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Revision as of 17:16, 22 November 2019

An independent Scotland will have no serious problems in joining the EU. It meets the membership criteria, it will not have to join the euro, there will be no restrictions on its budget deficit, and it will not have to join a queue.

Membership criteria

The criteria for joining the EU, the "Copenhagen Criteria", were set by the European Council (the body that defines the European Union's overall political direction) in 1993:

  • stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU;
  • the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.[1]

No commentator seriously contends that Scotland, a wealthy country with a liberal democracy, a commitment to the rule of law and to human rights, and a market economy, would not meet these criteria.

Joining the euro

Joining the euro is not a precondition of EU membership. While it is true that every member state that has joined since Maastricht (1992) has agreed to eventually join the euro, not all have yet done so: joining the euro is not in practice obligatory, because no timescale is set. EU officials habitually describe joining the euro as desirable, but dependent always on the voluntary co-operation of the member state:

"I don't intend to force countries to join the euro if they are not willing or not able to do so." - Jean Claude-Juncker, President of the European Commission[2].

Further, there is no mechanism for enforcing adoption of the euro; on the contrary, there are restrictions. Before it is allowed to join the euro, a member state must have spent two years in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (EMR), but there is no time by which this must be done. The thrust of EU policy on this issue is that it is up to the member state to align its economy with that of the eurozone, and the EU's role is to monitor this alignment rather than to enforce it[3].

Of all 28 EU member-states, nine (i.e. about one-third) have not joined the euro; and of the 16 countries that have joined the EU since the Copenhagen Criteria were established, seven (Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia) - i.e. about half - have not joined the euro. Joining the euro is voluntary, and Scotland will make its own choice.

Budget deficit

The European Fiscal Compact is a set of rules and calculations that limit a member state’s government deficit to 3 per cent of GDP[4], and it imposes a "corrective procedure" if the deficit rises above this. As of 2018/2019, the prospective deficit of an independent Scotland (calculated under current constitutional circumstances) is 7 per cent of GDP[5].

However, the Fiscal Compact does not apply to the UK, while other non-euro member states can choose to opt in or not. Denmark, Bulgaria and Romania have opted in, while Hungary, Poland and Sweden have not[6].

Queue for membership

There is no queue for EU membership. At any one time, talks will be taking place with a number of countries hoping to join, but there is no sequencing of applications, and the progress that each country makes depends on the circumstances of its case. In the words of the European Parliament,

"EU accession has never worked on the basis of a queue. Applicants are accepted when they are ready, not on the basis of when they applied."[7]

Finland, Sweden and Austria all negotiated their accessions within two years. Dr Kirsty Hughes, Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, believes that Scottish accession could be negotiated within three[8].


The argument against Scotland being able to join the EU has largely relied on press rumour, falsehoods, and an overly simplistic reading of the EU’s rules; opponents do not allow for the EU's nuanced and pragmatic approach to problems. The stated criteria for membership and the EU's history of enlargement leave no doubt that Scotland's application will succeed.


  1. European Commission: Conditions for membership. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/conditions-membership_en Accessed 22/11/2019.
  2. State of the Union address, Brussels, September 2017. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_17_3265 Accessed 22/11/2019.
  3. The European Central Bank: FAQ’s on EU Enlargement and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). https://www.ecb.europa.eu/ecb/history/enlargement/html/faqenlarge.en.html Accessed 22/11/2019.
  4. European Commission: Vade Mecum on the Stability and Growth Pact, p21. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ip052_en_0.pdf Accessed 22/11/2019.
  5. Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland (GERS): 2018 to 2019. https://www.gov.scot/publications/government-expenditure-revenue-scotland-gers/ Accessed 22/11/2019.
  6. European Commission: Vade Mecum on the Stability and Growth Pact, p21, footnotes. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ip052_en_0.pdf Accessed 22/11/2019.
  7. European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policies, p.19. www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/IDAN/2017/583118/IPOL_IDA(2017)583118_EN.pdf Accessed 22/11/2019.
  8. An Independent Scotland in Europe, Dr Kirsty Hughes, Prospect Magazine. https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/an-independent-scotland-in-europe-brexit-snp-conference-nicola-sturgeon Accessed 22/11/2019.