Published 08 November 2011 | Standard notes SN06110
Amended 13 July 2012
Arabella Thorp, Gavin Thompson
Devolution, Economic and monetary union, EU enlargement, EU institutions, EU law and treaties, International law
If Scotland became independent, would it automatically remain a member of the European Union (EU) – or would it have to go through the whole accession process for new Member States, either alone or alongside the rest of the UK?
This is a major question in the independence debate, and one to which there is no clear answer. There is no precedent for a devolved part of an EU Member State becoming independent and having to determine its membership of the EU as a separate entity, and the question has given rise to widely different views.
There are at least three different possibilities under international law for a newly-independent Scotland: continuation and secession (the rest of the UK would retain its treaty obligations and membership of international organisations, but Scotland would not); separation (both entities would retain them); and dissolution (both would lose them).
Whatever the position under general international law, a decision on Scotland’s status within the European Union is likely to be a political one. If all the EU Member States agreed, then Scotland could continue automatically as a Member State (pending negotiations with the other member states on details of membership, including the number of MEPs to represent Scotland). On the other hand, Member States with their own domestic concerns about separatist movements might argue that Scotland should lose its membership on independence, and hold up or even veto its accession.
EU Member States, with the exception of Denmark and the UK, are expected to join the single currency if and when they meet the criteria. Five of the twelve states joining the EU since 2004 have gone on to join the euro. Whether Scotland joined the euro would have implications for its post-independence monetary policy, and the size of its liability for loans provided to countries facing sovereign debt problems. Finally, Scotland is likely to be a net contributor to the EU Budget (in other words it will pay out more than it receives in structural funding and payments under the Common Agricultural Policy), but the size of this contribution will depend critically on whether it benefits from an abatement (rebate) on the same terms as does the UK currently.