As the campaigns for and against Scottish independence move into their final rounds of sparring before the vote on 18 September, the question of Scottish membership of the European Union (EU) sits (relatively) quietly in the background. And no wonder: a question which involves the interaction between the complexities of international, EU and domestic law, as well as the vagaries of international politics is a headache for which the average voter has little appetite, and nuanced discussion of which is unlikely to win many votes. Nonetheless, the question of Scottish EU membership is of considerable practical importance if a ‘Yes’ vote is returned and raises very interesting legal issues. (For previous posts on this blog raising some of those issues, see here, here and here).
Due to the complexity (and controversial nature) of the issues involved, my analysis will be split into two posts. This first post sets out the broad position of the campaigns, explores the relationship between international law and EU law, and considers whether there is any merit in the view that an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU automatically (the ‘automatic succession’ argument). It is argued that the automatic succession argument is unpersuasive even as a matter of EU law. The second post will consider the arguments concerning the correct legal basis in the European Treaties for negotiated EU membership, as well as some of the problems involved in the negotiations, the consequences if they fail, and how such issues might come to be considered by the Court of Justice.
The position of those campaigning against Scottish independence is that if Scotland becomes independent, it would not be an EU member state, and would have to reapply to join, possibly languishing at the back of a queue of other applicant states.
The separatist position has been a somewhat movable feast. At one point, the Scottish Government suggested that an independent Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU and some eminent commentators, such as Aidan O’Neill QC, have also sought to defend that outcome (see here). However, the Scottish Government has now disavowed that position, and the White Paper recognises that EU membership would need to be negotiated after all (as does O’Neill, see: here). Nevertheless, it seeks to make the case that such negotiation would be seamless and therefore the risks of not being welcomed with open arms are small. Read the rest of this entry…