Scottish independence: EU 'could not ask Scots to leave'

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Image caption Some experts believe an independent Scotland would need to apply for EU membership

A senior European Commission figure has said he believes an independent Scotland would not need to apply for EU membership.

Graham Avery, an Honorary Director General of the EC, said Scots had acquired rights as EU citizens over the past 40 years.

They could not be asked to leave the EU and apply for readmission, he argued.

The Tories accused the SNP of "not bothering" to try to clarify the position on Europe.

The UK government has said it would not seek the view of the European Commission. The Commission has stated that it would express its opinion "on a request from a member state detailing a precise scenario".

The Commission has now confirmed it has not received any such request so far. A Scotland Office spokesman said that the UK government does not take its legal advice from the Commission and would not "pre-negotiate" ahead of a 2014 vote on Scottish independence.

The question of whether an independent Scotland would automatically retain EU membership has been at the heart of the constitutional debate in recent weeks.

The row has centred on whether the Scottish government had or had not sought legal advice on the EU status of an independent Scotland.

In written evidence submitted to Westminster's Foreign Affairs committee, which is examining the potential implications of Scottish independence, Mr Avery said arrangements for Scotland's EU membership would need to be in place simultaneously with independence.

He added: "For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible.

"From the practical point of view, it would require complicated temporary arrangements for a new relationship between the EU (including the rest of the UK) and Scotland (outside the EU) including the possibility of controls at the frontier with England.

"Neither the EU (including the rest of the UK) nor Scotland would have an interest in creating such an anomaly.

"From the political point of view, Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens.

"If they wish to remain in the EU, they could hardly be asked to leave and then reapply for membership in the same way as the people of a non-member country such as Turkey.

"The point can be illustrated by considering another example: if a break-up of Belgium were agreed between Wallonia and Flanders, it is inconceivable that other EU members would require 11 million people to leave the EU and then reapply for membership."

'Better deal'

Several other experts have argued that Scotland would be forced to reapply for EU membership in the event of a "yes" vote in the referendum, and then potentially face the prospect of having to join both the euro and the Schengen area of free movement.

They include Dr Jo Murkens of the London School of Economics and Professor Robert Hazell of University College London, whose joint submission to the committee said: "An independent Scotland will not automatically join the European Union, but will have to apply.

"Both EU membership and the issue of the euro will not be decided by the SNP or by the people of Scotland, but will be regulated (in principle) by the EU Treaties and (on the detail) by the Commission and the other member states in negotiations with an independent Scotland."

But they said an independent Scotland could be "fast-tracked" into EU membership "if Scottish independence is the expression of the democratic will of the people and if the United Kingdom resolves the matter in a procedurally fair and transparent manner".

In his evidence, Mr Avery said of Schengen and the euro: "We may note that although new member states are required to accept them in principle, they do not become members of the eurozone or Schengen immediately on accession, and are not permitted to do so.

"Joining the euro or Schengen depends on a series of criteria that are examined in the years following accession."

Mr Avery is a senior member of St Antony's College in Oxford and a senior adviser at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

He worked for 40 years as a senior official in Whitehall and Brussels, and took part in successive negotiations for EU enlargement.

Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, which is campaigning in favour of Scottish independence ahead of the referendum in 2014, welcomed Mr Avery's comments.

He said: "People in Scotland should be reassured that an independent Scotland will remain a member of the European Union.

"Not only that, but as Mr Avery points out, there may be opportunities for an independent Scotland, with a full voice and vote in the EU, to emerge with a better deal than is currently available as a member of the UK."

A European Commission spokeswoman said: "It is not the role of the commission to express a position on questions of internal organisation related to the constitutional arrangements in the member states."

Advice row

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: "The main problem we have on this issue is the sheer uncertainty of it.

"We do not know whether Scotland would automatically get into the EU, and part of the reason we don't know is because the SNP hasn't bothered to try and find out."

Meanwhile, the Scottish secretary has said there is now "increased scrutiny" of the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond following the row over legal advice on Scotland's EU membership.

Michael Moore was giving evidence to the Commons Scottish Affairs committee about plans for the independence referendum in 2014.

He claimed the Scottish government had had a "difficult 10 days" - a reference to Mr Salmond's denial of Labour claims that he lied over whether he had sought official legal advice on Scotland's position in Europe.

Mr Moore said there was "a lot of expectation placed on the Scottish government" and said the controversy had "increased the scrutiny that will be applied" in the run up to 2014.

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