In June 2016, British citizens opted for an exit from the European Union. In the last two years, negotiations on the conditions of divorce have progressed, but no progress has been made in defining the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the Union. At the same time, however, the nature of this relationship has become increasingly important in a context of accelerating global geopolitical changes.
In mid-July, the British government finally put on the table, with its White Paper, a serious proposal to fix the terms of this relationship. This proposal deserves to be examined in a constructive way. First, she clearly says what the UK wants and does not want. Secondly, it seeks to take into account the legal and political constraints of both parties. Tertio, it is detailed enough to allow precise discussions. Finally, it recognizes that both sides share a common interest in maintaining strong ties, both in economic and security matters.
With regard to trade in goods, the UK proposal can be read as the outline of a free trade agreement for the 21 st century, where the rules of origin model will be replaced by a new sophisticated regime of cooperation. customs and by a common regulation on certain specific products. Although it raises thorny issues that need to be negotiated, this idea is worth exploring. The new customs regime will have to avoid the resurgence of tensions in Ireland. It should also be strictly implemented: the latest report by the European Anti-Fraud Office is embarrassing for the UK.
For services things are less clear. The White Paper explicitly recognizes that the United Kingdom will not enjoy full access to the European single market, but is aiming for a “deep” relationship. What this means remains to be clarified, and the counterparties proposed by London are not always clear. The White Paper proposes principles for future regulation in the United Kingdom, but the corresponding commitments remain vague and evasive. Hard negotiations are to be expected.
As for the free movement of workers, the EU must decide whether it sticks to the principle that access to the single market, even for a limited number of goods, is unacceptable in the absence of complete mobility. For us, the principle of the inseparability of the four freedoms of movement (goods, services, capital and people) does not rest on solid legal or economic bases. But it nonetheless served as a cornerstone for the political agreement between the 27 and is incorporated in treaties with third countries such as Norway and Switzerland. Touching this principle would certainly have repercussions on the EU’s relationship with these countries.
As regards governance, the White Paper contains significant concessions. The proposed arrangement would be based on a political dialogue and a technical comitology, without the United Kingdom having a formal vote on the decisions. In addition, London admits that UK courts will have to comply with the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the Union. These concessions will be hard for some British to accept, but are inevitable if the UK wants to maintain access to the single market. Indeed, economic integration requires regulatory consistency, and the fact is that of the two partners, the EU is and will remain the most powerful.
The White Paper, because it is structured around objectives to be achieved instead of red lines not to be crossed, and because it is detailed and sophisticated, puts the ball in the EU camp. To date, this one has produced nothing comparable. So far the Commission has maintained a hard line, which included: it did not want to start discussing the future relationship until the terms of the divorce were decided, or to disclose its cards before the UK said that what he was ready to commit to. In fact, it would be unwise for the 27 to make concessions as long as the British internal debate is unresolved and there remains the possibility of a race to the so-called regulatory.
Potentially, the White Paper can change the game. But for that it will be necessary that the United Kingdom is able to settle its internal disputes and to conclude an agreement likely to obtain the support of its parliament. For its part, the Union must strategically define, for the long term, the relationship it wants to establish with its neighbor.
Europe (to which, of course, the United Kingdom will continue to belong) is at a crossroads. It faces greater economic, diplomatic and security challenges than anyone imagined two years ago. Neither Mr. Putin, nor Mr. Trump, nor Mr. Xi have any sympathy or goodwill towards us. The same is true of Mr. Erdogan. This is not the time for Europe to self-harm.
What posture should the 27 now adopt? We think they should not camp on inflexible positions or hide behind red lines. Nor should they claim that the solution to the problem of the relationship with the United Kingdom is available on the shelf. On the contrary, they should aim for and obtain:
- Serious guarantees as to the implementation and verification of the proposed customs arrangement for trade in goods;
- Serious guarantees for a sustainable regulatory coherence;
- Clarity as to the application in the United Kingdom of the case-law of the Court of Justice in the area of the single market;
- Safeguard clauses – including for example a 10-year probationary period – ensure that the future agreement is reversible if the United Kingdom chooses a regulatory competition strategy;
- A budgetary contribution proportionate to the depth of the relationship.
The negotiation of such an agreement will be a difficult process, probably impossible to conclude by October. Nevertheless, it should be possible to agree on guidelines in the meantime. A transitional period of two years until the end of 2020, during which the United Kingdom would remain in the single market and the customs union, would allow the negotiation of a reasonable future relationship, in the geostrategic interest of the whole. from Europe.
-JEAN PISANI-FERRY , NORBERT RÖTTGEN , ANDRE SAPIR , PAUL TUCKER AND GUNTRAM B. WOLFF