EJIL – Scottish Independence and the European Union

Recent events in a number of European States have pushed the issue of secession up the political agenda.  In Catalonia, the ruling Convergencia i Unio party has announced its intention to hold a referendum on Catalan independence if it wins the forthcoming regional elections, despite the Spanish government’s claim that such action would be illegal.  In the United Kingdom, the Westminster and Edinburgh governments have agreed to the holding of an independence referendum in 2014. In neither case, however, does there seem to be a wish to combine independence with an exit from the European Union. The Scottish National Party (SNP), in particular, have long campaigned on the slogan ‘Independence in Europe’, seeking to persuade voters that they can have the best of both worlds: Scottish independence and EU membership.

In recent years, however, the SNP have quietly modified their position.  Instead of arguing that an independent Scotland would automatically be a member of the European Union, it now claims that it is ‘inconceivable’ that it would not become one.  This reflects a hard truth.  Although as a matter of politics, it may seem inconceivable that an independent Scotland -or an independent Catalonia – would not take its place as an EU member; legally there is no automaticity about the matter at all.  Succession to membership of international organisations (which the EU must, for these purposes, be classed as) is governed by international law.  International law provides that membership of international organisations is governed by the rules of each organisation.  And the Treaty on European Union does not provide for succession to membership.

Read @ European Journal of International Law