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Scottish Independence: A Quick Road to the EU?

January 19, 2012

Last week, the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, announced that he intended to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.  Besides all of the ramifications for the United Kingdom, Scottish independence has implications for the European Union.  To date, only the former East Germany has joined the EU without a formal application process, and that was due to it reunifying with West Germany. Conversely, Greenland (which is an autonomous part of Denmark) is the only region to ever leave the EU.

As a result, many legal and constitutional questions remain regarding what would happen to an independent Scotland.  As the Euobserver reported, two big questions would be if Scotland must apply to join the EU and if it must eventually adopt the euro (which has been required of all countries that have joined the EU since 2004).  The Scottish First Minister has proposed that Scotland should receive “semi-automatic” membership, as voting rights and the number of Members of the European Parliament would need to be negotiated, but since Scotland is already part of the EU member state, it has already enacted all of the EU laws (commonly referred to as the acquis communautaire).

However, it is in the interest of many other European Union members to not let Scotland’s entry into the EU be easy.  Many other EU countries also have regions that would like to become independent (Catalonia in Spain is only the most famous example), and if Scotland can both be independent and seamlessly be integrated into the EU, other regions may want to follow.  Thus, the Spanish government may want to force Scotland to go through the protracted process of formally joining the EU all over again and Scotland could lose many concessions that the UK has won over the years, such as exemption from the euro and a rebate on its contributions.

Either way, Scotland’s attempt to become both independent and a full member of the EU is only the strongest example yet of “neo-medievalism” in Europe.  In Medieval Europe, the continent was tied together by the loose power of the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire, and consisted primarily of small duchies, principalities, and other regions that were often only nominally part of a larger country.  Some scholars argue that the EU could create a similar system where the member states slowly loose power to the supranational EU and their regions.  Thus, Scotland’s attempt to leave the UK and join the EU as an independent country has ramifications well beyond the British Isles.

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