Editorial: Brexit?


by Jean-Paul Jacqué

The announcement of the British Prime Minister’s speech has revived speculation about a possible withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The TV channel Arte has even broadcasted a fictional documentary on the subject. After the speech, reactions were more cautious notably because the matter has been postponed until after the next elections. The agreement was reached at least that the British people should decide themselves about their future.

Mr. Cameron’s speech does not just aims at influencing internal affairs in order to maintain unity within the Conservative Party. The chosen approach raises a number of questions. The main claim of the Prime Minister is to shift a number of competences conferred over time to the European Union, back to the national level. Yet is it actually possible to benefit from the internal market without simultaneously participating in a number policies linked to the common market? One could remember that the environmental policy, for example, had its first developments in the context of the internal market before becoming an autonomous policy with the Single European Act. In the same vein, do horizontal clauses of the TFEU make environmental and social policies components of all Union policies? In addition, the participation in the internal market is closely linked to the solidarity principle present in the cohesion policy. This is demonstrated by Switzerland and the members of the European Economic Area (EEA) which contribute to this policy financially. Moreover, even if the other members of the European Union would agree to open negotiations following the British request, it would not be an easy task to reach an agreement on what is inherent or not to the internal market.

Another issue is the status of the United Kingdom in this new arrangement. It seems unlikely that the UK would accept a status equivalent to that of the EEA and Switzerland. This scenario would imply that the UK implements Community law without participating entirely in the decision-making. The solution may rely on the multiplication of opt-outs while at the same time there might be the risk that other member states ask for derogations as well. But what would the United Kingdom’s political authority look like seen as marginalized in a system where its participation would be limited? Would one try to play down the importance of this case still today? If the UK would make use of its power to block further integration that has been greatly expanded by the revision of the European Union Act following the last elections, the only solution would be to resort to the increased use of enhanced cooperation to serve as basis for the construction of a two-speed Union.

This is a brief illustration of the issues that should be addressed. One could not expect a political answer as long as governments are not put up against the wall. It is not in their interest to show their position as long as the British requests haven’t been formally presented. But it is the duty of academics to draw the different options and I think that on this point the members of TEPSA could contribute significantly to the scientific research in the coming times. A first start has made by the report “Britain and the European Union: views of members of the TEPSA network”, the synthesis of a survey of perceptions of British EU membership compiled by Graham Avery with Brendan Donnelly, Dáithí O’Ceallaigh and Mirte van den Berge.