Everything you need to know about Article 50

Theres May about to trigger Article 50

Britain's negotiations to exit the EU can only begin once Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon is formally triggered by the UK. But what exactly is Article 50? And why did it take the UK so long to trigger it? Professor Fabian Amtenbrink explains.

'Triggering Article 50 is great news,' said Fabian Amtenbrink, Professor of European Union Law at Erasmus School of Law and Scientific Director of the European Research Centre for Economic and Financial Governance, in an interview with Studio Erasmus.

On 23 June 2016, the British electorate voted by a narrow majority of 52% against the United Kingdom and Gibraltar’s European Union membership. Professor Fabian Amtenbrink happened to be in the UK at a conference on European law on the day of the referendum. 'It was very clear that it was too close to call,' he said.

Personally, he regretted the outcome, 'but professionally it’s great news,' he said. 'It’s great news as we have never seen anything like it before in the European Union.' 

What does it mean for the European Union? Are these the first hairline cracks?

'I think it’s less dramatic than that. Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally, and outlines the procedure for doing so. We have deliberately created the possibility that you can get out of the European project. And now there is a member state using it for the first time.'

The infamous Article 50 is deployed this week. What will happen now?

'Article 50 is nothing but a provision in the law. Under that provision begins the formal process of withdrawal in Brussels. It is a formal request. It is important, because from the moment of triggering this article starts a time sequence of exactly 24 months. It gives the UK two years to negotiate an exit deal. Once set in motion, it cannot be stopped except by unanimous consent of all member states.

'Within these 24 months, all negotiations should be concluded, all details captured. Any deal must be approved by a qualified majority of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament. Failure to work out agreements within these two years means the UK could leave the EU with no agreements.'

Why did they wait so long?

'They knew of course they only had two years to negotiate. After those two years, the United Kingdom is treated no differently to a country like Uruguay or any other country outside the EU. It is therefore crucial for the UK to be well prepared for the negotiations. The new government had to focus on specialists needed to run all those negotiations.'

What are the different scenarios?

'The most likely scenario is that the UK will have its own comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, like we have with Turkey or Ukraine for example. The problem is that agreements like that can take up to ten years to finish. Closing them within 24 months is not a realistic scenario.

'Another option is that the UK will get a similar deal to Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland. They are members of the European Economic Area. They have access to the internal market, but that includes free movement of people too. Because at the core of the single market is the free movement of citizens. That is exactly what the UK does not want. But it would be the easiest and quickest way to come to an arrangement.

'The third option is that negotiations are started but no deal can be made. The UK can than still pull out of the exit process if everyone agrees.'

Will they be better off after 'Brexit'?

'It depends what the standard is. I think they left feeling that they were out of control. At least the citizens felt that way. The distance from Brussels to London or to Birmingham for that matter was getting too big. What the people who voted for Brexit think has little to do with the complexity of the withdrawal. What we will see is that triggering Article 50 is a highly risky decision by the British.

'It is not at all clear what the micro and macro economic consequences will be. The value of the pound sterling has dropped a bit, but no doubt the process of actually leaving will have enormous economic consequences. Not only for the UK but for the European Union, too.'

What can Europe learn from this?

'I am convinced that Europe must reinvent itself. We need a change in European regulations. There are all those crazy European rules that make you wonder if they are necessary. On the other hand, we have lost feeling with the European people. European cooperation only works if you can appeal in times of crisis. But nowadays people don’t trust the cooperation.'

Will there still be a European Union 50 years from now?



Text: Manon Sikkel Daelmans


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