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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An independent Scotland's forthcoming EU negotiations

The SNP has today published its White Paper on an independent Scotland. Amongst its other analysis it sets out a strategy towards the EU. It has always been clear that if Scotland votes for independence there will need to be a negotiation with the rest of the UK on the terms for divorce, but it is now clear the SNP have an EU negotiating agenda too. Here are the main points:

Firstly, the SNP assume Scotland will remain in the EU and have a smooth transition from corporate UK membership to individual membership. They argue that "discussions [on EU accession] will be held during the period in which Scotland remains part of the UK". These discussions will have to take in the following points:
  • A Schengen opt-out: The SNP says it  would "plan to continue in the current Common Travel Area" with the rest of the UK.  As signing up to the Schengen travel area is incompatible with the UK/Ireland CTA and Schengen is a part of the EU treaties this will need a negotiation.
  • A Scottish EU Budget rebate: The UK is a net contributor to the EU budget, but would contribute even more if it had not secured a UK rebate. The SNP recognise that "Scotland is likely to be a net financial contributor to the EU" but state they wish to have their own rebate saying they "consider that the division of the share of the UK rebate would be a matter for negotiation". This would obviously be a difficult negotiation as it was for Mrs Thatcher at Fontainebleau.
  • A Euro opt-out: The SNP state that it is "our intention to retain Sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland". As well as discussions with the rest of the UK, Scotland will ideally need to gain a permanent opt-out from the Euro. The UK and Denmark are the only two states to have such a permanent opt-out but the SNP argue that the case of Sweden (which is meant to join but shows no signs of joining) shows that the EU can be flexible.
  • A Justice and Home Affairs opt-in: The UK has a special deal whereby it can chose to opt in to new JHA (justice and home affairs) measures on a case-by-case basis. The SNP have said that they "will seek to retain the current flexibility to opt into new measures on Justice and Home Affairs" meaning they will ask for their own ability to opt in.
So in an independent Scotland's EU accession negotiations, the SNP will be asking for a number of special conditions already afforded to the UK. Firstly they would like their application to be considered while they remain a part of the UK, something they will also need UK approval for. They will then be asking for opt-outs from Schengen, the Euro, a JHA opt-in and perhaps most controversially a Scottish rebate.

Will the EU be a big deal in the Scottish referendum? The SNP seem to think it might be and are keen to defend themselves from accusations they might inadvertently leave the EU. Indeed they argue that “if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland.”

It is often thought that Scotland is less 'eurosceptic' than the rest of the UK. But is this true? One YouGov poll for instance suggests that 31% of Scots would vote to leave the EU against the UK average of 34% and that 55% would vote to stay in if David Cameron renegotiated and recommended a new deal the same as the UK average. Perhaps the SNP feel that if they were left inside the EU without a 'Scottish' rebate and their own version of the UK's existing opt-outs they might see a challenge from a tartan version of UKIP?

So at a time when disillusion with the EU is growing in the UK, the SNP is, like the UK parties, keen to demonstrate they will not be ceding more (Scottish) power or money to the EU. They even accept that there are, as in the UK at large,
some Scots "arguing for a looser form of partnership" with the EU.


Stuart said...

Aside from any economic arguments, the EU has always been an important issue for the SNP because they believe it strengthens their civic nationalism credentials. As a separatist party they've always tried to avoid being seen as anti-foreigner or isolationist, and the EU is a useful proxy in that respect. They often don't even refer to "Scottish people" anymore but rather looser terms such as "people who live in Scotland".

Of course the problem with the White Paper is that it's essentially a list of things the SNP would like to do if they had unlimited money and Alex Salmond acquired the negotiating powers of a Jedi Master when dealing with the rest of the UK and the EU. The notion that the rest of the EU will accept a Scottish budget rebate seems particularly fanciful.

Nigel Smith said...

Can you add some comment on the timescale of these negotiations especially given Spain and other countries have indicated they are unwilling to smooth the path.

Freedom Lover said...

If Scotland becomes independent (fortunately, still a big "if"), & then tries to negotiate a favourable EU membership, if they do not get a major opt-out re their Scottish fisheries they will live to regret it all the while they remain in the EU. Fisheries is still big in Scotland, & the ever-greedy EU's ever-greedy European continental members will be loath to cede their current rights to Scotland's fish.

So if Scottish people want to be in control of their own fish in their own waters, then they shouldn't expect any quick success in their negotiations with the EU - & in fact, probably never get any genuine success re their fisheries, until the awful EU blows up under the stress of its own absurdities & contradictions!

Open Europe blog team said...

Hi Nigel,
You make an interesting point. The timescale set out in the SNP's document is what they would wish to happen in their perfect world. They wish to negotiate while within the UK and finalise negotiations with the UK and EU before becoming independent. In practice it would be far more complicated. The EU, under its rules, can only accept an application from an independent state, the decision would need all 28 existing states agreement, including as you say Spain’s and Scotland would need to negotiate opt outs and prove it was capable of implementing EU law on its own. Not an easy negotiation. Even Austria and Finland took a number of years to meet the requirements. We set out some of the issues here:

Unknown said...

