The Conditions for a New Partnership Setting the Scene for Brexit Negotiations

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Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Michelle Cini / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Michelle Cini / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Allan Rosas / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Allan Rosas / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Pilvi-Sisko Vierros-Villeneuve / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Pilvi-Sisko Vierros-Villeneuve / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä

Tors 25.8.2016 kl. 9:30-11:30
Wanha Satama, Hall G
Kanavakatu 5, Helsinki

The outcome of the UK referendum on the country’s EU membership sent shockwaves throughout Europe. It also resulted in major changes in British politics. While the new British government is currently engaged in reviewing its options to deliver and manage the UK exit, the other EU member states and institutions have started to formulate a common position on the UK’s aspirations to leave. They have also decided to launch a reflection process concerning the future of the EU. What is the current state of Brexit affairs in the UK? How is the EU27 preparing to address the major setback for European integration and the exit negotiations with the UK? What are the key legal options and challenges of the UK exit?

Speakers:

Michelle Cini, Professor of European Politics, University of Bristol

Pilvi-Sisko Vierros-Villeneuve, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Finland to the European Union 

Allan Rosas, Senior Fellow of the University of Turku, Visiting Professor, College of Europe, Judge at the European Court of Justice

ChairTeija Tiilikainen, Director, Finnish Institute of International Affairs


Summary of the seminar

Teija Tiilikainen, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, welcomed the panelists and audience of the seminar and pointed out that the issue of the UK’s future relationship with the EU had been a topic for the Institute already before the referendum this summer. Now it is time to discuss the implications of the likely Brexit for the EU-UK relations and the future of the remaining EU27.

Michelle Cini, Professor of European Politics at the University of Bristol, gave her reflections on the current state of the debate in the UK. Very few people expected a Brexit vote, resulting in little preparation for this outcome. Experts and media were in shock and had to adjust to the new circumstances. The debate naturally quietened down over the summer and allowed some thought about what happens next. Theresa May made the now famous statement "Brexit means Brexit”. In Cini’s opinion this statement just highlights the uncertainty around the question what will be happening next. For her, there are three categories of debate at the moment. The first category is "hard Brexit”, which is a proposed way forward by those who favour a clear-cut outcome. The eurosceptics issue opinion pieces which describe the Brexit negotiations as a very straightforward process under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The second category is "soft Brexit”. Those who are concerned about the future relationship with the EU are in favour of slowing down the Brexit process. They see the difficulties of keeping the good working relations running and expect long negotiations. There is a lot of debate on what the future model for the UK in Europe could be. A third category is a kind of denial of the Brexit vote. After all, 48% of the voters in the referendum did not vote for Brexit. After the Brexit vote many people started defining themselves as Europeans. Only 38% of the electorate voted for Leave after all. This denial leads to the question whether there will be a Brexit at all, with some arguing for a second referendum. This might however be wishful thinking by the people that voted Remain. 

Pilvi-Sisko Vierros-Villeneuve, Permanent Representative of Finland to the European Union, gave insights to the current early debates in Brussels after the Brexit referendum. Among EU member states nobody wanted the UK to leave, because there are enough other challenges that need attention at the moment. Because of that reason, it is unfortunate that even though EU partners were forthcoming before the referendum, the offers for a new relationship of the UK in the EU ultimately did not help. In her opinion the outcome of the vote reflects the specific difficulties in the relationship between the UK and the EU and not a general dissatisfaction or problem with the integration process as such. Eurobarometer results from May this year support this view because in many countries – including Finland – dissatisfaction with national governments is higher than with the EU. It would be unfortunate if the lengthy negotiations with the UK would distract European politics from addressing the pressing policy challenges for example in the field of migration. There is an expectation in Brussels that the negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered in February. While it is comparatively easy to end the membership of the UK, it is very difficult to find a replacing arrangement. The hope is that the relationship with the UK is defined before the next European Parliament election in 2019. It would be difficult to envision a better deal for the UK than the current membership including the several opt outs. It is conceivable that the UK will have a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU in the future. The agreement will likely be accompanied by several agreements that associate the UK with key EU policy fields, for example on matters of internal security. The next step on the agenda is the European Council in Bratislava for which the preparations are already on their way. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel plays a key role in the preparations and currently conducts an inclusive process of consultations with a large number of member states. Areas in which the heads of state and government can send new signals in Bratislava include migration policy, internal/external security, defence cooperation, as well as on economic matters.

Allan Rosas, Judge at the European Court of Justice, gave his personal opinion on the legal questions in relation to the future relationship of the UK with the EU. The legal association with the EU could theoretically be based on three models: the Norwegian model, the Swiss model or the Canadian model. Switzerland is part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) but not of the European Economic Area (EEA). This means that it enjoys free trade of goods with the other EFTA members, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, while trade in services is less open among these states. Externally, EFTA members have negotiated detailed trade agreements with third states, such as Canada, Russia and China. The coordination on international trade matters is very close between EFTA members and would require the UK to accept the common trade agreements. The strong element of coordination makes the EFTA membership less attractive for the UK. In addition, Norway has expressed doubts in the past of a possible EFTA membership of the UK, as they are wary about the large size of the UK economy. The Swiss model would also not simplify the UK’s relationship with the EU, because Switzerland relies on a large number of bilateral agreements with the EU. The Norwegian option, a membership in the EEA, is also unlikely. In such a constellation, Rosas argued, the UK still has to implement rules of the single market, is exposed to a supranational court, has to contribute substantially to the common budget and probably has to agree to free movement of people, which is also part of the EEA agreement. As a result, an EEA membership runs against all the main Brexit arguments put forward in the campaign. According to Rosas, the Canadian model is the most likely solution. He referred to the broad trade agreement which Canada negotiated with the EU and which still needs ratification. However, negotiations for a comprehensive trade treaty with the UK are likely to be long and cumbersome – possibly even taking longer than the two-year timeframe of the article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

After the presentations, the panelists had a detailed debate on many issues regarding the Brexit negotiations and the UK’s and EU’s future, including the technicalities of Britain’s exit from the EU institutions, the impact on the British political landscape, the role of the British parliament, the political situation in Ireland and Scotland and the upcoming European Council in Bratislava.