Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Jean-Claude Juncker 'not referring to Scotland'

Jean-Claude Juncker at European Parliament, 15 July 2014 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Jean-Claude Juncker said no current candidate country was likely to meet the criteria for EU membership within the next five years

New European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was not referring to Scotland when he said there would be no new members of the EU in the next five years, BBC Scotland has learned.

Opponents of Scottish independence had seized on his remarks to the European Parliament to back their campaign.

They said it proved that, if Scotland were to vote to leave the UK, it would not get back into the EU before 2019.

But a spokeswoman confirmed that he was talking about countries outside the EU.

'Accession criteria'

Speaking ahead of a vote that confirmed him as the European Commission's new president, Mr Juncker argued that, because the EU had rapidly expanded to 28 members, there needed to be "a break from enlargement".

He told MEPs: "Over the next five years, there won't be any new member states acceding to the European Union.

"It's hard to imagine that one of the candidate states with whom we are negotiating will have, in time, met all the accession criteria."

Mr Juncker's office confirmed to the BBC that his remarks were referring to countries already in an accession process with the EU and not to a hypothetical case involving Scotland.

Albania, Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Macedonia are candidate countries for EU membership.

Why are Articles 48 and 49 important to the EU question?

Image copyright AP
  • Article 48 - It allows the Treaties of the European Union - the EU rulebook - to be amended by existing members of the European Union, the European Parliament or the European Commission. The members submit a proposal to the European Council and if it - after consulting with the parliament and the commission - decides by a simple majority to look at the proposed amendments, then it is passed on to a "convention". They look at the amendment proposed and, by consensus, adopt a recommendation which is put to a conference of member state representatives for approval.
  • Article 49 - The applicant country must apply to the European Council, with the European Parliament and national parliaments also being notified. New conditions and subsequent adjustments to the Treaties need to be agreed between the member states and the applicant state. That agreement is then submitted for ratification by member states.

A spokesperson for Jean-Claude Juncker said: "At no point is Scotland mentioned, as this is an entirely separate issue.

"Mr Juncker has made his position on this clear on many an occasion: this is an internal matter of the UK and he will respect the result of the Scottish referendum."

The Better Together campaign had earlier said the comments confirmed that leaving the UK would mean leaving the EU.

The Scottish government has insisted that a newly independent country could negotiate separate EU membership within 18 months if voters say yes in the referendum in September, as it already has EU membership as part of the UK.

However, the UK government has argued that Scotland would have to leave the EU if it gained independence from the UK - then apply to join as an independent state.

UK ministers have claimed that EU membership would not be guaranteed and could take several years.

ANALYSIS: BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor

Alex Salmond calculates that the people of Scotland would mostly prefer an absence of Conservative governance and continued membership of the EU. His argument is that both can be obtained via independence.

Naturally, his rivals have a different take although, of course, that take varies according to party.

Many, however, have seized upon Mr Juncker's comments today that there should be a pause placed upon enlargement of the EU.

This, say Mr Salmond's critics, means that there is a further impediment in the path of an independent Scotland securing membership of the European Union.

No, say Mr Salmond's supporters, this applies to entirely new applicant countries. They continue to argue that a distinctive arrangement could be made for the people of Scotland who have been EU citizens for decades via the UK.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called on Better Together to withdraw what she described as "their false claims".

"This blatant act of dishonesty is a major blow to the credibility of the no campaign," she said.

"In their desperation to talk Scotland down and spread fears and smears, the no camp have wilfully twisted what Jean-Claude Juncker said.

"They said that Mr Juncker was talking about Scotland - and his spokeswoman has confirmed that he was not. Their claims now lie in tatters.

"The No campaign are guilty of distorting remarks by the newly-elected president of the European Commission, which is an extremely serious matter.

"They must withdraw their bogus assertions as a matter of urgency and issue a public apology."

'Jobs at risk'

Despite clarification about Mr Juncker's comments, a spokesperson for Better Together said: "These comments lay bare the full extent of the problems we would face if we left the UK.

"The countries who have already started the application process to join the EU face a five-year wait.

"As President Juncker has made perfectly clear, if we leave the UK, we would then have to start the application process to join.

"How long that process would take and what conditions would be attached is anyone's guess."

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