Two-tier Europe: the UK and associate membership

Carol Weaver argues that Brexit should lead to a redesign of EU membership, leading to the formalisation of a ‘two-tier Europe’ composed of full members and ‘associate members’ that agree to the same rules.

Václav Havel once talked of the ‘power of the powerless’ and whilst that may well have been a very good thing with regard to the Velvet Revolution unfortunately it does not seem to have been a very good thing last week in the EU referendum here in the UK.

I’ve always told UKIP (in debates with them) that they can never have an ‘independent UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. In attempting to achieve this they would inevitably destroy the very union they say they want to protect. I also told Nick Clegg some years back that he was wrong in supporting an in-out referendum with the hope the people would vote to stay.

But we are where we are so why not make the most of it. The EU has become problematic and we have discussed and debated ‘widening v deepening’, ‘two-tier Europe’, ‘multi-speed Europe’ and ‘variable geometry’ for many years now. What we have accidentally achieved, in the usual EU way of compromise, is some kind of mélange of all of these.

Now it might be time to deliberately redesign Europe with a choice of:

  1. ‘Full membership’ including Schengen and a Eurozone with deepening and more fiscal unity
  2. ‘Associate membership’ with all associates agreeing to the same rules rather than having, for example, a ‘Norway model’, a ‘Swiss model’ and a possible ‘British model’. This should not be so attractive that Eurozone countries would want to join.
  3. No membership at all.

The associate membership would not be ‘all but institutions’. It would mean limited membership of appropriate institutions with no say in the core workings of the Eurozone and possibly limited freedom of movement without full citizenship. It would apply to countries such as the UK and others that do not want to join the euro. It could also apply to countries such as Turkey once it has completed all relevant chapters. Widening of full membership is currently not feasible.

Former MEP Andrew Duff, a lifelong committed federalist and EU constitution supporter, realised this was necessary in 2013, saying ‘So the Convention in 2015 needs to craft something other than privileged partnership outside the Union, something more than the EEA, yet something less than full membership. The European Union has proved itself over the years capable of great constitutional ingenuity, and it is reasonable to assume that, given the political will to work together for the good of all Europe, it can continue to do so.’

David Cameron has in the past discussed this idea with other EU members .

The new design would mean a new treaty which could trigger more referendums including here in the UK where we have a ‘referendum lock’. This might be better than in-out referendums across Europe backed by right wing parties such as the Front National often themselves backed by Russian money.

At the time of writing Article 50 has not been invoked. There is time to consider the possibility of a new treaty outlining formal Associate Membership. It will take some time but so would any other option.

Dr Carol Weaver is Lecturer in International Relations at De Montfort University.

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