How sustainable are EU-UK relations?

In the last month the tensions between the European Union and the United Kingdom with regard to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland of the EU-UK withdrawal agreement. The Protocol, which enters into post-Brexit trade agreements for Northern Ireland, is highly controversial and, following last month’s election, the DUP, the largest political party in the Union, has refused to rejoin. to the government until their complaints about the Agreement are resolved. .

Negotiations between the EU and the UK, aimed at addressing some specific concerns of citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland, have so far been unsuccessful due to the UK’s refusal to commit. In addition, the UK government has announced its intention to introduce legislation to unilaterally rewrite certain elements of the Protocol according to its own preferences. This unilateral movement has been harshly criticized by the EU and the international community.

Distant and conflicting relationships

The question that arises is whether the EU-UK relationship, in its current form, can produce a common solution to the Protocol and thus demonstrate its sustainability. The article Brexit and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Implications for the EU’s internal and external differentiation by Jannike Wachowiak and Fabian Zuleeg, published in The international viewerstressed that, Although the two sides reached an agreement on future relations in December 2020 – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – the relations are much more “distant and conflicting” than originally intended. This will have an impact on the effectiveness, legitimacy and sustainability of the EU-UK relationship in the future.

The article shows that when a relationship is based on fragile foundations, it is difficult to build a solution. He distant and precarious relationship established by the TCA, based in part on the Brexit strongly ideologized by the British government, aggravates the complaints of the unionists against the Protocol. If the United Kingdom had been willing to accept some regulatory alignment obligations, for example on sanitary and plant protection products, the need for controls between Britain and Northern Ireland would have been significantly reduced.

In addition, the conflicting nature of the relationship it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a common solution. The latest threats from the UK are in line with the agreed or disagreeable negotiation tactics described in the article. These serve to undermine trust between the parties. As the EU no longer considers the UK’s commitment to international law to be credible, it is becoming increasingly difficult to offer flexibility in the application of the Protocol, as there is no guarantee that the UK government will respect the agreed guarantees.

The difficulty of an agreement

The article illustrates how, for the current governance model of EU-UK relations to be sustainable, it must be perceived as legitimate by both EU and UK citizens.. It is clear that the Protocol in its current form is not acceptable to many citizens of Northern Ireland. However, the majority of voters want the Protocol to work, as long as it is subject to some changes. But given the current state of EU-UK relations, a common solution to this complex problem seems unlikely.

If no common agreement can be reached on the implementation of the Protocol, the legitimacy and sustainability of long-term relationships will be affected. The Commission has made it clear that if the UK government moves forward with unilateral action, it will respond with a package of growing retaliatory measures, including trade tariffs and even, ultimately, a cessation of the ATT. Given the fragile foundations on which the relationship is based, there is a real possibility that tensions between the EU and the UK could culminate in the collapse of the relationship.

Cover photo EPA / ANDY RAIN

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