Right before the French Revolution, the western parts of the Austrian Empire and of the Kingdom of Prussia were part of the Holy Roman Empire, while their respective eastern parts (today Poland/Lithuania/Hungary/Slovakia etc...) weren't in the HRE.

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Similarly, between 1866 and 1871, the southern part of the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt was not part of the Northern German Confederation, while the northern part of the Grand Duchy was.

So I am now asking : It is legally possible for part of a sovereign state to be also member of the European Union ? The reason why I'm asking this is because the majority of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, while the UK as a whole voted in favour of it. However Scotland also voted against leaving the UK. This means that Scotland would be a good candidate to be simultaneously part of the UK and the EU, while the UK wouldn't be part of the EU.

We could also imagine western part of Russia, or western part of Turkey joining the EU in the future without the whole nation joining it, for example.

  • what do you mean by "joining" ? be a full member ?
    – Gautier C
    Jun 24 '16 at 18:43
  • The closest analogy today is the British Commonwealth. It has one queen at the top, today just formally, but it was possible only for 1 part of it, the U.K., to be in the EU. In the same way, just the Western territories owned by the Habsburg House, but not Hungary, were in the HRE. See e.g. history.stackexchange.com/questions/28917/… for this logic and analogy. This issue is largely immaterial now because feudalism is gone and kings don't really own countries. So the states are what the U.N. says. Jun 25 '16 at 14:49
  • 1
    This question is absurd, as the similar question "Can the Roman Empire of Caesar join the EU?" easily shows.
    – Sjoerd
    Apr 23 '17 at 20:41
  • @Sjoerd Sorry but my question is not anachronistic. You shouldn't have read/understood it properly. What I mention is previous historical examples of sovereign states being partially part of a supra-national organization like the EU, and I wonder if the UK (for example) could legally theoretically be in that situation.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 24 '17 at 12:16

Article 49 of the treaties of the European Union says

Any European State [...] may apply.

So the question is "what is a state"? There are many different definitions of statedom, but in practice a region is a state when other states consider it one.

So in order to join the EU, the other EU states would have to recognize the entity as a sovereign state. Whether they do or do not is a matter of political will. And then there is of course the possibility to amend the treaties of the European union to accommodate for individual regions of states to join the union.

However, assuming it is possible, there is a plethora of practical problems to solve. For example, the country might be unable to ratify certain EU directives because it lacks the autonomy to do so. When Schengen applies, you would have a Schengen outer border right through a sovereign country. When the Euro agreement applies, you would have parts of countries which use different currencies.

  • 1
    Not that there aren't examples of a sovereign state with different parts using different currencies (assuming I'm understood the political situation in the Kingdom of the Netherlands correctly).
    – origimbo
    Jun 24 '16 at 19:40
  • EU directives are not ratified, but implemented. Also, Schengen borders or different currencies within a sovereign (EU) country are a reality today (although all the examples I can think of are between the mainland and faraway islands, not on land borders on the European continent, which is admittedly a significant difference).
    – Relaxed
    Apr 24 '17 at 22:08
  • The exact boundaries of the EU are fuzzy. However, those fuzzy edges generally predate the EU. Brexit does not. There's no political need to accept new fuzzy edges.
    – MSalters
    Apr 25 '17 at 19:07

It is legally possible for part of a sovereign state to be also member of the European Union?

Yes-ish. However, this isn't the same question as

Can a country within a federated nation be admitted in the EU?

I think that the only case of a state which could be considered partially a member of the EU is Denmark, which has some autonomous regions (Greenland, Faroe Islands) which are outside the territorial jurisdiction of the EU treaties; although there are some other complicated cases (Canary Islands, most dependent overseas territories of the UK) which could be argued to fall into the same category.

However, in these cases it is the nation which joined the EU (or signed up to a predecessor treaty) with exclusions, or in the case of Greenland with subsequent modification to create an exclusion. That isn't a directly relevant precedent for Scotland or Northern Ireland remaining in the EU when the rest of the UK leaves.

Were the UK to try to remain in the EU but with territorial exclusions covering England and Wales(!), treaty amendments would be required which would have to gain at least qualified majority support from the rest of the EU, which would be unlikely to agree; and even if that hurdle were crossed there would likely be significant difficulties making it work at an institutional level. For example, would it make sense for an English minister to attend the Council of Ministers?

  • Actually, a bunch of EU countries have territories outside the EU, namely France, the Netherlands, and the UK and there is even another example of a territory leaving the EU like Greeland did (that would be Saint-Barthélemy). They are very officially in the same category as Greenland, no need to argue one way or the other. The Canary Islands, on the other hand, are part of the EU. But as you note, it's a rather different situation.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 24 '17 at 21:57
  • @Relaxed, the Canary Islands are, however, not in the customs union, which is why I said it's complicated. I wasn't quite sure on a quick read of the Treaty of Lisbon what the situation was with the French islands: they're mentioned as special cases, but my memory was that they were now départements exterieurs and similar to e.g. Ceuta and Melilla. I'm happy to stand corrected. Apr 24 '17 at 22:05
  • Yes, the Canary Islands and other outermost territories are in a somewhat complicated situation with specific rules and exceptions but in principle within the EU. And some French islands (but not all) are indeed départements and fall in the same category. But Greenland, Saint-Barthélemy, etc. are in a different category: they are just outside the Union and EU law simply doesn't apply.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 24 '17 at 22:15

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