An independent Scotland could not necessarily rely on a fast-track accession to the European Union, especially if it demanded that the United Kingdom's opt-outs in key areas such as the euro and Schengen were carried over, according to a report published today by Business for New Europe.
Scotland's first minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond announced in January that he planned to hold a referendum on independence in autumn 2014. He has claimed that an independent Scotland would simply remain an EU member state, but has also committed to staying out of the eurozone and retaining pound sterling – though without ruling out joining the single currency later following another popular vote.
by BNE, an independent coalition of business leaders, points out that the EU treaties make no mention of the membership status of secession states. As a result, Scotland's position would remain uncertain and be decided by political negotiations in the European Council, in which current member states must give their unanimous approval for any new entry into the EU. "It could be that it [Scotland] is required to enter formal accession negotiations. Alternatively, an effort might be made to reach a quick political compromise," according to the report, by BNE associate Daniel Furby.
The probability of each outcome would depend on the approach the Scottish government takes, Furby writes. "Should Holyrood [the Scottish parliament] only seek to resolve institutional questions, such as MEP apportionment and council voting weight, a political deal and rapid accession might be more likely. If, by contrast, it sought to extend to an independent Scotland some of the derogations from EU rules that currently apply to the UK, such as the opt-out on the single currency and the rebate mechanism for budgetary contributions, the likelihood of a formal access and negotiating process might increase."
Meanwhile the SNP government's ambition to keep pound sterling, at least until a later referendum on euro membership, might be thwarted. Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty new EU members are obliged to join the single currency. In addition, the report suggests, other political issues might play a role. "If there were concerns about setting a precedent that might embolden secessionist movements elsewhere, Scotland could be asked to accept all EU membership criteria, including the euro," writes Furby. However, Scotland could still get out of the requirement, either by committing to join the euro at some unspecified future date, as Sweden has – though this approach might make winning the independence referendum more difficult – or by convincing the EU that the UK's opt-out from the euro should apply to an independent Scotland.
On other issues, the report predicts that Scotland would "encounter great difficultly" if it attempted to maintain a form of the British rebate, and the EU would likely be unwilling to grant Scotland the same opt-out from the Schengen passport free travel zone because it would set a precedent for future accessions. The more opt-outs and concessions that Scotland sought, "the more difficult and protracted the negotiations would be likely to be, and the more the EU might incline towards a traditional, formal accession process," writes Furby. As a result an assumption of a fast-track accession is "clearly premature".
Nevertheless, writing for PublicServiceEurope.com this month
, SNP president and member of the European Parliament Ian Hudghton dismissed what he called "scare stories" circulated by opponents of independence. "Scotland, they say, will be a new accession state and so will have to get in line behind Serbia," he wrote. "Even assuming all goes smoothly, they claim, the Spanish will veto Scotland's entry so as not to encourage nationalist movements in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia. These stories are patently nonsense. Scotland is already part of the EU. The people of Scotland are already EU citizens and the already independent Scottish legal system is fully compliant with the community aquis. Just as there is no precedent or provision for a member state dividing in two, so there is no provision for an existing part of the union being expelled."
But on the report's launch, BNE director Philip Souta said Scotland's EU membership would not be automatic. "It is dangerous and potentially misleading to tell the Scottish people that they are safe to assume Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU if it became independent. It is of course inconceivable that Scottish membership would ultimately be vetoed, but to say that it would be automatic would be equally misleading." He added: "The more it would ask for in a negotiation, the less likely member states like Spain or Belgium, with their own independence movements, would be willing to give Scotland an easy ride given the precedent it would set."