The EU’s non-members: Key principles, underlying logics and types of affiliation

John Erik Fossum, Monica Garcia Quesada and Tiziano Zgaga with contributions from Guntram B. Wolff

EU3D Report 1

This report focuses on the principles and arrangements that the EU has established for structuring and conducting its relations with affiliated non-member states. The report has four aims. First is to discuss the principles underpinning the EU’s arrangements with non-members. The basic principles guiding the EU’s relations with affiliated non-members – understood as principles and not necessarily as practice are the same universal principles that guide EU external relations in general. The EU represents an effort at reconfiguring the notion of state sovereign territorial rule, among other things by means of boundaries that are far more permeable than what we normally associate with states. Statists are sceptical of permeable boundaries because they associate open and permeable boundaries with loss of territorial control and the prospect of external colonisation and domination. The implication is that the EU as a non-state entity will be more exposed to such pressures and problems.

The second aim is to provide a brief overview of the EU’s external context. The focus is on EU exposure to conflicts and EU vulnerability in relation to great power politics, volatile markets, lack of international order and/or lack of binding rules. Such possible sources of EU external vulnerability have bearings on the EU’s relations with affiliated non-members. A brief overview of the EU’s external context helps to account for the seeming paradox that the EU is highly externally vulnerable and at the same time often referred to as a (form of unwilling) hegemon in relation to its affiliated non-members.

The third aim is to provide a brief overview of the different forms of affiliation that non-members have with the EU. We outline similarities and differences between these: how (mutually) committing they are; how they are legally embedded and institutionally entrenched; and what their range of variation tells us about the EU. These questions help us to address how EU external vulnerability ‘spills over to’ the EU’s relations with those non-members that the EU builds closer affiliations with.

The overview is relevant for understanding the UK’s situation and its status post-Brexit. The UK may end up with a mode of affiliation that resembles an existing one, combines elements from several, or innovates on these. In order to get a better sense of what Brexit may entail, we need to know the types and range of existing EU relations with non-members. Further, the EU’s existing relations with affiliated non-members will likely be affected by Brexit, given that it could put other EU arrangements with non-members in play. Further still, it is not unlikely that at least some of the EU’s member states will see if they can extract benefits or concessions from the EU in the aftermath of Brexit (including rolling back integration or obtaining exemptions, opt-outs etc.).

The fourth aim is to provide a range of analytical distinctions and building-blocks that EU3D’s further research can draw on in discerning in more depth the implications for EU3D’s core dimensions: differentiation, dominance and democracy. These three dimensions all figure in and give direction to this report but are not systematically assessed here.

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Published Mar. 17, 2021 9:14 AM - Last modified Mar. 17, 2021 9:15 AM