Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Economist, European Policy Centre

About the person: Fabian Zuleeg is specialised in the analysis of European Political Economy issues. He holds a PhD on EU accession from Edinburgh University and currently works for the European Policy Centre, an independent Brussels-based think-tank.

How would an independent Scotland be seen by the other EU Member States and the EU institutions?

Summary:

How other EU Member States and the EU institutions would see an independent Scotland will be crucially dependent on the nature of the separation, whether it is seen as setting a precedent for other independence movements across Europe and the Scottish attitude to the implementation of EU policies; the more “exceptionalism” an independent Scotland insisted upon, the more negative the attitude of other EU Member States and the institutions is likely to be.

1. There is much uncertainty and debate over the relationship an independent Scotland would have with the EU, including, for example, the question of the process of membership negotiations and whether there would be a requirement to commit to eventually joining the Eurozone.

2. In my view, these are not purely legal matters but political questions, which would require negotiations at EU level, crucially involving all other Member States (including presumably the remainder of the UK (RUK) unless the UK leaves the EU1) and the European Parliament, as well as the Commission.2 It thus matters how other EU Member States and the EU institutions would see an independent Scotland.

3. The relationship of an independent Scotland with the remainder of the UK would be settled domestically. It is, however, difficult to envisage that the RUK would actively attempt to hinder Scotland at the European level, after accepting independence as the settled will of the Scottish people. Never-the-less, there is potential for conflict here, as Scottish independence also potentially implies changes to the UK’s position in the EU,3 for example with regard to the number of MEPs and votes in tie Council of Ministers or with regard to budget contributions and receipts. The UK would have to accept these changes at EU level so if these were contentious it might well block Scottish aspirations.

4. More generally, how both Scotland and the RUK will be perceived by the EU Member States will be greatly influenced by the state of the then current relationship between the UK and the EU. It remains to be seen in how far Scotland is successful in distancing itself from the increasingly negative approach of the UK government to the EU in more recent times.

5. With regard to the views of the other EU Member States on an independent Scotland there are broadly three groups:

Those with a sympathetic view of Scottish membership, based on historic and cultural ties or shared policy priorities;

Those concerned about secessionist movements within their own country; and

The remaining countries, which could broadly be seen as “neutral”.

6. In terms of countries sympathetic to an independent Scotland, this could include some of the smaller countries with whom Scotland has sought to build close relationships in recent years, such as the Republic of Ireland or Denmark. To a certain extent, for the latter there might also be shared policy interests here in relation to membership of the Eurozone. Scotland’s historic ties with France might also be of importance, especially if France sees Scotland as potentially a more constructive European partner than the RUK.4 Other countries which might have sympathy with the Scottish cause, given their own history, might include the Baltic States and Slovenia, as well as Croatia which is virtually certain to be a Member State when the question arises.

7. A number of Member States would be concerned that Scottish independence could set a precedent for secessionist/independence movements in their own countries -the Basques and Catalans in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium or the Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania. Cyprus (supported as usual by Greece) would be concerned about the implications for international recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has already declared independence but is recognised only by Turkey. It may be noted that this group of EU member states has—for similar reasons—refused to recognise the independence of Kosovo.

8. The reaction of these countries to the Scottish case would depend on their current domestic situation, as well as the nature of the Scottish-RUK divorce. An amicable, mutually agreed separation would raise far fewer concerns, while an acrimonious and unilateral split would raise fears of similar developments back home. Even if the process for Scotland is smooth, they could still have doubts if it offered clear additional benefits for an independent Scotland, such as increased participation at EU level resulting in tangible policy changes in Scotland’s interest.

9. It will also depend on whether an independent Scotland presents itself as a constructive partner in European policy implementation. If Scotland were to seek special treatment in relation to membership conditions and the implementation of EU policies, it would make it far easier politically to block Scottish aspirations on such grounds, as they are more justifiable than apprehensions or concerns about setting an independence precedent—ie “blocking” Scotland on policy/accession matters might serve to mask deeper concerns concerning the spread of “divorce” to other Member States.

10. Other member states would tend to be “neutral” towards Scottish independence, but for them also the nature of Scotland’s approach to EU policies would have an influence; they are unlikely to be welcoming to an awkward partner, seeking exceptions and opt-outs, as currently present in the relationship of the UK with the EU. However, if Scotland shows itself to be a “good European” it might convince the rest of the EU that Scotland is a partner worth having, especially in light of a potentially increasingly awkward relationship with the RUK.

11. The European Parliament and the Commission are also likely to take such considerations into account: they are unlikely to be predisposed to opt-outs and special treatment, given that they consistently argue against such arrangements for existing Member States.

12. In addition, even if not directly involved in the negotiations, other stakeholders can also have an influence. For example, a number of regions, especially those who have a particular interest in this question, can lobby and influence at both MS and EU level either for or against Scotland’s future role in the EU.

13. To summarise, the attitude other EU Member States and the EU institutions would take to an independent Scotland is far from certain, being influenced by history and the current domestic situation in the different Member States. It is, however, likely that a consensual divorce and a constructive Scottish attitude to the implementation of EU policies would help to prepare the ground. Conversely, the more “exceptionalism” an independent Scotland insisted upon, the more negative would be the attitude of other EU Member States and the institutions.

September 2012

1 Given the current relationship between the UK and the EU, there is a possible scenario that a UK referendum leads to an exit of the UK from the EU. Depending on timing and process, this could profoundly change how an independent Scotland is seen by the other Member States and the institutions.

2 While in my view this question will predominantly be decided by political negotiation, international law will influence the procedure for an independent Scotland’s membership bid, for example depending on whether the RUK would be the sole legal successor to the UK.

3 With some even arguing that there might be a requirement for the RUK to renegotiate membership.

4 However, France might also be influenced more negatively by independence aspirations in Corsica. Countries thus do not fall neatly into one category or another, but these categories serve to illustrate what considerations might influence a country’s final position.

Prepared 29th April 2013