By a Newsnet reporter
A leading expert on the European Union has described as “not realistic” claims from opponents of independence who say a newly independent Scotland would have to join a queue of new applicants before re-entering the EU.
Speaking at a special conference on the Scottish Referendum and the EU held in the Basque city of Bilbao, Professor Graham Avery of Oxford University told his audience that the most logical outcome would see Scotland remain within the EU, becoming a member in its own right after negotiations.
According to Professor Avery: “If the Scottish people say yes to independence, our political leaders, the heads of state of the European Union and the Council of Ministers in Brussels will have to engage in dialogue on the steps to follow.
“The most logical would be, on achieving independence, Scotland joins a series of institutions, like the European Union, the Council of Europe … The other way would be that it would have to apply for admission and put itself at the end of the queue with Turkey and Serbia, for example, but this second option is not realistic.”
The academic, who is honorary director general of the European Commission, an advisor at the European Policy Centre and considered the leading expert on EU enlargement, criticised the “highly politicised” nature of the debate, and added:
“One side says that membership of the EU is assured, the other maintains the exact opposite, and the reality is a middle way. The question is that there is no precedent.”
The academic also challenged claims that Scottish membership of the EU could be prevented by objections from another state, and argued that the Edinburgh Agreement between Edinburgh and London made this unlikely.
Citing the example of Montenegro, which had a similar agreement with Serbia prior to holding an independence referendum, Professor Avery said:
“The referendum was agreed with Serbia, [Montenegro] left and there was no problem of recognition from the European Union.”
Prof Avery also used the example of East Germany to illustrate how the EU adopts a pragmatic and common sense approach to unique situations.
“This was a case of enlargement of the EU without incorporation – the number of member states did not increase. Nevertheless, in this case a change was produced regarding the EU population, 16 million new Germans entered. In the Scottish case, the EU population will remain the same.”
He added of East Germany’s inclusion: “This was a democratic process, the remaining member states accepted the most practical solution. They adopted a plan based in common sense, and in the case of Scotland common sense will also prevail.”
The academic’s comments are a significant blow to the anti-independence campaign with key figures arguing that a newly independent Scotland would face expulsion from the EU, with a lengthy re-application process before re-entering.
Last week UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Glasgow, claimed that a newly independent Scotland would have to re-apply for membership and could face years of tough negotiations and would be forced to join the euro.
Hague told the BBC: “People should be in no doubt, if part of a member state leaves the EU it has to reapply for membership and that will be a process of uncertain length and unknown outcome in terms of the terms that are negotiated and probably great cost. It means paying more to get less from the EU.”
The Scottish Government has insisted the only threat to Scotland’s continued European Union membership comes from the In/Out EU referendum proposed by the current UK Government.
Last week Nicola Sturgeon saud: “The fact of the matter is that, if Scotland votes ‘No’ and we don’t become independent, there is absolutely no guarantee at all that we would stay within the European Union.
“We could find ourselves taken out of it against our will.”
The Scottish Government has said that EU membership will continue following a Yes vote with negotiations taking place inside the EU during the eighteen month period leading up to Scotland’s formal declaration of independence.
With thanks to Paul T Kavanagh