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Basics: The other models

Video by Anthony Salamone (The University of Edinburgh) exploring alternatives to EU membership.
One of the defining features of the UK’s EU referendum campaign has been the question of what relationship the UK would have with the EU, instead of membership, in the event of leaving the EU. This issue is the subject of relative uncertainty, as it is very difficult to know what the political wishes of the UK or the rest of the EU would be in the event of the UK’s exit. There is also no precedent for an existing Member State to leave the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a formal process for a Member State to withdraw from the EU. This is set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
The process begins with a state notifying the European Council of its intention to leave. Following this, negotiations will begin on agreeing the new relationship through a treaty. The negotiations can last for up to two years, unless an extension is agreed by all parties. If an agreement is not reached within this period, the state will withdraw with no agreement. Beyond this, we know very little about how the process would work or what would happen. Different interpretations have been offered on the purpose of the two-year negotiation window. Some suggest that it is the time frame to reach a definitive deal on post-membership relations.
Others suggest that is the time frame to come to a framework deal on how to negotiate the full details of the withdrawal. This has implications for how long the negotiation process for the new relationship would take. The relationships that current non-EU European states have with the EU could provide indications of possible other models for the UK. One model is membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (the EEA). The UK was the driving force behind the establishment of EFTA in the 1960s, but it left the organisation when it joined the EEC (as did each other country as it joined the EU). The four members of EFTA are Norway, Switzerland Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
The European Economic Area is a space partially integrating Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein into the EU Single Market. These countries participate in all four parts of the market - the free movement of goods, services, people and capital. They apply most of EU law. However, since they are not members of the EU, they have no say in creating those laws and minimal influence over them. In addition, they pay for access to the market on a level relatively similar to what they would pay if they were EU members. Another model is a set of bilateral agreements, like the relationship Switzerland has with the EU.
Switzerland and the EU have a complicated system of agreements, each on distinct areas - some of which are interlinked to each other. Unlike the EEA agreement, the EU-Swiss agreements do not necessarily update themselves regularly. This can create further difficulties. Switzerland also pays for access to the Single Market. It is only part of some elements of the Single Market, though it is part of the free movement of people. In 2014, a referendum was approved calling on the Swiss government to limit migration, including from the EU. This has yet to be implemented, and it is unclear what would it mean for the EU-Swiss relationship. It could mean retaliation from the EU and limitations on access to the EU market.
Since the Swiss relationship is so complicated, EU leaders (including the UK) are reluctant to replicate this approach with other states. Another option is to have no particular agreement with the EU. In this scenario, the UK would rely on international trade law, such as that of the World Trade Organisation. At present, no non-EU European country does not have some kind of agreement with the EU. Another option is a bespoke deal between the EU and the UK of a kind not seen before. The UK is a much larger economy than any of the EFTA states. It would also not be able to join EFTA unless the EFTA members agreed, or join the EEA unless EFTA and all EU members agreed.
Perhaps, then, a new form of arrangement could take shape. The UK’s relationship with the EU in the case of exit would depend on what all the parties involved would want it to achieve. The UK will have to have some kind of relationship with the EU. In the event of leaving the EU, the shape of that relationship will remain to be seen.
What are the alternatives to EU membership? Anthony Salamone explores the options.
(Video/Design by Tim Askew. Voice/Script by Anthony Salamone.)
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