Thursday 8 September 2016

Continental partnership: a workable solution?

In the light of my speculations yesterday about the kind of deal that Theresa May might be hinting at in her so far rather cryptic comments, I was fascinated to come across a discussion paper from Bruegel, a reformist European think tank. Published on 29 August, it is entitled Europe after Brexit: A proposal for a continental partnership. The abstract reads:

“After the British decision to leave the EU, Europe’s trajectory, even its destiny, has again become a matter of choice. In an increasingly volatile world, neither the EU nor the UK have an interest in a divorce that diminishes their influence as the balance of economic power shifts away from the North-Atlantic world. We propose a new form of collaboration, a continental partnership. The UK will want to have some control over labour mobility, as well as leaving behind the EU’s supranational decision-making. The proposed continental partnership would consist in participating in goods, services, capital mobility and some temporary labour mobility as well as in a new system of inter-governmental decision making and enforcement of common rules to protect the homogeneity of the deeply integrated market. The UK would have a say on EU policies but ultimate formal authority would remain with the EU. This results in a Europe with an inner circle, the EU, with deep and political integration, and an outer circle with less integration. Over the long-run this could also serve as a vision for structuring relations with Turkey, Ukraine and other countries.”

In summary, it proposes some limitations on free movement of people along with:
- Participation in a series of selected common policies consistent with access to the Single Market;

- Participation in a new continental partnership system of inter-governmental decision making and enforcement;

- Contribution to the EU budget;

- Close cooperation on foreign policy, security and, possibly, defence matters

In essence what would be created would be a kind of dual system of the EU and the new continental partnership (CP). What is interesting about this proposal is that it is not just an idea for a deal to ‘accommodate’ the UK, but rather embeds this within a wider sense of a reformed EU and – something rarely discussed – a solution to some of the problems of the EEA, to the ongoing issues around the position of Switzerland, to the long-term situation of Turkey, and to some of the tensions between east and west European member states which are apparent in the run-up to the Bratislava summit. This is important if we move from a Brit-centric approach to Brexit in which the UK makes demands and negotiates for these to one which recognizes that Brexit and the negotiations around it are a two-way street.

It is striking how consistent this plan is with what May has said so far, and it could be seen as an intermediate model between Brexit-lite and hard Brexit which I and others have taken to be the only feasible options. It would be better than Brexit-lite in reducing the political and diplomatic damage of Brexit, and like Brexit-lite would reduce the economic damage. Of course, such a plan would face much opposition within both the UK and the EU and its member states. Still, it could be a workable solution. It’s certainly the most interesting idea for one that I have seen so far. It is well worth a read. 

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