It’s official: Independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership

When Alex Salmond and the SNP look back on 2012, one of the thorniest issues they will be contemplating will be the issue of Europe, writes Ed Jacobs.


When Alex Salmond and the SNP look back on 2012, one of the thorniest issues they will be contemplating will be the issue of Europe.

The embarrassment caused to the Scottish government just a matter of months ago as deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, told MSPs no legal advice had been sought on the status of an independent Scotland vis-à-vis the European Union was palpable.

Sturgeon contradicted comments made by Alex Salmond in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil and the Scottish government’s own legal action to prevent the publication of legal advice that never existed.

If that was bad though, today things have become even worse. On the very day MSPs gather for the regular bear knuckle slog that is First Minister’s Questions, the European Commission has seemingly shot a hole right through the heart of the SNP’s belief that if Scotland goes it alone it would somehow automatically be entitled to a place in the EU.

The Scotsman today quotes a letter sent from the European Commission to a sub-committee of the House of Lords economic affairs committee stating in no uncertain language an independent Scotland would have to reapply to join the European top club.

The letter, the paper says, states:

“If a territory of a member state ceases to be part of that member state because it has become an independent state then the treaties would cease to apply to that territory.”

Such a situation, the letter continues, would make Scotland a “third country”, the technical jargon for a European state outside the EU which would need to apply to join.

Explaining the rest of the UK would remain in the Union, the letter concludes that Scotland would need to make an application to join which would “fulfil the usual obligations” and be “accepted unanimously by the members of the council [member states]”, adding:

“The applicant needs to enter negotiations with the member states.”

The letter follows comments made in October by the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, to the country’s Senate in which he said:

“In the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted.”

In continuing the Scottish government’s line that an independent Scotland would continue to be an EU member, the Scotsman quotes a spokesperson for the Scottish Government as saying:

“Immediately following a ‘Yes’ vote in autumn 2014, Scotland will still be part of the UK. Negotiations will then take place on the transfer of powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament along with negotiations on the specific terms of an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union.

“Ministers have always been clear that these negotiations will be needed – but the crucial point is that they will take place from within the EU.

“Scotland has been an integral part of the European Union for almost four decades and an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership. As legal, constitutional and European experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU, and there is no provision for those circumstances to change upon independence.”

For both the UK government and Labour, however, the letter from the Commission confirms their suspicions.

A spokesperson for the Scotland Office explained:

“The UK government has been consistent and clear in its view that an independent Scotland would most likely need to seek re-entry into the EU on renegotiated terms.

“The Scottish government has failed to acknowledge this point or address the issues it raises from agricultural support, to fish quotas, to structural funds. People in Scotland have a right to know the full implications if Scotland were to leave the UK family.”

And the Scottish Labour peer, Lord George Foulkes, who is on the committee, said:

“I understand [the president of the European Commission] Jose Manuel Barosso will be replying to the [Lords] economic affairs sub committee on the economic impact of separation and we have had evidence here in Brussels confirming Scotland would have to seek accession to the European Union.”

See also:

David Miliband: Scotland can’t just “leave the UK on Friday, join the EU on Monday”November 24th, 2012

Legal ding-dong on EU advice as Clegg wades in to Holyrood scrapNovember 2nd, 2012

Advice? What advice? Salmond finds himself in more hot water over EU ‘lies’October 29th, 2012

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38 Responses to “It’s official: Independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership”

  1. Billy Connor

    sorry…the letter doesn’t exist, this article is just one more lie in a catalogue of lies by britnat press and the BBC but you will of course not see any retraction. Are you not fed up of printing lies.

  2. Cadarn

    Is this a genuine socialist or rather is it a residual imperial assimilationist Britnat site?

  3. Colin Maclean

    Are you saying that, if I and 5 million EU citizens in Scotland exercise our democratic right to vote for self-determination for Scotland, the EU will strip us of our status? It would be useful to hear from those who do not have a vested interest in the status quo. After all, the queue referred to by Senor Garcia-Margallo will include Catalunya.

  4. Cadarn

    Sorry, but your ostensibly ‘left’ leaning rhetoric needs now to be seriously outed for what it really is- essentially an assimilationist British nationalism still intent on ruling others..

  5. A14er

    If the residents of Scotland vote for independence ( not ‘the Scots’ as people born in Scotland but living in the rest of the UK don’t have a vote), and if Scotland is not in the EU, then the cost to everyone on all sides of the borders will be increased with all the customs offices, border posts, Eueopean postal charges between the rump UK and Scoltland etc.

    Oh and Socialism is not nationalistic – that is called National Socialism, an invention of a nasty Austrian dictator who ended up destroying most of Europeand then himself.

  6. Cadarn

    Rubbish, what you’ve said is just deceitful if not intentional sophistry. Please posit a reasoned argument and convincing refutation of your assimilation position if you want to be taken seriously. Silly naive word associations are not sufficient. If you wish to make a case for the union please explain to us first of all any such legitimate historically based moral arguments to justify its initial implementation and legitimacy..

  7. robertcp

    My impression is that nobody knows what will happen if Scotland votes for independence. It is clear, however, that some EU members will want to make life difficult for Scotland.

  8. John Ruddy

    Theres a difference between people being citizens of the EU, and a country being a member state. This is quite clearly saying that an independent Scotland would have to apply to become a member state. Stop trying to confuse the issue.

