottish judges will have to follow decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). However, Scotland will gain access to the single market, and with that access comes the four freedoms. These freedoms being; free movement of goods, services, capital and people. But firstly, Scotland must apply to join the European Union.

If Scotland were to apply they would join the queue of various countries waiting to join the EU. It is unknown whether Scotland would be able to jump ahead in the queue, similar to how Croatia took priority over Turkey in their application.

The current applicant countries are Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. However, it is unlikely for Turkey’s agreement to join the EU to be ratified due to opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There is also potential concern that Scotland’s application to join the EU could be vetoed by Spain. This is due to Spain not wanting Catalonia to break away from themselves and join the EU as an independent state. All current member states must ratify a country’s application to join the union. If one member state vetoes the agreement, then that nation will not be able to join. Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has stated however that Spain will let Scotland join the EU on the basis that their process of independence ‘happens legally and constitutionally’.

The application process

For an independent Scotland to join the EU, they will have to meet the Accession Criteria. This process is expected to be ‘relatively smooth’ by the chief executive of the European Policy Thinktank, Fabian Zuleeg ‘[a]s Scotland does largely fulfil the membership criteria’.These criteria are found in both Articles 2 and 49 of the Treaty on The European Union. Article 49 states that ‘Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union.’ The criteria in Article 2 includes‘respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law’ and much more.’ Due to Scotland previously being a member of the EU they will have already met this Accession Criteria.

Another question to address is whether Scotland would have to adopt the euro as its currency. Tobias Lock and Kirsty Hughes, writing for European Futures suggest that Scotland ‘would probably have to commit to eventual euro membership, but would not meet the criteria yet.’ They also submit that an independent Scotland would ‘be able to postpone this [adoption of the euro] (probably indefinitely).’

What if Scotland later decided to leave the European Union? So far there has been no country that has left the EU, although the UK is in the process of doing so, and there was not a way of leaving the EU until the Lisbon Treaty (Treaty on The European Union) came into force in 2009. Article 50 of the treaty allows a member state to leave the EU. According to Article 50(1) for a state to leave it must ‘withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements’. Scotland could meet these requirements by passing a bill through parliament, that gives notice of their intention to leave the EU. There are alternative options for Scotland to consider before pursuing independence and joining the EU.

The alternatives to EU membership

An independent Scotland could adopt one of three models; the Norway model, the bi-lateral model or world trade organisation terms. If Scotland were to adopt the world trade model they could join The European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The could also join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Alternatively, Scotland could remain in the UK and pursue Brexit, trading with the world rather than purely the single market.

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Samuel Marc Evans 2 Articles
LLB Law student and political enthusiast! Likes to rant about politics.

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