The Scots will vote on whether Scotland should be an independent country or not, on September 18, 2014. Assuming the majority vote is for independence, will Scotland remain in the European Union automatically? Or will they need to re-apply for membership?

If independent Scotland remains in the EU automatically, will it be eligible for the same opt-outs as the UK?

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  • @MartinSchröder So, it's a mess. An answer detailing the differing opinions would be good enough for me for now, although I hope we'll have a definitive answer before the referendum goes through.
    – yannis
    Jan 2, 2014 at 14:44
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    @YannisRizos The best that can be said at this time is that it is unclear. In any event, Scotland would likely be admitted with almost no debate - but it is also highly unlikely that it would be afforded any of the special exemptions that the UK currently has. In any event, the Scottish bookies are only giving the referendum a 1 in 8 chance of passing, so I suspect it is moot. scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/… Jan 4, 2014 at 0:33

3 Answers 3


José Manuel Barroso doesn't seem to think Scotland could join the EU. The reason behind this I believe, is that politicians do not want to set a precedent for the same thing to happen with other countries.

Catalonia wants to held a referendum like Scotland to see if they should become independent of Spain or not. Prime minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy already said no referendum would take place despite several demonstrations in favor of it. Those against the independence of Catalonia point out that admission to the EU would not be automatic. If Scotland becomes independent and automatically joins the EU, Catalonia will be able to do the same as well as any other new independent countries splitting from current members of the EU.

As for the opt outs, one cannot say for sure but I doubt it since Scotland (Edinburgh?) does not have the same leverage as London.


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    There's a precedent, and it joined the EU, it's name is Slovakia :) But everyone seems to have forgotten about it in the debate.
    – Bregalad
    May 16, 2015 at 21:54
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    @Bregalad not a good example, as Slovakia became an independent state in 1993 and became a member of the EU in 2004: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – SJuan76
    Oct 9, 2017 at 12:04

None of the EU treaties specifically deal with this explicitly and this is a complex legal topic. (There are claims that the "Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties" would solve that but so many countries haven't signed it that this can basically be ignored)

Firstly there isn't really a set procedure how countries leave the EU (much less what has to happen so that they get thrown out).
Article 50 only says that the European Council and that state will work it out somehow.

The new Scottish state isn't automatically a EU member - it has never applied to become a member of the EU and much less was accepted to be one - so it obviously can't be a member. (This is the current legal status)

To be able to join the EU the normal way a country needs to be able to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria. (The European Council judges whether those are fulfilled)
Broadly speaking those are:

Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/ec/pdf/cop_en.pdf)

Now those are rather broad terms. Those broad terms are a little more refined in the Community acquis.

I wasn't able to find an explicit mention of it but I'm sure a state needs to actually be "Sovereign state" to be able to join the EU. The concept of statehood currently boils down to:

The constitutive theory of statehood defines a state as a person of international law if, and only if, it is recognized as sovereign by other states.

So that is an further obstacle for Scotland - AFAIK no country has made a statement whether they will recognize Scotland.

If they would fulfill those criteria the European Council (after consulting the Commission and "receiving the assent of the European Parliament" (Vote with absolute majority)) can then start the process of letting the state join. That needs to be ratified by the Member States.
There is a high chance that Spain would block because they don't want Catalonia to secede.

The Yes-Movement doesn't want to go to that process (Turkey has, for various reasons, started negotiating to get into the EU in 2005 and still isn't in).

As Scotland joined the EU in 1973 this is not the starting position from which the Scottish Government will be pursuing independent EU membership. Article 49 does not appear to be the appropriate legal base on which to facilitate Scotland's transition to full EU membership. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/11/9348/10)

They propose that the treaties would just be changed so that Scotland just becomes a member.
Article 48 of the Lisbon treaty allows for changes to the treaty - The proposal would need to be accepted by a simple majority of the European Council and then needs to be ratified by all member states.
(Note that the Lisbon treaty ITSELF had some trouble getting through because of the popular vote in e.g. France & Ireland. I'm not sure if a change based on Article 48 would make a new popular vote necessary).

Nobody really knows what will happen when Scotland is independent. BUT the referendum on September 18 is under UK law (Edinburgh Agreement) and states that Scotland doesn't become a independent country as soon as the election is counted but only after negotiations with the UK - and everyone hopes that everything will be sorted out during those negotiation period.


The EU commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said on February 16th, that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

I think the UK can get a lot of concessions because of the pound. Considering what MPs have said about allowing Scotland to keep the pound I can safely say that no, Scotland won't get anywhere near the same amount of concessions as the UK.

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