A BIG part of the next EU mandate after the June elections will involve the accession of several countries that are along its borders. Their experiences offer lessons for us in the independence movement but also show that we are in a much better position to accede.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that as an independent country, Scotland will be the best-placed candidate the EU has ever seen by virtue of having previously been a member for 47 years.

Last week was a momentous moment for Bosnia and Herzegovina as the European Council approved the Commission’s recommendations and agreed to open accession negotiations.

As the commission noted, it based its recommendation on the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina has had success in implementing legal reforms and aligning itself with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, crucial aspects if a country wishes to join.

The same Council meeting also welcomed the progress of Ukraine and Moldova in advancing their own necessary reforms as they continue working towards successfully acceding to the EU.

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Given the challenges these countries have faced since independence – post-communism, civil wars, Russian interference – that they are in a position to be serious candidates for EU membership is testimony to the efforts of their political leaders over the years to build a better future for their countries and their citizens.

Nor are they alone in this endeavour. North Macedonia’s outgoing prime minister Talat Xhaferi (who will contest its next election on a pro-EU, pro-Nato platform) has said he believes his country can join the EU before Ukraine and Moldova and that his country, Albania and Montenegro can complete their negotiations with Brussels “by 2028”. 

Ambitious? Yes. Unrealistic? No.

What this demonstrates, too, is that when a country takes the accession process seriously, the EU will do what it can to assist it and meet its commitments.

As the EU’s External Action Service (ie the diplomatic wing of the EU’s institutions) notes: “All Western Balkans partners have Stabilisation and Association Agreements with the EU, opening up trade and aligning the region with EU standards.”

The National:

This is reflected in the fact that EU trade with these countries has grown by almost 130% between 2011 and 2021, while Western Balkans exports to the EU have increased by 207%. When it comes to Foreign Direct Investment, EU companies account for more than 65% of it in the region.”

At the EU-Western Balkans summit in December last year, there was also the announcement of new measures worth almost €2 million to further support Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia to strengthen their resilience, in particular on cybersecurity, as well as an additional €680m investment package to support rail transport and renewable energy in the region.

As we chart our own course towards independence, it is therefore in our interest to keep a close eye on developments in the Western Balkans and other EU candidate countries. Not only will this familiarise us with the process of accession, but it will also highlight how Scotland is in a far better position to get there than many of the other current candidates.

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Given that there is no queue to accession (the process is entirely merit-based), we can expect that we will be in an excellent position to meet many of the criteria for membership. Where there are areas we need to work on, we know that the EU will be happy to assist – not in a way that takes this support for granted, but by working alongside with like-minded partners to secure our mutual interests.

Scotland, after all, offers a good news story for the EU in the aftermath of the nadir that is Brexit. The UK will toss and turn over what type of relationship it wants with its largest trading partner but we can get on with the process of moving beyond a simple transactional relationship to one built on shared values, mutual interests, and working together for the common benefit of all our communities.

That’s a future worth working together for and it’s one only the SNP will offer to the people of Scotland at the next election.