THE European Union has insisted new member states are "legally committed” to join the euro once they meet the "necessary conditions”.

However, it also underlined that countries can “calibrate their path towards the euro and no timetable is prescribed.”

The official spokeswoman for economic affairs in Brussels outlined the European Commission’s position after fiery exchanges in Holyrood last week between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross over the issue.

The Scottish Conservative leader picked up on a newspaper report on Thursday which quoted unnamed EU sources saying that any Scottish application for membership would be given short shrift without a pledge to sign up to the single currency.

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Ms Sturgeon’s Government published a paper on the economic and currency policy of an independent Scotland earlier this month, saying the country would continue to use Sterling until a new pound was established.

But despite pledging to rejoin the EU the paper did not commit to joining the euro insisting it was not “the right option for Scotland”.

Referring to the The Times’s report, Mr Ross said on Thursday: “’No euro, no membership’. That is a direct quote. However, that is not what Nicola Sturgeon’s economic paper from last week said. Who is lying to the Scottish people? Is it the European Union or Nicola Surgeon."

The First Minister denied lying on the currency issue and said many EU countries still use their own currency.

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She quoted a number of sources, including former prime minister David Cameron and the ex-president of the European Commission, as holding a different view to that of the unnamed sources quoted in the Times.

She added: “Many countries in the European Union still use their own currency.
“Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden - a member state since 1995 still uses its own currency.”

Now the spokeswoman for economic affairs at the European Commission in Brussels has set out the official position.

She told the Herald on Sunday: “In principle, all EU member states, except Denmark which has an opt-out clause, are legally committed to join the euro area once they fulfil the necessary conditions. 

“It is up to individual countries to calibrate their path towards the euro and no timetable is prescribed.”

Dr Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre in Brussels, clarified the situation further. 

He said: “All countries that join the European Union have to commit to the Acquis Communautaire, the body of law of the European Union. 

“Within it, there is an in principle commitment to Economic and Monetary Union, but a country only enters the euro and becomes part of the eurozone when it fulfils the conditions (the Maastricht criteria). A candidate country would not be expected to make this commitment until membership.”

He added: “A country can negotiate a permanent or potentially temporary derogation from this. Denmark has a permanent opt-out enshrined in the treaties so it will never have to introduce the euro. 

“The UK had a similar opt-out when it was still a member. However, both of these were negotiated when these countries were part of the EU, in essence to ensure that EMU could be introduced even though some countries didn’t have the intention to join. 

“It would be much harder, if not impossible, for a new member to negotiate such a permanent opt-out. However, it might be possible to negotiate essentially a grace period, a number of years in which these provisions do not apply. That is probably unlikely but it would be up to the membership negotiations.”