It’s a strange and contradictory life being an opponent of Scottish independence. You have to tell people in Scotland that upon independence we’d have to reapply to join the EU and get to the back of a queue behind Albania, Montenegro, and Turkey, and at the same time insist that we’d have the euro as our currency. Apparently Scotland would be lost in the wilderness outside the EU for years and years while we wait for the Turks, the Albanians, and the Montengrins to go first, all the while being forced by those beastly Germans to pay for pints of beer in euros. Although it wouldn’t be pints anymore, it would be half litres because the EU is hell bent on destroying everything that gives anyone any pleasure at all. It said so in the Express who had it on good authority from a spiritualist who was channelling Princess Di, so it must be true. Oh woe, thrice woe.
There is no queue for joining the EU. Not even a metaphorical one. Countries do not join the EU in the order in which they made their applications. There are five countries which are currently active candidates for EU membership. Four of them are Balkan states: Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. The fifth is Turkey. In addition Iceland applied for membership in 2009 in the wake of the financial crash but following the Icelandic election of 2013 when pro-EU parties suffered a heavy defeat, the new Icelandic government decided to freeze the country’s application for membership indefinitely.
Turkey made its formal application to join the predecessor to the EU, the EEC, in 1987, North Macedonia made its application in 2004, Montenegro in November 2005, Serbia in 2007, while Albania made its application in June 2014. Iceland made its application in 2009. However had Iceland not decided to freeze its application, it would certainly have joined the EU long before Turkey and the other applicants. The Balkan applicants are also likely to join the EU before Turkey.
The reason that there is no queue as such is because joining the EU does not depend on how long a country has been kept waiting, it depends on how long it takes the applicant country to get into compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria. The Copenhagen Criteria are a set of conditions and standards which the EU demands that member states adhere to. These conditions relate amongst other things to the strength of a country’s democratic institutions, freedom of the press, protections for national and ethnic minorities, respect for human rights, and having a functioning market economy. Finally, although this is technically outwith the Copenhagen Criteria, the applicant country must also be in legislative alignment with the body of EU law which has been built up over the decades, known as the acquis communitaire.
None of this is an issue for Scotland. As a rule of thumb you can say that how long it takes an applicant country to go from making its application to becoming a full member of the EU depends on where that country started off from, and Scotland would be starting off from a far better place than post-communist states like Albania with historically weak democratic institutions and rampant corruption. Such countries are going to have more difficulties meeting the entry criteria than a state like Scotland, which is already strongly aligned with the EU and already fully in compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and the acquis communitaire.
States with internal ethnic tensions, like Turkey with its large Kurdish minority, will also face obstacles to EU membership until these tensions are resolved and the linguistic and cultural rights of minorities are fully respected. Likewise there are deep concerns about the independence of the Turkish judiciary, and that country’s respect for human rights. This is not an issue that the EU has with Scotland.
Of course, upon independence Scotland will have to apply for EU membership in its own right. However this certainly doesn’t mean that Scotland will be out in the cold for decades. There is no queue to get to the back of. In addition, Scotland enjoys a number of advantages which will facilitate a smooth, easy, and quick accession to full EU membership.
As a part of the UK Scotland has been a member of the EU, and a member of its predecessor the EEC. Scotland is currently fully in compliance with all the requirements of EU membership. Scotland’s democratic institutions are strong, the country enjoys freedom of speech and of the press, minorities are fully protected in law. Indeed, in some respects Scotland’s legislation for the protection of minorities is exemplary. All of this will smooth Scotland’s path to quick and easy accession to the EU.
Although Scotland cannot make a formal application for EU membership in its own right until it becomes independent, there are steps that can be taken after a Yes vote in an independence referendum but before the actual date of Scottish independence. Simultaneously with independence negotiations with Westminster, the Scottish Government will be able to negotiate with the EU and EFTA to ensure that upon independence Scotland becomes a member of the EU’s single market and customs area. It can also ensure that following a Yes vote for independence that any measures in the UK which remove post Brexit Britain from compliance with EU laws and regulations will not apply to the territory of Scotland.
Indeed, upon independence Scotland will be in the unique position of being the only applicant state for EU membership which was previously a member of the EU. Since post-Brexit UK will be desperate to ensure that it continues to enjoy trade with the EU, it will not diverge too quickly from EU standards and regulations, that means that when Scotland does become independent, it will still be overwhelmingly in compliance with the Copenhagen Criteria and the acquis communitaire. This will facilitate the quick and smooth accession of Scotland to the EU as a member in its own right.
There is no queue. The process of application for EU membership is a box ticking exercise, and an applicant state becomes a member once all the boxes are ticked. An independent Scotland would be in the uniquely privileged position of starting its application with all the boxes already ticked.
