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The EU-UK Partnership and Implications for Differentiation Within the EU and Between the EU and Third Countries

Differentiated integration / EXTERNAL PUBLICATION
Fabian Zuleeg , Jannike Wachowiak

Date: 01/12/2021
The UK’s departure from the EU fundamentally changed EU–UK relations, and the new relationship is far more distant and challenging than originally intended. The loss of trust over the last four years and current politics both point to growing estrangement and divergence between the EU and the UK over time. 

This raises questions about the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – the agreement that lays out preferable arrangements in the areas of trade in goods and services, digital trade, transportation, energy, social security coordination, law enforcement, etc. between the EU and the UK. The TCA established a distant relationship with limited economic integration between immediate neighbours, and as of now, there are serious concerns as to whether it will be an effective, sustainable and legitimate model to govern EU–UK relations. 

Additionally, Brexit has introduced a new mode of external differentiation in Europe: a former member state with no intention for membership in the future. This has had farreaching implications for existing differentiation within the EU and between the EU and third countries and (potential) candidate countries. It suggests a more hard-line approach towards non-EU (or third) countries, sending the message to EU members and non-members alike that membership in the Union matters and that divergence comes at a cost. There can be no cherry-picked access to the Single Market and the four freedoms – goods, capital, services and labour – are indivisible.

While it is unlikely and undesirable that the TCA should be emulated by other European countries, the authors conclude that the EU must stay attentive to evolving perceptions of Brexit, and show that EU membership remains attractive (since Brexit has had a deterrent effect on other EU member states) and is a relevant framework for dealing with global challenges that cannot be effectively addressed at the national level. The authors recommend that the EU invest in trust-building and be open avenues for cooperation with the UK.

This paper was first published by EU IDEA, a project whose central goal is to address whether, how much and what form of differentiation is not only compatible with, but is also conducive to a more effective, cohesive and democratic EU. The EPC is part of the EU IDEA consortium.

Read the full paper here.
Photo credits:
Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP

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