Comment

Beyond the TCA and Brexit - is the EU interested in a closer relationship with the UK?

Jacob Öberg / Jun 2024

Image: Shutterstock

 

In light of a potential new UK Labour Government wishing to reconsider the overall EU-UK relationship, it might be worth to briefly consider to what extent the EU Member States are interested in more intense cooperation with the UK.

There are three general points I wish to make here. First, that the EU institutions and the EU Member States are interested in having closer cooperation with the UK. Secondly, I dare to suggest that the UK leaving the EU has to some extent long-term strengthened the unity of the EU bloc. Thirdly, that what is going to be the scope of cooperation in the future will be predominantly guided by the European Union’s rather than the UK’s interests.

There is clearly some support for the prospect of a wish among the EU institutions and Member States of closer cooperation with the UK. The European Free Alliance (EFA Group ) has stated that EU must also be sure to never close the door on the peoples of the UK . Many EP groups have included something on closer UK-EU ties in their manifestos before the recent European Parliament elections. A particular area envisaged for closer cooperation is defence because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EPP has called for the replacement of the High Representative with an EU foreign minister, as Vice-President of the European Commission, and for the appointment of a European Security Council comprised of the leaders of EU Member States and other European countries including at least the UK, Norway and Iceland. The leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, Terry Reintke, has clearly stated that a big majority of people would like the UK back in the EU whilst the current Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen has asked the youth of the UK to ‘fix’ Brexit.

Yet Brexit has clearly strengthened the EU. Britain leaving the EU removed a country that was frequently an obstacle to progress, or at least made cooperation more difficult. Without the UK, the EU has continued to deepen the single market, and the Eurozone has more power to drive economic and financial policy. Moreover, the EU’s far right no longer makes explicit demands to the leave the EU. Shortly after the Brexit referendum, Marine Le Pen said she would call a referendum on leaving the EU if she won the French 2017 Presidential election. Since then, Le Pen and also Jimmy Åkesson of Sverigedemokraterna is no longer advocating for France or Sweden to leave the EU, but instead to reform the EU from within, having seen the difficulties which accompany the withdrawal process.

In addition, while EU Member States might accept the UK back into the fold, it would not be on the terms that the UK once had. Joining the Euro and Schengen area (which has been a serious discussion point in UK debates) are requirements for new Member States – although Denmark has an opt-out from the Justice and Home Affairs area and the Euro and Ireland an opt-out from Schengen. Seven countries – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden – are EU members but do not use the Euro. The EU would expect any application to be on the understanding that the UK would be a more ‘normal’ Member State. The UK’s major concessions during its first EU membership – budget rebate, opt-outs on the Euro and special justice and home affairs arrangements – would probably not be on offer.

The third point is that - as acutely illustrated by the debate on the EU-UK Mobility scheme - the cooperation is not going to be a smooth ride. The Commission proposed an EU-UK deal on youth mobility (not ‘free movement’) that would last up to four years with no restrictions on time spent working, studying, training, or volunteering. It stated that EU applicants should not have to pay the annual UK charge towards the NHS, which ranges from £776 for students and under-18s to £1,035 for workers And EU students should pay the same tuition fees as UK students, rather than the higher fees they have had to pay since Brexit, and have rights to reunite with family members, under the European Commission’s proposal). The current UK Government and the Labour Party, however, rejected the offer from the European Commission to open a youth mobility scheme with Europe. The same tension is apparent in respect of a potential EU-UK Veterinary agreement which is one of Labour’s promised priorities if assuming government after the elections. Nonetheless, to the extent that the UK seriously wishes to remove border controls and checks, the new UK government needs to accept “dynamic alignment” and becoming a “rule-taker” (which the current Conservative Government has excluded). With “dynamic alignment” we refer to a formal legal commitment for a third country, like the UK, to adopt a specified but potentially evolving selection of the EU ‘acquis’, the body of legal and other agreed obligations and commitments that apply to, and in, EU member states. In implementing such an agreement, the UK must therefore keep its laws aligned with any changes made to the EU legal instruments included in the scope of a potential veterinary agreement.

Whilst the EU institutions and the Member States clearly wish for a closer relationship with the UK reaching beyond the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, such a deepening will entail costs for the UK in terms of loss of sovereignty, loss of regulatory freedom and perforce require real investment by the UK in this relationship- something clearly absent in the current framing of the debate.

 

Jacob Öberg

Jacob Öberg

June 2024

About this author ︎►

cartoonSlideImage

French hitch

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

Balle-Pied

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

EU Elections

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

Sunak puddle

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

Nul points

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

Better Late...

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

Erdogan

See the bigger picture ►

cartoonSlideImage

US Gladiators

See the bigger picture ►

soundcloud-link-mpu1 rss-link-mpu soundcloud-link-mpu itunes-link-mpu