  9. John Ruddy

    I’m afraid links to partisan foreign hosted blogs arnt acceptable as evidence of anything except your lack of evidence.

  10. John Ruddy

    You have proof the letter doesnt exist, or are you just parroting the latest line from HQ?

  11. Cadarn

    Not least I’m sure British nationalists – how neighborly is that?!

  12. Cadarn

    This really is a spurious meaningless red herring debate still boringly being trawled by refusnik Britnats. Does anyone seriously think the EU ethos would actually refuse membership to any inspiring state, or that the Western alliance would actually prefer a non-aligned unknown entity on western Atlantic seaboard? Get a life you people, the answer is obvious;a categorical overwhelming NO!!!! So what’s the problem????

  13. Cadarn

    Flipping predictive text! *aspiring*!

  14. Cadarn


  15. Cadarn

    ‘…foreign’? Please tell us what exactly do you wish to convey to us by that particular representation?

  16. patronsaintofcats

    I’m afraid NNS simply got to the EU for comment before the mainstream media to show that the Scotsman newspaper made up this tall tale. It was on BBC Scotland tonight if you were paying attention at all. Take off your blinders brother, new media scooped the big boys. Deal with it.

  17. patronsaintofcats

    Oh, and didn’t the unionists nearly break their necks to rush this so called story out as being ‘official’ comment from the EU. “Wolf!” lol – I’m sure you know the story…

  18. Newsbot9

    Ah, so you’re defining any kind of nationalism as right wing then? Well, what does that make your separatism? Welcome to the far right, per your definition.

  19. Newsbot9

    No, but you might /really/ not be entirely happy with the terms offered.

  20. Newsbot9

    You seem to have strayed from Guido’s arena, try using the back…

  21. Newsbot9

    The level of denial that some of the Separatists are displaying is amazing.

  22. Newsbot9

    Yes, as usual you’re claiming to have eaten the body, so the truth can’t be proven. Shame about those nasty bloodstains!

  23. Newsbot9

    Actually, it’ll increase if they’re rejoin the EU as well, because Schengen membership is not optional for new members.

  24. Newsbot9

    So you think backstabbing makes for a good relationship. Ah right.

    No, you’re knowingly buying yourself a problem because Spain, at least, isn’t interested in seperationists. And yes, the Tory government you support would be hostile to you. Your logic is amazing…

  25. Selohesra

    And you must be the Billy/Kebab Time of LFF

  26. Selohesra

    So we would need passport control at Endland/Scotland boarder to protect our boarders. I still think that if there is such a debate about Scotland status there should be similar one about England status. What is difference between A leaves B from B leaves A – or indeed A leaves B&C?

  27. Cadarn

    Did you not see the word ‘assimmilationist’? Respectfully, you seem to be the one not able to differentiate between defensive nationalisms the more aggressive variety which this ‘socialist’ site obviously for some strange reason still finds acceptable.

  28. Newsbot9

    Nope, you’re the aggressive nationalist and by your own logic evil. Keep up the isolationism and corruption – given your own views of being worse than your own accusations of others!

  29. Newsbot9

    Yes, you’d need to prevent the British from leaving in your world.

    (I’m talking about legal realities, not your xenophobia)

  30. Newsbot9

    Yes, I’m sure you view me so, given you’re a dedicated troll who comes on here to mock people.

  31. triskele5

    Here is the video from the European Commission stating that no letter has been sent. I presume that´s official enough when stating no such letter has been sent:

  32. triskele5

    How much denial can the European Commission´s President Barroso´s spokesperson make that no letter has been sent? Here is his denial, on the official European Commission (EC) homepage – I repeat, no such letter has been sent and therefore the EC spokesperson cannot confirm or comment on a letter:

  33. Mike_docherty

    To: Ed Jacobs

    “It’s official”

    Ah but it isn’t official as there is no letter. The Scotsman subsequently revised the story to point out that no such letter has been sent.

    How about commenting on evidence that has been submitted to Westminster?

    For example the submission from Graham Avery, the Honorary Director General of the EU. Mr Avery points out that there would be no problem with Scotland joining the EU and that such a process would in fact be straightforward and be negotiated at the same time as the negotiations for Scotland to leave the UK.

  34. Newsbot9

    I don’t know, how much denial will you engage in?

  35. Sorley Mann

    We should thank Mr Barroso for his sounding off…’s interesting to see the media lining up, when reporting what he is said to have said (not that they ever present opinion as fact).. and show their ability to do a bit of straight reporting..

  36. jack834

    As a pro-independence Socialist, I find the comments of so-called “lefties” on this site nothing short of shameful, not to mention nonsensical. Of course, what these people represent is not the left, but the broader Labour party (conservative in all but name), this is a political grouping with no core policies whatsoever, and thus can only define itself by that-which-it-is-not. The Labour party died nearly 20 years ago, but socialism didn’t, and following independence (just as with devolution) we can move ever closer to those ideals.

  37. jack834

    Decisions about Scotland being made in Scotland, by the people who live here (quite regardless of where they’re from originally), in a Scotland whose status is equal to that of any other country in the world. What on earth does that have to do with xenophobia!?

    PS, you’re actually talking about legal hypotheticals, as realities are impossible to know given that we are not (yet) independent.

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