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Time, and Scotland and the EU

Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 18.19.03Oh here we go again. It seems the question of how an independent Scotland could work in the EU will never go away. Rather than focusing on the EU’s Nobel Prize, BBC’s Hard Talk asked Barroso about Scotland and the EU in an interview today and, as before, Barroso reiterated the line that a new state – Scotland – would have to apply to join the EU. Cue unionists jumping up and down with glee (again), and being wrong (again).

The blog entry I wrote about this in March is as true as ever – the process to get Scotland into the EU is going to be a mundane and tedious one. It will be neither as simple as Salmond would like, nor impossible as unionists might argue.

Further, in this context, the question posed to Barroso – if Scotland would have to apply – does not actually matter anyway, because of time.

Look at it this way. Scotland is not going to vote to leave the UK, and then become independent the next day. Disentangling everything from energy networks to transport systems, financing to contributions to the BBC is going to take a long period of time – at least 12 months. It is going to be a matter of enormous policymaking complexity. Now I know everyone in British politics assumes negotiations can conclude instantly* Currently there is no discussion about the time aspect of the referendum, and UK politics tends to underestimate time politics can take (Nick Robinson’s 5 days that changed Britain, about 2010, is testimony to that), but I cannot see how separation of Scotland from the UK could possibly be concluded swiftly.

In comparison to that, Scotland applying to join the EU is actually going to be comparatively easy, and most definitely much easier and faster than any previous enlargement of the EU because Scotland is fully compliant with the acquis communautaire anyway. Hence how Scotland can work within the EU can be negotiated in parallel to negotiations with London to leave the UK.

Now there is the small chance that something could go wrong – some country or other could veto Scotland’s entry. But doing so, for a comparatively rich new country that had been part of the EU anyway, is just going to look like sour grapes and anyway some major EU countries, notably France, will be content to see a weakened London anyway, and hence would be on the side of letting Scotland into the EU. Yes, Scotland might have to commit to join the Euro, but Sweden still has that commitment as well, and is it making it happen?

Also look at the UK-Scotland side – what happens if these negotiations were to fail? That a financial arrangement, or a division of military or natural resources cannot be hammered out? Again, this looks to me much more of a headache than an EU accession.

So, whatever side of the independence argument you are on, the EU question is NOT going to be make or break.

* NOTE: This line has been changed because I was accused on Twitter of “straw man tactics” for having used it. Part of the idea of this blog entry is to try to have a sensible discussion about the Scotland-EU question, and I don’t want people picking holes in individual sentences. The overall issue is too important for that. Hence the change.

Photo: "Forth rail bridge and Scottish flag" by Rev Stan on January 1, 2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

10 Comments

  • European Citizen |

    It’s an interesting question because Scottish people (whatever that means) have already acquired rights as EU citizens. You can argue that their EU citizenship derives from their UK citizenship but then again it would not be very easy. Besides, what about English people? Surely, they wouldn’t be able to rely on their UK citizenship (as the UK would not exist). The treaties and ECJ have cemented the meaning of EU citizenship so, in a way, why would and EU citizen need to apply to join the EU?

  • James Burnside |

    Jon, first of all, I think there’s no doubt that ultimately an independent Scotland would be welcomed as an EU member state. The question is rather whether that status can be attained immediately on independence day or if there would be a period of hiatus from independence day until full EU membership comes into force.

    You’re right that negotiations with the EU are a minor matter compared to those on the terms of disentangling Scotland from the UK. But the current “debate” in Scotland is not so much about the substantive question as about supporters of the union trying to paint a picture of Salmond as untrustworthy and unprepared. That’s one reason, I would suggest, why Nicola Sturgeon has recently been given a much more prominent role in arguing the case. And indeed there is already a visible change of tone as well as an attempt to close down some of the legacy issues caused by Salmond speaking too loosely in the past, such as on the EU question.