This whole question of Scottish 'independence', 'leaving the UK' and subsequent membership of the EU, should really bring into sharp focus our current union with England, and its constitutional and legislative underpinning. Certainly I would like to see Open Europe tackle the constitutional implciations of seperation, and where it would actually leave the two new independent nation states of Scotland and England. One must remember that the United Kingdom of Great Britain is the union of Scotland and England brought about by treaty and ratified by our own seperate parliaments. On ratification, these parliaments ceased to exist, and a new Unitied Kingdom parliament and nation state was brought into being. The Treaty of Union is the closest the UK has to a written constition. The relationship of the other 'nations' within the UK is quite different - Wales has been part of the English state for the last 700 years, and Northern Ireland has a union with the UK (not Scotland or England). The point here is that Scotland and Englan are equal partners in this United Kingdom, and it is our union that created the UK nation state. If we are talking about the the dissolution of the UK, then I would argue that the two seperate new nation states of Scotland and England would both have to renegotiate EU membership. There is no constitutional or legal basis for England being the 'inheritor' nation and assuming all UK treaty obligations. I suppose Northern Ireland simply floats off into the Atlantic.
Please Open Europe, can you begin to debate the legal and constitutional implications if the Treaty of Union was repealed, and the UK parliament legislated itself back out of existence.

Rik said...

@John SW
The relation England UK is one of national UK law. The relation with the EU is one of EU/international law.
These are 2 completely different things.
How Scotland will be seen in relation with the EU is fully dependent on the latter. Only for whatever reason these rules refer to national law UK national law comes into play.

Internationally the big one (unless things as asymetric recognision plays) is considerd the continuation of the earlier merged states or territories. Which is clearly UK minus Scotland.

How things play out between the 2 UK parties on the other hand is fully decided by national law. So likely as a split.

Might possibly (relatively low probability) to make it a complete split. But this would mean the UK having to go for a new membership. And likely not only for the EU but also for NATO, UN and alike. Will not happen as you can imagine.

Anyway Mr Salmond or whatever his name is looks to be overplaying his card. Very unlikely that the EU will accept this. Similar very unlikely that UK minus will accept a continuation of the mutual GBP. They might but only in the way that the Scots can use the GBP in no way that there will be a mutual CBank. Simply not a Scottish call.
My point is this will very likely become clear before the referendum and he will look like an idiot with no proper answers on very relevant questions.

Anyway hard to see independence happen.

Derek R. said...

Having read all (or, at least most) of the comments about Scottish Independence,it seems to me that the most polite comment about the whole nonsense is "Bulls**t Baffles Brains".

Denis Cooper said...

Let me explain what would most likely happen, and it would not involve Scotland ever being outside the EU and having to apply to join through the normal Article 49 TEU route.

The referendum will take place on September 18th 2014, and Salmond has now set March 24th 2016 at the date for final separation in the unfortunate event that the Scots vote for that.

So what do you think Cameron and/or his successor, and Salmond, would be doing during those eighteen months?

Do you think they would sit around fretting that on March 24th 2016 the present UK would cease to exist and under the present EU treaties Scotland would certainly then fall out of the EU, and therefore out of the EU Single Market, and arguably the rest of the UK could also fall out of the EU if other countries chose to be sticklers, but they would do nothing at all about that?

I don't think so; I think that both know that the completely free trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK which we've had for over three centuries is of huge importance to both, and if it ceased to be internal trade because Scotland had left the UK then there would have to be new arrangements for it to continue uninterrupted and unimpeded as international trade.

Where would be Scotland's largest export market? On present trade patterns within the UK it would be the rest of the UK, an order of magnitude greater than the country which is presently listed as the largest destination for its exports, the US.

And where would be the largest export market for the rest of the UK? Scotland, which would very easily displace the US as the top destination for exports.

So not long after a "yes" vote had been declared Cameron would be in Brussels with Salmond in tow, and both of them would be on their knees begging for an amending treaty so that on March 24th 2016 there could be a seamless transition from the UK being one EU member state to Scotland and the rest of the UK being two separate EU member states.

And probably the Spanish government would say that they would not agree to any such amending treaty, thinking about the implications for Catalonia, until Merkel pointedly reminded them how badly they needed her help to get themselves out of their economic soup, when they would reluctantly agree; and then Cameron and Salmond would be so grateful for her helpful intervention that they would agree to something that she wanted, such as the amending treaty removing the UK's euro opt-out protocol and instead inserting a commitment that both Scotland and the rest of the UK would join the euro as soon as possible.

Those in England rooting for the Scots to vote for independence seem to have little idea of the multiple cans of worms that it would open.

Rick B said...

Given that Scottish Independance may invalidate the UK's membership of the EU and NATO why doesn't the rest of the UK have a say in this "divorce".

Stuart said...

@Rick B

To be fair, I doubt it would make much difference. Scots don't support independence and neither, going by the British Social Attitudes survey's question on this over the past 16 years, do people in the rest of the UK. It's a referendum on something hardly anybody wants and it will almost certainly be rejected.

It makes for a nice discussion about hypotheticals, but I don't think we'll ever have to actually deal with these problems in reality.

Rick B said...


Although the quest for independence has not gone unnoticed in other parts of Europe - especially here in Belgium.

But I agree, when the Scottish examine the cold financial facts they probably have more to lose - especially when more funds will have to be found to support the more attractive benefits in Scotland.