Category Archives: EU

European independence movements

Active separatist movements in the European Union (from Wikimedia).
The map of Europe has started changing again. I had expected Scotland to be the first European border change of the 2010s, but Crimea beat us to it.

Scotland will also not be the first former country to vote Yes to independence in a referendum — Veneto got there first (although it was an unofficial referendum with no legal force).

As I’ve discussed before, we might have reached one of those points in history when the equilibrium is punctuated and a whole wave of new countries will appear.

Of course the size of the wave might vary a lot. If Scotland votes for independence, Wales and/or Northern Ireland might follow. An independent Catalonia will probably lead to other nations leaving Spain, at least Euskadi (Basque Country) and Galicia. The recreation of La Serenissima (the Republic of Venice) will most likely lead to an exodus of new countries from Italy, such as Lombardy and Sardinia. And although I’m not aware of any significant independence movement in Baden-Württemberg, that could change quickly if Bavaria left Germany.

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any really good list of independence movements. There’s one on Wikipedia, but it includes “movements” that are really just the dreams of a few individuals, which makes it hard to work out the number of likely new countries.

While we’re on the topic of independence movements within the EU, there were some rather interesting ideas in an article by Graham Avery entitled Independentism and the European Union:

The EU has no preference for bigger rather than smaller states, or vice versa; one of its principles is to ‘respect the equality of member states’. However, in its system of decision-making the EU does have an inbuilt bias in favour of smaller states. For seats in the European Parliament and votes in the Council by qualified majority, smaller states are over-represented in terms of population; they also have relatively more voting power than bigger ones. This ‘degressive proportionality’ is designed to give smaller states the reassurance that they will not be dominated by the bigger states.


These aspects of the EU’s structure and functioning evidently create an environment in which independentism can be more credible.


In considering how to deal with independentism today, member states of the European Union are fully entitled to insist that the principles of democracy and constitutionalism should be respected. They should also accept that – in relation to the EU – independentists are entitled to follow the logic of the structure that member states themselves have devised.

To be fair, it’s not just because of the EU. The existence of a whole network of international organisations (the UN, NATO, the EU, the IMF, the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and all that) creates a situation where countries have rights and obligations, and the application of international law means all countries are equal. This arguably favours small countries over large ones because the former are more homogenous and quicker on their feet, but vulnerable to being bullied by big countries (as Georgia and Ukraine have recently discovered).

It was tough being a small independent country three hundred years ago (and it still can be outwith NATO and the EU), but these days it’s really not very obvious any more how Scotland benefits from being part of the UK.

The EU must respect new countries

Arc of Prosperity’s third guest blogger is James Chalmers. He’s a Scot originally from West Fife who has spent the last 40 or so years trying (and occasionally succeeding) to find oil in various areas around the North Atlantic — North Sea, both Scottish and Norwegian, West of Shetland and Greenland. He has lived in Denmark since the late eighties, is now retired and happily living in Copenhagen with his Danish wife.

European Parliament Buildings
European Parliament Buildings, a photo by stevecadman on Flickr.
Jens-Peter Bonde (a Danish writer and former member of the European Parliament) has written an article on the rights and relationships of an independent Scotland and Catalonia in the EU. The article was published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on March 5th (in Danish, registration required).

A number of Bonde’s points are very important in the context of the rumours emanating from the both the Spanish and British governments that both Catalonia and Scotland will be thrown out of the EU in the event of independence.

Bonde points out that the EU treaties contain no provisions whereby a people could be thrown out of the EU. That could happen legally only with a change in the treaties that requires unanimous agreement of all 28 member states. Nor are there any treaty terms about assigning rights to regions that become nations. That also requires unanimous changes in the treaties.

There are, however, very strong legal bases for solving new situations like these. The treaties say, after all, that every European country has the right to be a member of the EU, whether or not it is a member already, if it satisfies various criteria. Catalonia and Scotland naturally satisfy these criteria because EU law already applies to the two regions and that has priority over all regional and national law. All of this means that an acceptable solution will be found about how to deal with parts of member states becoming independent.

The most important question that will require negotiation will be the new nations’ representation in the EU’s agencies. Will they be treated as independent nations and have their own members in the Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament? When Czechoslovakia divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the two countries were treated as independent nations. They later got representation equivalent to that of other counties with the same population. They were not punished for having separated. Quite the opposite, the two countries got a combined representation greater than they would have had if they had applied for membership as Czechoslovakia.

