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Wish EU were here; Europe's getting bigger - but will Scotland thrive with more members or face being the underdog of the union?

Byline: MARIA CROCE

THE prospect of a new, improved, bigger Europe has moved a step closer - but it may not be good news for Scots businesses.

Moves to expand the European Union are now back on track after voters in Ireland backed the plans.

It means the current 15 members are set to be joined by another 10.

The plans still have to be approved by individual member states, the European Parliament and the applicant states.

But an enlarged EU could hit Scotland as grants will go to poorer countries in Eastern Europe instead of here.

Experts warn it could also affect our agricultural industry if cheaper food from other parts of Europe comes to our shops.

Manufacturing could also move to other European countries where wage costs are lower.

There are also concerns that more members will make the EU's decision- making process less efficient.

On the brighter side, the new-look EU could bring business opportunities for Scots firms to help develop telecom, finance and road systems in the new member countries.

Another complication is that as some of the new nations are so small, it may also raise the profile of arguments for Scottish independence.

The current EU members are the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland, Ireland,Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Austria, Sweden and Finland.

They could be joined by Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta.

Expansion moves have been underway for years and a meeting in Nice more than a year ago agreed how an enlarged EU would work.

The resulting Nice Treaty agreed to make more areas of policy subject to majority voting.

Irish rules mean all Euro legislation must be approved by referendum. But last year the Irish rejected the treaty, holding up the enlargement plans. At the weekend, a second Irish referendum voted in favour of the treaty, putting expansion back on track.

But Trevor Salmon, professor of international relations at Aberdeen university, says this still doesn't mean the expansion will definitely happen.

He said: "This was a vote on the Nice Treaty, not a vote on expansion.

"Norway twice negotiated to join the EU then, when they put the terms to a referendum, the Norwegian people said `No'. We can't assume this means we will go from 15 to 25."

Professor John Bachtler, director of Strathclyde University's European Policies Research Centre, said the decision means the 10 countries have been cleared for membership but it's still not known when this will happen.

He said the EU has a commitment to enlarge by the time of the Euro elections in 2004 but that conditions for the 10 countries joining have yet to be finalised. They now have to show they can comply with legislation relating to issues such as justice, security, home affairs and the environment.

Prof Bachtler warned that a bigger EU means Scotland will lose cash that has helped industries in the West and rural Highlands and Islands areas.

He said: "Over the last 25 years, Scotland has had in excess of 7billion euros in terms of support for economic and social development."

The grants have co-funded projects such as the Falkirk Wheel and the Magnum Centre in Irvine. Money has also gone to smaller community projects and training programmes.

Prof Bachtler also said that in a bigger EU, firms could close Scots plants and relocate to Eastern Europe, although this might happen anyway.

On the other hand, he believes there will be business opportunities for Scots firms in financial services, the food sector, engineering and consultancy work.

Professor Trevor Salmon agrees Scotland could be hit by a larger EU.

He said: "Up to 2006, the Highlands and Islands will have received around pounds 220million from Europe. After 2006, in effect, that money's going to go to Eastern Europe.

"The counter argument is it's a new market with lots of opportunities."

Prof Salmon also has concerns over whether the EU can cope with more members - though he doesn't believe the change will make much difference to most Scots.

However, he said that with countries the size of Malta planning to join, it could mean a higher profile for the Scottish independence debate.

He said: "It will raise the level of the argument. The counter-argument is that these small states don't matter and you're better being a part of a big state that really counts."

He added: "I think the notion that the big can run Europe will be further diluted. However, the big problem is that it will be the small and medium sized-states that will be in control.

"The question is, can they actually agree on anything?"
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Oct 22, 2002
Words:775
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