Joining the EU (Union)

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This article was commissioned by Wikiscot from Ben Wray at @ben_wray1989. A fee was paid.

Accession status

If Scotland becomes independent, power to join the EU will not be in its hands, and the barriers to entry will have no easy solutions.

Membership criteria

Candidates must meet a stringent set of EU rules, known as the "acquis"[1] before they can become member states. Two of the most important of these - joining the euro and the budget deficit - directly contradict the Scottish National Party’s policies for independence.

Joining the euro

The SNP has said that an independent Scotland will not use the euro[2], but this is a requirement of entry into the EU. The EU Commission website states, in terms, that:

"All EU Member States, except Denmark and the United Kingdom, are required to adopt the euro and join the euro area." - European Commission: Enlargement of the Euro Area: Who can join and when?[3].

Denmark and the UK negotiated opt-outs from joining the euro, but there is no guarantee that the EU would do the same for Scotland. Opt-outs are a rarity, with only four EU states ever securing opt-outs from parts of EU law: the UK, Denmark, the Republic of Ireland and Poland.

The SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report proposed, for an independent Scotland, a currency solution known as 'Sterlingisation': the informal use of another state’s currency, in this case the UK’s pound Sterling, which is administered by the Bank of England[2]. Sterlingisation would contravene Chapter 17 of the "acquis" on monetary policy, which requires member states to have "independence of central banks"[1].

Budget deficit

The SNP has stated that it will not introduce austerity policies in an independent Scotland[2], but this would breach the Growth and Stability Pact[4], which mandates member states to have government deficits of no more than 3 percent of GDP. Scotland’s current deficit, as shown in GERS[5], is 7 percent of GDP, and 8.5 percent excluding North Sea Oil.

Queue for membership

The process for an independent Scotland to apply for EU membership, for negotiations to take place on meeting the requirements of the "acquis" and for a decision to be made by all current EU member states would not be fast. It took 12 years for Romania and Bulgaria to secure EU membership, officially applying in 1995 and becoming members in 2007. There are already three candidate countries for EU membership - Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina - and the more candidates there are, the longer the EU is likely to take to arrive at a decision in each case. In the meantime, an independent Scotland would be left unsupported, outside the EU and outside the UK.

Likelihood of admission

Every new member's accession into the EU must be approved by all existing member states: if even one existing member does not agree, the candidate is rejected. Given that there are many divisions between EU governments, many opposing visions for the EU’s future and many competing interests, the likelihood that one member or another would reject Scotland's application is high. An obvious trigger would be Scotland's failure to meet the test of fiscal responsibility.

Spanish veto

Spain in particular has a clear reason to reject Scotland's application, as a disincentive to citizens of Catalonia and the Basque Country (nations within the Spanish territory) to pursue independence. Former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did not hide his glee following the No vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, saying on the following day:

"As citizens of Europe, we are also glad that the citizens of Scotland are staying with us; collaborating and participating as important partners in the great political project that is the European Union." - Press statement of the Spanish Government 19/08/2014[6].


The argument that an independent Scotland would easily become a member of the EU because it was previously a member within the UK is without foundation. An independent Scotland would have a different set of economic circumstances, and would be seeking entry into the EU in a different political context and without the clout of being part of the fifth largest economy in the world[7]. There are clear obstacles to EU accession, and supporters of independence have failed to explain how they will be overcome.


  1. 1.0 1.1 European Commission: Chapters of the Acquis. Accessed 01/12/2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Scotland – the new case for optimism: A strategy for inter-generational economic renaissance: The Final Report of the Sustainable Growth Commission, p50. Accessed 01/12/2019.
  3. 5b0a988c352f53c0a5132a23/1527421195436/SGC+Full+Report.pdf Accessed 01/12/2019.
  4. European Commission: Vade Mecum on the Stability and Growth Pact, pp14-16. Accessed 01/12/2019.
  5. Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland: 2018 to 2019. Accessed 01/12/2019.
  6. Accessed 01/12/2019.
  7. The World Bank GDP Ranking Table 2018. Accessed 01/12/2019.