If Catalonia and Scotland receive a less favourable treatment, they can appeal to the EU Court and plead that they are being discriminated against compared with other nations. It will not be easy to find legal grounds for rejecting such an appeal. National discrimination is specifically forbidden in the treaties. The right of self-determination is an international legal principle that is also recognised by the EU.

Bonde claims that Scotland and Catalonia will be forced to accept the euro as their currency. Great Britain and Denmark have exceptions; the new countries don’t. Catalonia already uses the euro and has no plans on a new independent currency. Scotland uses British pounds and, the current SG proposal is a currency union with Great Britain. In that case, Scotland would not comply with the precursor conditions for joining the euro; its own currency that is stable against the euro for two years. Even in the event of an independent Scottish currency, Scotland could take the Swedish route end simply let its currency float against the euro, again meaning that it would not satisfy the pre-joining criteria.

Scotland can become a nation like Denmark, take part in the Nordic cooperation and be represented in the EU in the same way as Denmark in the EU and UN. With a commissioner, and place in the Council of Ministers and 13 members in the European Parliament, compared 6 today as part of the UK. These changes will require changes to the treaties as with every new land, and the changes have to be agreed unanimously. But with this difference; these new lands are already in the EU.

There is no authority to exclude Catalonia and Scotland from the EU if they vote for independence from Spain and Great Britain. Their relationships to Spain and the rUK are a Spanish and British affair, where the EU has no competence. The Spanish and British competence does not stretch far enough to exclude the two countries from the EU because they have voted for independence from Spain and Britain.

The two motherlands will therefore also be forced to find a solution if Scotland and Catalonia vote for independence. If independence infects the Basques and other peoples there will be many small nations in the EU, which will probably lead to a general revision of how the countries are represented in the EU. There has already been opposition in the big nations for every member country having a commissioner.

There will probably be an EU conference in 2015 for other reasons. The European Parliament will again try to get the treaties changed to a constitution. Germany will continue their influence in the various countries’ finance laws as a condition of continuing German contributions to the Euro’s survival. If Scotland and Catalonia vote for independence, this can lead to a general discussion about the future arrangements of the Europe of the Nations and the Europe of the Regions.

Barroso does an Osborne

EC President José Manuel Barroso taking the floor
EC President José Manuel Barroso taking the floor, a photo by European Parliament on Flickr.
In my recent post about Osborne’s bullying session in Edinburgh, I wrote:

By ignoring [the alternatives to a currency union] and by failing to explain why rUK politicians would opt for a solution that might harm rUK businesses, he shows that his sole purpose is scaremongering. He didn’t make this speech to provide visibility for rUK businesses (which would have been prudent), but to bully Scottish voters into voting No.

This morning the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, opted for a very similar approach when he was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show:

Of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state… I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.

As many EU experts have discussed at length in the past, there is no precedent for this type of situation, and there are many options available to the EU in order to reach a pragmatic compromise that everybody can live with — see for instance Yves Gounin’s article, either my summary or the full translation.

Indeed, as Yves Gounin writes, the EU has a lot to lose too:

As soon as the Rubicon of independence has been crossed Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its entrepreneurs could no longer invest there; its young people could no longer study there; its workers could no longer travel freely there; its fishing fleet could no longer fish in their waters, etc…

Barroso is a spokesman for the governments of the EU member states. He’s not elected to represent the European Parliament nor the EU Court of Justice. It’s therefore hardly a big surprise that he finds it hard to resist when he gets asked by David Cameron or Mariano Rajoy to lend them a wee hand, especially given that his stint as Commission President comes to an end in early summer, so dealing with a Scottish Yes vote will be somebody else’s problem anyway.

It’s therefore very clear that Barroso has done an Osborne, trying to bully the Scottish (and Catalan) voters to reject independence rather than expressing an informed opinion about what actually will happen after a Yes vote.

Actually excluding Scotland from the EU would not just go completely against the Union’s founding principles, it would also deeply harm the EU and its citizens, as well as quite possibly being illegal according to EU law. In the past, the EU has always found a pragmatic solution when needed rather than adopting a legalistic approach.

Osborne and Barroso both want us to believe that they’ll cut off their noses to spite their faces after a Yes vote. In reality, they’re just trying to bully us into voting No.

