Article 50 Definition

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What Is Article 50?

Article 50 is a clause in the European Union’s (EU) Lisbon Treaty that outlines the steps to be taken by a country seeking to leave the bloc voluntarily. Invoking Article 50 kick-starts the formal exit process and allows countries to officially declare their intention to leave the EU. The United Kingdom was the first country to invoke Article 50 after a majority of British voters elected to leave the union in 2016.

Key Takeaways

  • Article 50 is a clause in the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty that outlines how a country can leave the bloc voluntarily.
  • The article states: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
  • The article became a subject of serious discussion during the European sovereign debt crisis of 2010 to 2014 when Greece’s economy appeared to be in trouble.
  • The United Kingdom became the first country to invoke Article 50 after a majority of voters elected to leave the bloc.

How Article 50 Works

Article 50 is part of the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed and ratified by all 27 member states of the European Union in 2007 and came into effect in 2009. The article outlines how a member nation may leave the EU voluntarily. As noted above, the article states: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

According to the article’s text:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.
    A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Algeria left the European Economic Community after gaining independence from France in 1962, while Greenland left through a special treaty in 1985.

Special Considerations

The problem they encountered with Article 50 was that there was no clear guidance for pushing a member state out against its will. Nor was it necessary to remove Greece from the EU—just from the eurozone. Greece was eventually able to reach agreements with its EU creditors.

Origins of Article 50

The European Union began in 1957 as the European Economic Community, which was created to foster economic interdependence among its members in the aftermath of World War II. The original bloc comprised six European countries: the Netherlands, France, Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, and Italy. They were joined by the U.K., Denmark, and Ireland in 1973. The EU was formally created by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and by 1995 the bloc expanded to 15 members covering the whole of Western Europe. From 2004 to 2007, the EU experienced its largest-ever expansion, taking on 12 new members that included former Communist states.

The Lisbon Treaty was drafted “with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action.” The treaty was signed and ratified by all 27 member states in 2007 and came into effect in 2009. The treaty is divided into two parts—the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). It has 358 articles in total including Article 50.

The author of the provision did not originally see it as being necessary. “If you stopped paying the bills and you stopped turning up at the meetings, in due course your friends would notice that you seemed to have left,” the Scottish peer Lord Kerr of Kinlochard told the BBC in November 2016. He saw Article 50 as being potentially useful in the event of a coup, which would lead the EU to suspend the affected country’s membership: “I thought that at that point the dictator in question might be so cross that he’d say ‘right, I’m off’ and it would be good to have a procedure under which he could leave.”

Example of Article 50

The United Kingdom left the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, and was the first country to invoke Article 50 to do so. It came after a majority of British citizens voted to leave the union and pursue Brexit in a referendum on June 23, 2016, leading British Prime Minister Theresa May to invoke the article on March 29, 2017.

The process was mired by deadlines and extensions, negotiations, and stumbling blocks put forth by both British and EU leaders. May’s attempts for an agreement were rejected by parliament. Negotiations were renewed by Boris Johnson, who became prime minister after May resigned.

The country began an 11-month transition period immediately after its departure from the bloc. Now that the country has left the union, it is no longer part of the EU’s political structure, so there are no British officials in the European Parliament. But there are still details to iron out before the country fully breaks away from the bloc including:

  • Issues related to pensions
  • How both parties would handle law enforcement and security cooperation
  • Other regulations

One big cause for concern for many was the issue of nationals migrating to and from the EU to the U.K. and vice versa. There are an estimated three million EU nationals who live, work, and study in the U.K., while two million U.K. nationals do the same in the rest of the EU. Nationals will still be allowed to move freely between the U.K. and the EU during the transition period but must apply for special status by June 2021 in order to stay in the country.

Then there’s the issue of trade. As part of the transition period, the U.K. still remains part of the EU’s single market and its customs union, but must eventually leave it. Both parties must negotiate a trade deal—something the United Kingdom is relying on in order to get its products into the EU. Negotiations between the U.K. and the EU could begin in March.

The deadline to extend the 11-month transition period is at the end of June 2020. If a deal is not reached by both parties at the end of December 2020, they have two options—the U.K. must either begin a new relationship with the EU or end its transition without a deal in January 2021.

The only way for the UK to become an EU member nation again would be to reapply.



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