Other opponents of independence claim that Scotland can’t join the EU because of the deficit. Of course the only deficit that Scotland has just now is the UK’s deficit, but that’s by the by. The true financial position of Scotland will not become clear until after independence. People who make this claim that the deficit is a reason why Scotland can’t join the EU are confusing – in some cases wilfully because they really ought to know better – the criteria for EU membership with the criteria for membership of the Eurozone.
Although new EU members are obliged to sign up to eventual membership of the Eurozone and the adoption of the euro as their currency, there is no timetable for this in the EU adhesion process itself. However, before Scotland could join the euro, it would first have to adopt its own currency, ensure that the new currency was stable for a number of years, then join the ERMII, and only then after a couple of years of membership of the ERMII could it adopt the euro as currency. It’s this process which demands fiscal constraints on a country’s deficit, not EU membership itself. And although a country is theoretically obliged to sign up to the euro, the necessary prior steps – which in Scotland’s case consist of introducing its own currency and then joining the ERMII – are entirely at the discretion of individual EU member states. The EU neither imposes a timetable nor penalises any member state for not taking these steps. Scotland will only take them when it’s in Scotland’s interests to do so, and the EU won’t have an issue with that.
The other scare story is the Schengen Area. This is the area of passport free movement which most EU states, and some non-EU states, belong to. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU, but do belong to the Schengen Area. Ireland and Cyprus, as well the UK, are within the EU, but outside the Schengen Area. Opponents of independence claim that Scotland would be forced to join the Schengen Area meaning that there would be passport checks along the Scottish-English border. This is scaremongering of the very worst kind.
The Schengen Treaty was designed to promote freedom of movement within the EU. It aimed to remove passport checks and controls on the movement of people. It would be a gross perversion of the spirit of that treaty to use it to impose passport checks on a border where none currently exist. Scotland is currently a member of the Common Travel Area of the British Isles, along with the rest of the UK, the Irish Republic, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Scotland has no land borders with any EU state. The only way to get directly from Scotland to another EU state other than Ireland is by flying, or by making an international ferry crossing. These modes of travel already demand photographic proof of ID such as a passport. No EU state’s interests are going to be prejudiced if following independence Scotland remains, like Ireland, a member of the existing Common Travel Area allowing passport free travel throughout the British Isles. There will be no passport checks on the Scottish-English border and it is arrant nonsense to suggest otherwise.
There is another way in which states which are applying for EU membership find that their application becomes stalled. This is when the applicant country encounters strong opposition from an existing member state. North Macedonia’s application was delayed due to that country’s naming dispute with Greece, a dispute which has now been resolved. This means that North Macedonia’s application for EU membership can now progress. Cyprus has stated that it will block Turkey’s application until the Turkish occupation of North Cyprus and the division of the island is resolved. Although Kosovo has not yet applied for membership, its application would most likely be vetoed by Spain until such time as Kosovo reaches a settlement on its dispute with Serbia.
Scotland is unlikely to encounter any such opposition. The much vaunted Spanish veto is a myth which the Spanish government itself has said is untrue. Spain would not veto the membership application of Scotland to the EU as long as Scotland attains its independence constitutionally, legally, and after negotiations with Westminster. This has always been envisaged by the Scottish Government and just about everyone else as the only route to Scottish independence. Spain’s likely veto of Kosovo is because that country declared independence unilaterally from Serbia, which ran counter to the Serbian constitution. Kosovo was at the time, and is still, considered by Serbia to be an integral part of Serbia. However Spain has never threatened a veto on Montenegro’s application, since that country’s independence from its former union with Serbia was in line with the then existing constitution. There is no constitutional bar in the UK on Scottish independence, so Spain has no grounds to block a Scottish application, and despite what you may hear from some anti-independence campaigners, it would not do so.
Since Brexit, the mood music coming from Brussels about the prospect of Scottish independence has been extremely positive. The EU no longer has any interest in protecting and defending the UK from Scottish independence since the UK is in the process of leaving. The real EU queue is the queue of MEPs from many different EU member states lining up to say how much they look forward to Scottish membership of the EU.
The EU would welcome Scotland as a pro-European state, a country with a strong democratic tradition, an abundance of natural resources, and a willingness and desire to cooperate with European partners. Moreover, Scotland will be seen by the EU states as a country which sought independence precisely because it was unhappy with the UK’s self-imposed estrangement from Europe. That fact all by itself will guarantee an eagerness from other EU member states to smooth Scotland’s transition to full EU membership in its own right.
When Scotland does make its application to become a member of the EU in its own right, that application will be one of the quickest and smoothest that the EU has ever seen. Joining the EU is a box ticking exercise, and Scotland has already ticked all the boxes. If there was a queue, Scotland would be at the head of it.
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