The most realistic answer

L'Assemblée Nationale Européenne
L’Assemblée Nationale Européenne, a photo by CedEm photographies on Flickr.
A short while ago, Yves Gounin (who is a high-ranking government official in France) wrote a very interesting article in the journal Politique étrangère.

The Catalan website VilaWeb has provided a useful summary, as has Wee Ginger Dug, and the article itself is here in PDF format.

It’s an excellent article, and I highly recommend reading it if you have any French (Google Translate will help you to a certain extent, but it will get confused in some places).

I decided to provide a summary of my own, maintaining the author’s section headings, and focusing on the bits that are most directly relevant for Scotland.

However, I very much hope somebody will soon provide a full translation into English — it’s an essential document in the Scottish independence debate.

Anyway, let’s get started! After a short introduction the article is divided into the following sections:

Longing for independence and European integration [p. 12]
The independence movements in at least Scotland and Catalonia are united by their desire to remain in the EU, not least because doing so reassures the voters that the countries won’t be internationally isolated after independence.

It’s therefore important to explore whether these new states will become EU member states automatically, or whether they will be placed in the same situation as the applicant countries of Eastern Europe, obliged to follow the long and risky process of accession negotiations.

A political gamble [p. 12f]
The independence supporters are therefore keen to assert that continued membership of the EU is practically automatic, while opponents claim that independence would lead to applying for EU membership from scratch.
The answers from public international law: succession of states [p. 13ff]
The author briefly explains how states can succeed states. It’s likely the remaning parts of the UK and Spain will try to claim continuing state status, whereas it’s unlikely either Flanders or Wallonia could do this if Belgium is dissolved.
Succession of states and international treaties [p. 15f]
After looking at how the succession of states affects international treaties, the author concludes one has to look at the rules of each international organisation separately — one cannot conclude anything about EU accession by looking solely at international law.
An unprecedented situation [p. 17]
Looking at the EU itself, it quickly becomes clear that there aren’t any clear precedents.
A brief detour via the UN [p.17f]
While there are no precedents within the EU, that’s not the case in the UN. Here the rules are clear: The new state has to apply for membership from scratch.
The EU hostile to the splitting of states [p. 18ff]
There are good reasons why the EU is against member states splitting up.

On the one hand, the EU promotes its own regional agenda but does not want to be accused of getting involved in the internal affairs of member states at the same time.

On the other hand, many member states are worried about their own independence movements and believe they can hold back these by obstructing the accession to the EU of new states forming from other EU member states.

Common sense arguments in support of automatic membership [p. 20f]
However, is it reasonable and realistic to expel parts of existing member states from the EU? Can one imagine border posts on the Catalan border? The reintroduction of a national currency in Flanders? Scots deprived of their rights derived from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights?

Also, a legal argument can be taken from Article 50 of the TEU, which outlines the procedure by which a member state can leave the EU. It could be argued that expelling these states and refusing to readmit them would be in breach of this explicit procedure.

Another argument stems from the EU’s founding principles: freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. It would be ironic if the Union denied the populations of Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders the right to self-determination, and this would undoubtedly constitute a democratic regression.

Europe of the citizens [p. 21]
An even more powerful argument can be drawn from the link established over time between the European Union and its citizens. The EU constitutes “a new legal order of international law whose subjects are not only States but also their nationals”. That means that unlike other international organisations, the EU is not only composed of states but also of citizens.

The question here is whether by losing their British, Spanish and Belgian nationality, the Scots, Catalans and Flemings will ipso facto also lose their EU citizenship.

A negotiation in good faith would be in everybody’s interest [p. 22]
It’s fair play for opponents of independence to raise obstacles to continued EU membership, but one might ask whether it’s in the EU’s own interest to complicate the (re-)admission of these states. Once the Rubicon of independence has been crossed, Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its businesspeople couldn’t invest there any more, nor could its young people study there, its travellers move there freely, its fishermen sail there, etc.

A practical solution must be found.

The most reasonable solution would be to negotiate independence and EU membership simultaneously. It would thus be neither automatic membership nor going through the full procedures of Article 49. The absence of relevant precedents, legal uncertainty and the magnitude of the challenge will require the parties to negotiate. This is not the most illuminating answer to the question, but without a doubt it is the most realistic.

Granting Scottish citizenship to new Scots

Dual citizenship in the EU.
Dual citizenship in the EU.
Most of the discussions about access to Scottish citizenship after independence have been about expat Scots and their descendants (as well as the related discussion about rUK citizenship for Scots).

