Five key questions: what the result of the British referendum on European Union membership means for the UK, France and the EU

On 29 March 2017, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, notifying the Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Ms May thus gave effect to the British people’s choice in the referendum on 23 June 2016 to end the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

1) How will the triggering of Article 50 affect EU and UK nationals?

Until the United Kingdom actually leaves the European Union, European Union law will continue to apply in full under the terms of the treaties ratified by the UK.

Does it affect the right of French citizens to travel and move to the UK?

France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has posted a travel advisory explaining that, until the UK leaves the EU, the result of the referendum of 23 June and the triggering of Article 50 do not change the current entry and stay conditions for French nationals in the UK (a valid passport or national identity card).

Does it affect medical care for French nationals in the UK and for UK nationals in France?

No. Until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, French nationals residing in the UK and British nationals residing in France will continue to have access to state-provided medical care. Similarly, French and British nationals visiting the other country will continue to benefit from coverage of costs of state-provided medical care under the European Health Insurance Card.

How will British students in France and French students in the UK be affected?

Until the day the UK leaves the EU, nothing will change for British students enrolled at French higher education or research institutions or for French students enrolled at British institutions. Higher education qualifications are recognised within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) initiated by the Bologna Process. Therefore the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU does not affect the rules defined within that framework, unless the UK elects to withdraw from that area, which extends beyond the European Union and covers 46 countries.

2) What is the procedure laid down in the treaties for enacting the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union?

Since the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union allows a Member State to withdraw unilaterally from the EU.

The procedure is as follows:

The Member State must notify the European Council of its decision to withdraw.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, on 29 March notifying the Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union.

Following the United Kingdom’s notice, the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States will meet to adopt guidelines that will set out the European Union’s negotiating principles at a Special European Council meeting on 29 April 2017. Within that framework, the European Union will subsequently adopt a decision authorising the opening of negotiations, as well as negotiation directives, and will designate the Commission as the Union negotiator.

Negotiations will begin between the European Union and the United Kingdom in order to reach an agreement setting forth the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal. That is the only purpose of the process opened by Article 50 TEU.

Special provisions have been introduced to ensure that each of the EU institutions fully plays a role. In particular, it is expected that the Union’s Chief Negotiator (Michel Barnier) will report systematically to the European Commission, the Council and its preparatory bodies. The European Parliament will be kept regularly and closely informed of progress in the negotiations.

The withdrawal agreement must be approved in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article 218§3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: by the European Council acting by qualified majority after receiving the assent of the European Parliament.

In accordance with Article 50 TEU, representatives of the State involved in the withdrawal procedure are not entitled to participate in the Council’s internal negotiations about the withdrawal agreement.

If no agreement is reached after two years, the treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom, unless the European Council decides to extend that period (voting unanimously and in agreement with the British Government).

Moreover, according to Article 50, if a State that has withdrawn asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the same accession procedure as any other candidate country, not a simplified procedure.

Negotiations shall then be opened to define the framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.

3) What are France’s main negotiating positions?

France’s positions are identical to those expressed on several occasions by the 27 Member States and by the EU institutions. Clear principles were set immediately after the UK referendum by the 27 Heads of State or Government at an informal meeting on the margins of the European Councils on 29 June 2016 (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/meetings/european-council/2016/06/29-27MS-informal-meeting-statement) and 15 December 2016 (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/fr/meetings/european-council/2016/12/20161215-statement-informal-meeting-27_pdf).

Regarding the procedure, the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States have agreed on an efficient, transparent division of roles between the institutions within the framework of Article 50.

Special attention will need to be paid in the withdrawal negotiations to the status and rights of EU nationals (citizens of the 27 Member States) in the United Kingdom and of British nationals in the EU (i.e. in the other 27 Member States).

At the national level, the French Government has prepared itself for the negotiations. The Secretariat-General of European Affairs has mapped France’s interests in the negotiations on withdrawal and on the framework for the future relationship. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has appointed a dedicated task force, overseen by the European Union Directorate.

4) What lies ahead for Europe after the UK referendum?

In France’s view, the main challenge now is to give fresh impetus to the European Union. France therefore wants the European Union to focus on clearly defined strategic priorities that will reconcile the peoples of Europe with the Union: combating terrorist and security threats; restoring sustainable, long-term growth that benefits everyone; building a social Europe that delivers progress and equity; and defending the EU’s values and standards, particularly on trade, globally. In all of these areas, the EU has achieved tangible results in recent years. The Union must pursue those efforts to demonstrate that it can protect its citizens effectively and respond to their aspirations and concerns.

The process of renewing European integration is now underway. Having adopted the Bratislava Roadmap last September, which has already enabled us to move forward in several areas, on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March, the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States adopted a declaration that reaffirms the unshakeable unity of the 27 and reinvigorates the European project for the next ten years.

Amid the challenges facing the European Union, France wishes to act pragmatically to deliver tangible outcomes that benefit our fellow citizens. As President Hollande has asserted on numerous occasions, some Member States must be allowed to act at a different speed or with a different intensity, if necessary. Far from threatening the unity of the 27, the possibility, under current treaties, for some Member States to act as trailblazers is an opportunity to take the European Union forward, by allowing other Member States to join projects at a later date. A differentiated Europe already exists for several joint projects, like the euro zone and the Schengen Area. France believes that differentiation will facilitate integration over the long term.

5) How does the triggering of Article 50 affect France’s relationship with the United Kingdom?

France’s relationship with the United Kingdom is close and longstanding. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, our two countries often share similar approaches within international organisations, notably the UN.

Our bilateral relationship is sustained by frequent contact at every level and by regular meetings, and encompasses every area, including defence, the economy, culture and science.

Will the border at Calais under the Le Touquet Accord be closed?

No. As President Hollande stated after the UK referendum, the Le Touquet accord will not be called into question because the United Kingdom voted for Brexit. The referendum result does not alter the border between our two countries, which remains an external Schengen border.

Will defence agreements between the UK and France remain in place?

Our defence agreements will also continue. We are bound to the United Kingdom by ties of cooperation that were deepened by the Lancaster House Agreement in 2010. There has been considerable, tangible progress since that agreement was signed, such as the implementation of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. We shall continue to cooperate with the UK, the only other nuclear power in Europe, in accordance with the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement.

Will the British voters’ choice have a negative impact on trade between France and the UK?

The UK is France’s fifth-largest export market and eighth-largest supplier, while France is Britain’s fifth-largest customer and fifth-largest supplier. There is every reason for that intense, well-established trade to continue.

When it leaves the European Union in 2019, the UK will become a third country. The future of trade relations will depend on the type of agreement negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Will Paris attract business from London?

The French Government has announced a package of measures to boost the appeal of Paris as a business capital. The relevant ministries, together with the Ile-de-France region and the Paris City Hall have opened a one-stop shop to facilitate the relocation of the head offices of a number of financial companies currently based in London.

Will major projects like Hinkley Point still go ahead?

Yes. France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development travelled to London in September of last year to celebrate the signing of the investment agreement, which represents a binding commitment to build the two EPR power plants at Hinkley Point.

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