Scotland would face little European opposition to EU membership


By Jack Thomson

In a boost to the claim of the Scottish Government that an independent Scotland would accede to EU membership without encountering opposition, a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics, has published an article showing that Scotland would face little opposition to EU membership from existing member states and its membership would not be vetoed, as has been claimed by a number of anti-independence campaigners.

James Ker-Lindsay studied the opinions of those suggesting that Scotland’s membership of the EU would be challenged by those member states who, for their own internal political reasons, opposed the recognition of Kosovo.  He finds that the opinion that Scotland could face a veto from existing EU members is “not based on any real evidence”.

Most EU states recognised the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, when that was declared four years ago.  Five states demurred – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.  All five refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence on the basis that this was a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), an objection which the UK government itself made when refusing to recognise the independence declarations of the post-Soviet states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia and Transnitria from Moldova.

All of these states, most interestingly Slovakia, whose own Parliament declared its independence from Czechoslovakia in 1992, have internal ethnic minorities or subordinate nationalities whom they fear might also declare UDI, and whose independence might be recognised by other states.  

Romania and Slovakia have large Hungarian speaking populations seeking greater autonomy, while the Greeks fear attempts at seccession from its Turkish speaking minority in Thrace and the Slavic minority along its border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.  The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus has a long running dispute with the break away Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.  

Spain is home to a number of “historic nationalities” according to the Spanish constitution, including the Basques, Catalans and Galicians.  However the Spanish constitution does not permit its “historic nationalities” the right to self-determination.

James Ker-Lindsay points out that none of these states hesitated to recognise the new state of South Sudan, where the people had voted in a referendum to become independent.   He writes:  “Within hours, the European Union issued a joint statement congratulating the new state on its independence.  There was not a murmur of dissent from any of the five countries to this act of collective recognition.”

Cyprus is clearly concerned by the situation of the Turkish invasion of North Cyprus and the unilateral seizure of land by Turkish forces.  There is no replication of that situation as far as Scotland is concerned.  Indeed, he says that “there might just be more than a little glee at the thought of seeing Britain, the former colonial power on the island, break apart.”

The position of Greece is solely based on its solidarity with the Cypriot Government and Ker-Lindsay notes: “Had it not been for this, it is likely that it would have joined most of the rest of the EU and recognised Kosovo long ago.  Indeed, its relations with Pristina are exceptionally cordial and amount to recognition in all but name.”

As for Romania and Slovakia, there is no evidence that they would have any concerns about an independent Scotland.  Why should they?  Their concerns are based on fears about the borders determined by the post WW1 Treaty of Trianon, which saw the break up of the Hungarian component of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the imposition of what many Hungarians regarded as artificial borders which left millions of their compatriots outside the borders of a greatly reduced Hungary.  

Ker-Lindsay says:  “Their concerns about Kosovo are really about specific minority communities using the Kosovo precedent to press their own separatist claims.  Given Scotland’s clearly identifiable boundaries, its long history of independence prior to the union with England, and the consensual nature of any divorce, an independent Scotland will not be met with a negative reaction in Bratislava or Bucharest.  Indeed, Slovakia is itself the product of a consensual split along accepted boundaries.”

Which leaves us with Spain, and the oft quoted suggestion by UK supporters -that Spain would oppose Scottish independence in order to avoid giving succour to its own subordinate nations, especially the Catalans and the Basques.

As has become so easy recently, this most persistent claim by dependency supporters is destroyed.  It has already been reported that on a visit to London last month, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo explained that Kosovo achieved its independence from Serbia as a result of a unilateral declaration which has not been accepted by the Serbian government, and added that Spain’s position on Kosovo would have been different if Kosovan independence came after a negotiated agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.  

James Ker-Lindsay writes:  

“However, a recent claim by an unnamed British government minister that Spain would seek to block an independent Scotland from joining the EU was strongly denied by the Spanish foreign minister.  Moreover, Spain’s decision to recognise South Sudan, as well as Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovakia, Moldova and the Czech Republic, to name just a few of the new states that have emerged since 1990s, is more than ample evidence that Madrid is not as obstructive on matters of secession as some observers would like to suggest.  To repeat, Spain’s problem with Kosovo’s independence relates to its unilateral nature.”

James Ker-Lindsay is a Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  A specialist on issues relating to conflict, peace and security, his authored books include Kosovo: The Path to Contested Statehood in the Balkans (2009), Crisis and Conciliation: A Year of Rapprochement between Greece and Turkey (2007), and EU Accession and UN Peacemaking in Cyprus (2005).