During the Scottish referendum of 2013, it was made clear that the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union and any part of the UK seceding from it would be treated as a 3rd country, and would have to apply to once again become a member of the EU.

If there were to be a united Ireland, what would the position of the EU be, if it is already defined?

  • 6
    The difference here is that NI would also be joining an EU member, as opposed to becoming a newly independent country. If it were to join Norway, of course, it would be a different story.
    – phoog
    Sep 27, 2019 at 13:40
  • 1
    @phoog is right: this is not about a hypothetical independent NI (which would never be economically viable, but that's an independent story)
    – smci
    Sep 28, 2019 at 3:18

1 Answer 1


The European Council agreed in 2017 (see page 4) that a united Ireland would be part of the EU:

The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means; and, in this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

The key word is "such", referring back to the "agreed mechanism ... through peaceful and democratic means". Only if Ireland were united using this mechanism would the EU automatically accept the whole territory as a member. The mechanism in question is described in the Belfast (or "Good Friday") Agreement (page 4): the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can direct that a referendum be held in Northern Ireland; if such a referendum indicates a majority in favour of unification, both the UK and Irish governments are bound by the agreement to give effect to unification.

This restriction also means that the EU does not see this declaration as setting a general precedent for members annexing other territories. This was apparently of concern to the French:

French lawyers were concerned. Could this declaration create a dangerous precedent, since European Council declarations carry strong legal weight?

... The excruciating care with which the text had been drafted was cited to convince the French Ambassador and his lawyers. ... The word ‘such’ related back to the ‘agreed mechanism’ in the Good Friday Agreement. Thus, the wording could not be applied to any other situation.

[French Ambassador] Sellal and the lawyers took the explanation to President François Hollande. The French dropped their objections immediately.

(For this quote and other details of the discussions leading up to this statement by the European Council, see chapter 14 of Tony Connelly Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response. Penguin, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-84488-428-5)

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    Thank you for your response. Interesting that there is a special provision in the Irish case. In the back of my mind I was wondering if Scotland would ever consider uniting with both Ireland's, but it appears that'd be an entirely new proposition wrt the EU.
    – Richard
    Sep 27, 2019 at 12:19
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    There is the German precedent as well, even if it is older than the current set of treaties.
    – o.m.
    Sep 27, 2019 at 13:23
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    @o.m. Indeed. I find it hard to imagine that if any European territory mutually agreed to be annexed by an existing EU member with no other change in that country's constitution that the EU would do anything other than accept the new territory.
    – phoog
    Sep 27, 2019 at 13:37
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    I didn't think you were disagreeing; I just wanted to clarify. The point about precedent is well taken. More generally, the EU doesn't want to make general statements like the one I made, because some future situation might fall under the general statement but contain some other condition that they hadn't thought about.
    – phoog
    Sep 27, 2019 at 16:44
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    I am moderately surprised that it was the French and not the Spanish objecting... I would've expected some discussion of Catalonia and (maybe) Gibraltar.
    – Kevin
    Sep 27, 2019 at 21:49

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