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Croatia and Scotland: A World Apart?

By Robert Wright - Posted on 25 June 2013

Professor Robert E. Wright from Strathclyde Business School’s Department of Economics considers what Croatian succession to the EU might mean for Scotland.

The European Union is currently composed of 27 countries. Scotland’s independence referendum takes place on September 18, 2014. If the majority of the population aged 16 and older vote “yes”, this will be interpreted by the Scottish Government as a mandate for Scotland to leave the UK and become the 29th member state of the EU. 29th member state?   Yes, on July 1, 2013, Croatia will become the 28th member state.

Scotland has been told that it will need to (re-)apply for membership in the EU if it achieves independence. There is disagreement on this but the idea of Scotland simply “voting itself” into EU membership seems unlikely.

It is my view that Scotland will have to jump the same hurdles as Croatia. The EU has clear expectations on what is required of “new” member states with the rules and regulations embodied in the “Lisbon Treaty”. I believe that an independent Scotland will need to “toe the line” with respect to what the EU wants and what is written in the Lisbon Treaty.

In this respect, the experience of Croatia is informative. Up until its dissolution in 1992, Croatia was one of six states which made up the so-called “Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, the other five being:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia managed to achieve independence without the war which preceded the independence of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Slovenia is the only one of these countries that is currently a member of the EU.

Since the expansion of the EU in 2004, the European Parliament has only allowed one “opt-out”. This single case was Poland which was not required sign up to Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. With this exception, the rules and regulations of the Lisbon Treaty have been accepted “lock, stock and barrel” and this includes the “Schengen Agreement”. Membership in Schengen implies no internal borders with individuals being able to travel between countries without a passport and border controls.

Despite being members of the EU, Bulgaria and Romania are not part of the Schengen area. Why? The reason is that that they both “fail to comply”. This is a ruling by the European Commission—and not a choice by a member state—that the infrastructure is not in place to fulfil the requirements of the “Schengen Border Code”. This code describes how border controls should be managed, especially between Schengen and non-Schengen countries. Croatia is also unable to comply with the requirements of Schengen on entry in July but the expectation is that it will join in 2015. The hard border will remain between Croatia and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina after 2015.

It is difficult to think of a set of circumstances that would allow Scotland to remain outside of Schengen.  With the breakup of Yugoslavia, what were previous internal borders became international borders.  If Scotland achieves independence, the EU will require the internal border with England to become an international border.

Do you think the case of Croatia sets a precedent for Scotland? Is the case for Scottish EU membership cut and dried? Let us know in the comments below

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