European Interest

Assessing Article 50: lessons learnt from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU

flickr/EPP Group/CC BY 2.0

On Thursday morning, the Constitutional Affairs Committee discussed with experts how Art. 50 could be improved, based on the experience of its activation by the UK.

The hearing included an exchange of views between MEPs and prominent academics: Julia von Blumenthal, Professor and President of the University of Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder); Takis Tridimas, Professor of European Law at King’s College, London; Christophe Hillion, Professor of European Law at the Universities of Leiden & Gothenburg; and Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law. Almost all speakers agreed that the framework provided by Article 50 TEU proved to be fit for purpose for its first activation, by safeguarding the integrity of the EU and its legal order, while providing a pathway for the orderly withdrawal of the UK. Even though a majority of MEPs expressed their hope that it will never be used again, there was also broad agreement that it can be improved.                                             Notable issues raised by MEPs included:

anticipating and managing the impact of political processes and structures on a member state’s decision to withdraw and on its subsequent handling of the withdrawal, especially if it seeks a “no-deal” scenario; whether there is a need to define the process in more detail, particularly concerning timetables and extension options; the potential benefits of introducing a preparatory phase to define the desired future relationship prior to the negotiations, so that these can take place on a solid foundation after withdrawal notice is given and time becomes limited; the importance of ensuring appropriate parliamentary scrutiny throughout the process, potentially by crystallising relevant rules on Parliament’s role and the time needed for the review of any negotiated text; and existing and potential rules regarding revoking a withdrawal notice, the re-accession of a former member state (or the accession of a federal part of it, in case it becomes independent), withdrawing from specific aspects of EU integration (e.g. the monetary union), and   the need for any such decision to be made in line with applicable constitutional rules and EU law.

Concerns were raised also regarding the need to ensure that citizens’ voices are better heard and that their rights are protected. A few speakers examined the possibility of introducing an obligation for a binding referendum at the end of the withdrawal process on the terms of the future relationship. Some MEPs mentioned that most of these topics could be examined in the context of the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe.

The hearing follows two debates and the production of a working document in late 2020, in preparation of the implementation report by rapporteur Danuta Maria Hübner (EPP, PL). This analysis lies within the Constitutional Affairs Committee’s remit, in accordance with Parliament’s Rules of Procedure: AFCO is competent “for the implementation of the Treaties and the assessment of their operation”.

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