EU membership: Spain vs Scotland

17 March 2017
What was claimed

The Spanish government hasn’t said that it would veto an independent Scotland joining the European Union.

Our verdict

Correct, although it has said that Scotland would have to leave the EU and re-apply from the outside.

 “No other EU member state has said that it would veto an independent Scotland’s membership... The Spanish have not said that. Go home and Google this evening, the Spanish government have not said that they would veto.”

Joanna Cherry MP, 16 March 2017

We’ve done some Googling so you don’t have to. Long story short: Ms Cherry has a point.

The independence movement in Catalonia, a region of Spain, means that Madrid doesn’t like encouraging nationalist movements in other countries. That’s why it’s often assumed that the Spanish government is committed to vetoing an independent Scotland’s EU membership.

But there’s a possible misunderstanding here. There’s a difference between staying in the EU and rejoining it.

Essentially, Spain says that Scotland would have to exit the EU in the event of an independence vote, and then apply to join as a new member. (That’s also what the central EU bodies say.)

“Were Scotland to become independent... the country would be treated as a third state and would have to get in line to join the EU.” That’s from Spanish newspaper El País, summarising the position taken by the country’s foreign minister this week.

That’s not, however, a threat to veto an independent Scotland’s membership application. Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, refused to get into that when pressed on it shortly after the referendum last summer. Various analysts say that Mr Rajoy would cross that bridge when he comes to it.

And other senior figures in Spain are positively ruling out a knee-jerk veto. Ms Cherry mentioned Esteban Pons, a Member of the European Parliament representing Spain’s ruling party. Asked about a Spanish veto last week, he told the BBC:

“No because if you are thinking about Catalonia the situation is very very very different to the Scottish situation."

Other political figures in Spain say the same: while Spain wouldn’t allow Scotland to simply remain in, an application to rejoin would be considered.

Two final things: Mr Rajoy leads a minority administration. A new Spanish government might have a different policy.

And we should note that there’s no “queue” or “line” for entering the EU as such. An independent Scotland could in theory join ahead of countries like Serbia that are in negotiations at the moment, if the process went smoothly. Iceland overtook Turkey when both were negotiating at the same time.

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