    The case the SNP are now putting forward is that all the details can be negotiated and Scotland take its place as a full member state of the EU on day one of independence. There are a number of political questions such as the euro, Schengen opt-out etc., as well as potential Spanish/other opposition, which will be up to the European Council of the day to deal with, on which we can only speculate. But a more fundamental question is whether a post-referendum Scotland has the capacity to negotiate and sign an EU treaty, before it is re-established as an independent state. And if it does, could those negotiations be completed and ratification be completed in all 28 member states in time for independence day?

    Given that the treaties list each member state, it is surely common ground that an amending treaty is required. (Other treaty changes required would be minimal, as the Lisbon treaty has removed most of the institutional questions from treaty level.) As you say, given the acquis applies in full (give or take JHA legislation to which the UK has not opted in, or may by then have opted out of) negotiations need not take long. But ratification of the Croatian accession treaty will take the best part of 18 months, and the one sentence addition to article 136 has already taken 20 months (although Klaus will not be around much longer). It’s difficult to see how a Scottish amending treaty could be ratified in much less time.

    Therefore, I would suggest that for Scotland to remain in unbroken EU membership, some pretty creative bridging or transitional instruments will be needed. Not least because, as EU Citizen states, both Scots as EU citizens and other EU citizens resident in Scotland ought to have certainty about their position. As too should companies trading from Scotland with firms in other EU countries, and vice versa. To get such a creative solution through would need strong support in the European Council, and no significant opposition.

  • Craig Willy |

    Wait, why wouldn’t the former capital (in this case London) veto the secessionist nation’s accession? That’s surely some leverage.

  • Sandy Murrow |

    The blog misses two key points. Accession states must join the Euro. The UK can veto Scotland’s membership and use the threat of doing so to impose terms, e.g Scotland as an accession state must join the Euro.

    Today marks the beginning of the end of the “Yes” movement.

  • Jon |

    In theory, yes. But about the referendum it’s civil so far. If London turned around and vetoed it, especially when Cameron wants the rest of the UK to be more distant, he’d look an almighty idiot.

  • James Burnside |

    In theory, yes, the remaining UK could veto an independent Scotland’s EU membership, but if both are not to be in the EU after independence it adds a significant extra pile of issues to be settled in negotiations, plus costs to London in establishing the Tweed-Solway border as an EU external frontier.

    And if it came to a 27 vs 1 situation, that would simply be a new challenge from London to its EU partners to find a way around its veto. On the other hand, if it were clear that other member states were of a mind to make life difficult for Scotland, London would have to decide how much diplomatic effort to put in to try and smooth things over, including potentially offering concessions in other unrelated areas (presumably with commensurate recognition in negotiations with Edinburgh).

  • James Burnside |

    Sandy, on the euro question, that will be a political decision for the European Council, and could go either way. And from the Scottish point of view, once the referendum is past it doesn’t actually matter, since you can take the Swedish approach. The SNP’s problem now is simply to convince voters that they wouldn’t be forced to join the euro.

    From the EU’s point of view, it doesn’t really create a significant precedent since pretty much every other potential Scotland in the EU already uses the euro (there the problem would be creating a central bank etc from scratch before the date of independence). And you can be sure that a Scottish amending treaty will be replete with phrases such as “unique situation”, “creates no precedent”, and “sui generis”, both to discourage the Catalonias and to make sure that accession countries in “the queue” don’t think they could get non-standard terms.

  • Jon |

    Also: while the remainder of the UK could theoretically veto Scotland’s entry into the EU, no-one in London dare whisper even a word about that *before* a referendum. Because if they do then that plays straight into Salmond’s hands. And if it were not raised before the referendum then it would like real sour grapes to raise it afterwards.

  • Martin Keegan |

    I’ve accidentally put my comments about why London might veto in the comments to an earlier post linked from this one, at http://www.jonworth.eu/answering-how-an-independent-scotland-would-work-in-the-eu-is-much-more-mundane-than-anyone-seems-to-want-to-admit/

    (Summary: Scottish secesstion creates an instant three-seat Tory majority in the House of Commons, but anti-secessionist states with territorial claims against the UK have an incentive to threaten to veto Scottish accession to the EU, forcing the rump UK to establish customs and immigration barriers at the England-Scotland border unless we hand over Gibraltar etc)

So, what do you think ?