However, I believe there is a bigger problem closer to home, concerning those who can take part in Scottish Parliament elections (and because of that also in the independence referendum), but who will lose that vote after a Yes victory, namely EU (and possibly Commonwealth) citizens resident in Scotland.

The SNP’s 2002 proposal for a Scottish constitution (PDF) suggested granting Scottish citizenship to everybody living in Scotland on independence day (“Every person whose principal place of residence is in Scotland at the date at which this Constitution comes into force shall be a citizen of Scotland”), but the white paper states that only UK citizens will be Scottish citizens from day one, and that migrants are restricted to applying for naturalisation after independence, and only if they’ve lived here for at least ten years and are of good character (see the table at the end of this chapter).

This means that there’ll be a significant group of independence referendum voters who will effectively disenfranchise themselves by voting Yes in September. Some of them will just apply for Scottish citizenship afterwards, but a large group won’t qualify or will have their own reasons not to do so.

For instance, Denmark and several other EU countries don’t allow dual citizenship to be acquired. It’s allowed if you’re born with two nationalities, or if you can get another one without applying for it (this typically happened in the past in some countries where wives automatically got their husband’s nationality on marriage), but if you apply to become a citizen of another country, you lose your Danish citizenship. In other words, it wouldn’t cause any problems if Scotland granted Scottish citizenship to all Danish citizens living in Scotland on 24 March 2016, but if they have to apply for naturalisation, they will lose their Danish nationality in the process.

At the moment, EU citizens living in Scotland can vote in all elections, apart from the Westminster ones. However, after independence Scottish Parliament elections will not be local elections any more, and EU citizens cannot vote in general elections in any other country, so I’d be surprised if Scotland was an exception. (The UK currently lets Irish and Commonwealth citizens take part in Westminster elections, but most other countries restrict voting in general elections to their own citizens.) If there are plans to let all EU citizens resident in Scotland vote in general elections after independence, please do let me know!

The result of this is that EU citizens living in Scotland are likely to lose their right to vote in Scottish Parliament elections when Scotland becomes independent. This is hardly a great incentive to vote Yes.

I strongly believe we can maximise the foreign-born Yes vote by granting Scottish citizenship to everybody who can take part in the independence referendum, not just to British citizens living in Scotland.

A British demos?

European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, 14 October 2010
European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, 14 October 2010, a photo by President of the European Council on Flickr.
Before I moved to Scotland in 2002, one of my main political interests was the European Union, and I went on a number of study tours to Brussels to visit the European Parliament and talk to politicians there.

(After moving to Scotland, I’ve gradually become less interested in the EU. I guess this is because EU politics is handled by Westminster, which means that it doesn’t feature very prominently on the Scottish political arena. I would like to think this area will be one of the unexpected consequences/benefits of independence, because the EU discussions will suddenly be taking place in Holyrood instead.)

One of the questions I spent many hours discussing back then was the absence of a European demos and how to create one. What this meant was that we could see that most Europeans were primarily concerned with the politics of the countries they lived in, and they discussed European politics in that framework. Even in areas where the EU is much more powerful than the member states (such as international trade negotiations, or fishing quotas), there never is a single European debate but instead there are separate debates in each country. A European demos would involve the creation of a place where people from everywhere in the EU could discuss political questions with each other instead of having to go through a national layer.

Nothing much ever came of our discussions. Even today, when it’s so easy to create a pan-European website, almost nobody accesses those sites instead of national media and blogs.

However, when I look at the Scottish independence debates in Scotland and in London-based media, I can’t help thinking back to some of the old demos discussions.

Is there a such a thing as a British demos today? Of course it’s possible to live in Scotland and get your news primarily from the BBC and the Guardian, for instance, but at least amongst the independence campaigners it seems to be the rule to get your news mainly from Scottish blogs, newspapers and TV programmes, whereas the UK-wide ones are mainly ignored (except as examples of scaremongering).

Are we seeing the separation of the Scottish demos from the UK demos, or has the latter never existed?

When we bemoaned the lack of a European demos, our main concern was that it was hard to make the EU fully democratic without one.

In the same way, if the Scottish demos is now separate from the rUK one (and it’s hard to argue it isn’t when you look at the massive ignorance of the Scottish independence debate you see in London-based media), a UK-wide democracy becomes almost impossible, and Scottish independence is the obvious solution to rectify the problem.