Europe After Brexit: A Proposal for a Continental Partnership

Written by | Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Jean Pisani-Ferry and a Team (Bruegel)

The British decision to withdraw from the European Union means the end of a decades-long era when it seemed that Europe was experiencing the “end of history” and that the ‘Old Continent’ was headed towards the future of an ever-closer integration and the creation of supranational institutions. To recover from this shock and improve the prospects for the continuation of peace and prosperity, the Union and the United Kingdom will have to find a new model of continental partnership, which will be deeper than a free-trade zone but much looser than the full EU membership. What should such a continental partnership possibly look like?

For the EU, Brexit means a further weakening of the block as well as an increase in uncertainty at already fairly difficult times when the Eurozone economies have for long been stagnating and when war is raging in the vicinity of its borders in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. While the EU and Britain will admittedly need each other in order to overcome these problems, they must also first of all find a reasonable model of mutual relations within which cooperation can develop.

Unfortunately, it seems that the UK will not find any of the existing forms of partnerships with the EU appropriate. For example, the so-called Norwegian model assumes that Britain would be passively adopting a large part of the EU legislation and remain fully engaged in the system of free mobility of people in the common market. This would be, however, humiliating and unacceptable for a populous and economically powerful Britain. Another option is to conclude a free trade agreement, which would give the British a more equal role but this solution would also have many disadvantages. Above all, it would not include cooperation on foreign policy and security issues that are the areas in which Britain is traditionally strong and has a lot to offer to the Union.

It is therefore necessary to create a new model of partnership between the EU and the UK, in which Britain would remain part of the common market but which would give London the option to keep control of the mobility of EU citizens in its territory. It would be sensible – for the sake of an effective functioning of the market and cooperation in security issues – if Britain had the opportunity to further participate in the creation of rules and EU decision-making, although it would not have formal voting rights.

If this model proves to be successful, the EU will be able to offer it in the future to its neighbors, such as Norway, Switzerland, but also, for example, Turkey or Ukraine. By that, the EU would facilitate the creation of a new model of differentiated European integration, in which the tightly integrated heart of the continent will be surrounded by a ring of associated countries.

(The study can be downloaded here)


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