Scottish independence: Irish minister says EU application 'would take time'

Lucinda Creighton said the Scottish situation would be unprecedented

Ireland's European affairs minister has said an independent Scotland would need to apply to become a member of the European Union.

Lucinda Creighton told the BBC an independent Scotland would be welcomed into the EU, but would need to apply and go through a lengthy process.

Her views chime with concerns raised by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

But SNP ministers insist if Scotland became independent, its EU position would be negotiated "from within".

Ms Creighton's comments came on the day that Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered a speech to business people in Dublin in which she said Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge of an EU referendum was putting jobs at risk in Scotland.

The SNP government has said that Scotland, as a small independent country and EU member, could learn from the example of Ireland, which currently holds the EU presidency.

Ms Sturgeon, whose government is staging an independence referendum in autumn 2014, said in her speech that being in the EU had created and protected 64,000 Scottish jobs in the last decade.

She said: "The Scottish government wants an independent Scotland to be a constructive member of the EU.

"A country that both wants to play its part in Europe and, given the vast resources that we bring to the table, a country that will be welcomed as a continuing member of Europe by our fellow member states."

Asked if an independent Scotland would be welcomed by its EU neighbours, Ms Creighton told BBC Scotland: "Welcome I think, by all means, but obviously there are legal constraints.

Analysis

Nicola Sturgeon's speech was largely about reassurance.

Independence, she insisted, would help guarantee jobs and European membership, whereas remaining in the UK would put employment and EU membership at risk.

She also wanted to reassure European neighbours that an independent Scotland would be a responsible EU citizen.

As an example she promised no "race to the bottom" when it comes to corporation tax.

After speaking to business leaders in Dublin Ms Sturgeon held a meeting with Ireland's European affairs minister.

But the deputy first minister won't have been reassured by Lucinda Creighton's views on an independent Scotland's EU membership.

Ms Leighton was clear that an independent Scotland would need to apply for EU membership and the negotiations would probably be lengthy.

Ms Sturgeon accepts that negotiations would be necessary but insists Europe would want Scotland to take its seat at the EU table.

The deputy first minister came here to Ireland hoping to learn from a small independent EU state but leaves with some difficult messages for the Yes campaign.

"If Scotland were to become independent, Scotland would have to apply for membership and that can be a lengthy process, as we see even with the very advanced and well-integrated countries like Iceland, where I've just come from.

"Iceland is obviously a member of Efta (European Free Trade Association) and had been deeply involved in the single market for many years, but still has a task in terms of transforming its legislation and fitting into the European requirements for membership.

"And that would be the case, I think, for Scotland as well. It may not take as long, but there would be an application and a negotiation process, as there is for any candidate country."

Ms Creighton described the potential Scottish situation as "kind of unprecedented", adding: "I don't see why it would be a terribly complex process, but negotiations for membership are always painstaking and they're always complex, but I don't see why it would be difficult.

"I think that it would certainly lead to accession at the end of the process. But it would take time."

The Irish minister added: "We're speaking in a hypothetical sense obviously, and it's very much up to the people of Scotland as to what they choose to do between now and when that question might arise."

Westminster ministers say there is no guarantee an independent Scotland would remain in the EU, and argue Scotland currently benefits as part of the UK and EU.

The SNP's opponents seized on comments made in December by the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said: "If one part of a country - I am not referring now to any specific one - wants to become an independent state, of course as an independent state it has to apply to the European membership according to the rules - that is obvious."

But Scots ministers have insisted that, in the event of a 'yes' vote in the independence referendum, Scotland would remain part of the EU and negotiate its membership terms from within.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "We welcome this recognition that an independent Scotland will be welcomed by our European friends and neighbours. We have always been clear that there will be negotiations on the specific terms of Scotland's continued membership of the EU as an independent country.

"However, the key point is that these negotiations will take place from within, and at no point will Scotland be outside the European Union, as there is no mechanism for the expulsion of an existing part of the EU. As part of an existing member state, Scotland clearly already meets key membership criteria in any case."

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