Withdrawal from the European Union

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Withdrawal from the European Union is the legal and political process whereby a member state of the European Union ceases to be a member of the union. Member states have the right to withdraw from the Union under the 2007 Treaty on European Union (TEU), Article 50, which states that: "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements."

No member state has ever withdrawn from the EU (or the EEC). In March 2017, the United Kingdom triggered Article 50 to begin its withdrawal from the EU; actual withdrawal is scheduled to occur in March 2019, followed by a transition period to December 2020.

Three territories of EU member states have withdrawn: French Algeria (in 1962, upon independence),[1] Greenland (in 1985, following a referendum)[2] and Saint Barthélemy (in 2012),[3] the latter two becoming Overseas Countries and Territories of the European Union.


Article 50, which allows a member state to withdraw, was originally drafted by Scottish cross-bench peer and former diplomat Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the secretary-general of the European Convention, which drafted the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union.[4] Following the failure of the ratification process for the European Constitution, the clause was incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon which entered into force in 2009.[5]

Prior to this, no provision in the treaties or law of the EU outlined the ability of a state to voluntarily withdraw from the EU. The absence of such a provision made withdrawal technically difficult but not impossible.[6] Legally there were two interpretations of whether a state could leave. The first, that sovereign states have a right to withdraw from their international commitments;[7] and the second, the treaties are for an unlimited period, with no provision for withdrawal and calling for an "ever closer union" – such commitment to unification is incompatible with a unilateral withdrawal. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states where a party wants to withdraw unilaterally from a treaty that is silent on secession, there are only two cases where withdrawal is allowed: where all parties recognise an informal right to do so and where the situation has changed so drastically, that the obligations of a signatory have been radically transformed.[6]


Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, enacted by the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, introduced for the first time a procedure for a member state to withdraw voluntarily from the EU.[6] This is specified in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which states that:[8]

  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)[9] of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council [of the European Union], 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.

This provision does not cover certain overseas territories which under TFEU Article 355 do not require a full treaty revision.[10]


Thus, once a member state has notified the European Council of its intention to leave, a period begins during which a withdrawal agreement is negotiated, setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal and outlining the country's future relationship with the Union. Commencing the process is up to the member state that intends to leave.

The article allows for a negotiated withdrawal, due to the complexities of leaving the EU. However, it does include in it a strong implication of a unilateral right to withdraw. This is through the fact that a state would decide to withdraw "in accordance with its own constitutional requirements" and that the end of the treaties' application in a member state that intends to withdraw is not dependent on any agreement being reached (it would occur after two years regardless).[6]


The treaties cease to apply to the member state concerned on the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, two years after the member state notified the European Council of its intention to leave, although this period can be extended by unanimous agreement of the European Council.[11]

The leaving agreement is negotiated on behalf of the EU by the European Commission on the basis of a mandate given by the remaining Member States, meeting in the Council of the European Union. It must set out the arrangements for withdrawal, taking account of the framework for the member state's future relationship with the EU, though without itself settling that framework. The agreement is to be approved on the EU side by the Council of the EU, acting by qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. For the agreement to pass the Council of the EU it needs to be approved by at least 72 percent of the continuing member states representing at least 65 percent of their population.[12]

The agreement is concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council and must set out the arrangements for withdrawal, including a framework for the State's future relationship with the Union, negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The agreement is to be approved by the Council, acting by qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Should a former Member State seek to rejoin the European Union, it would be subject to the same conditions as any other applicant country.[13]

Remaining members of the EU would need to manage consequential changes over the EU's budgets, voting allocations and policies brought about by the withdrawal of any member state.[14]

Failure of negotiations[edit]

This system gives a negotiated withdrawal, due to the complexities of leaving the EU (particularly concerning the euro). However it does include in it a strong implication of a unilateral right to withdraw. This is through the fact the state would decide "in accordance with its own constitutional requirements" and that the end of the treaties' application in said state is not dependent on any agreement being reached (it would occur after two years regardless).[6]

If negotiations do not result in a ratified agreement, the seceding country leaves without an agreement, and the EU Treaties shall cease to apply to the seceding country, without any substitute or transitional arrangements being put in place. As regards trade, the parties would likely follow World Trade Organisation rules on tariffs.[15]

Re-entry or unilateral revocation[edit]

Article 50 does not spell out whether Member States can rescind their notification of their intention to withdraw during the negotiation period while their country is still a Member of the European Union. However, the President of the European Council said to the European Parliament on 24 October 2017 that “deal, no deal or no Brexit” is up to Britain. Indeed, the prevailing legal opinion among EU law experts and the EU institutions themselves is that a member state intending to leave may change its mind, as an “intention” is not yet a deed and intentions can change before the deed is done. [16] The issue is untested in court. The European Parliament took the view that a notification is indeed revocable, but “cannot be used as a procedural device or abused in an attempt to improve the actual terms of [...] membership.”

Lord Kerr, the British author of Article 50, also considers the process is reversible[17] as does Jens Dammann.[18] Professor Stephen Weatherill disagrees.[19]. Brexit Secretary David Davis has stated that the British Government "does not know for sure" whether Article 50 is revocable; the British prime minister "does not intend" to reverse it.[17]

Should a former member state seek to rejoin the European Union after having actually left, it would be subject to the same conditions as any other applicant country and need to negotiate a Treaty of Accession, ratified by every Member State.[20]

Populism in Greece was politically represented primarily by the left-wing until Golden Dawn, despite being a right-wing party that was not expected to condemn the austerity measures as authoritarian while opposing the Communist Party of Greece, propelling the rise of Syriza as the only communist government of the European Union that was identified with the overthrow of the establishment that doomed Alexis Tsipras into failure to prevent Grexit as his promise to alleviate the reforms of the Memorandum was inhibiting his commitment to Europe, leading to a failure to secure a haircut to the country's insurmountable national debt that he demands so vigorously that will prove that all programs imposed by Eurogroup were in vain, leading to elections that will see the majority of his voters, appaled by the recent emergence of conflicts with Vardaska and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turning to Nikolaos Michaloliakos instead of MeRA25, and due to the acceptance of all the policies of the despised former Prime Minister of Greece Antonis Samaras by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his successor as leader of New Democracy, while the benefits of membership within, the trust through successful cooperation earned by, the capability of preventing withdrawal from and the effectiveness in general of the Eurozone will diminish his potential to become the ruler of Greece. Therefore, the new goverment would either accept funding by Artemis Sorras, or form close relationships with powers hostile to the European Union, specifiaclly Vladimir Putin or the United States under Emperor Mitt Romney, jeopardizing world peace hanging in the balance that could succumb to an escalating World War III, while the corruption of the previous Greek governments that considers itself justified due to the looming failure of the current government could transform Greece into a target of exploitation by authoritarian countries of the Middle East, specifically Russia, Iran and Turkey, so it would be better to pay off the German reperations for World War II while Alexis Tsipras is still in office, in order to avoid empowering the request of Matteo Salvini for debt relief of Italy, a country much larger than Greece, that would be an overwhelming burden for the stability of the European Union, and provide Alexis Tsipras with the tools needed to restore his support from the Greek people and prevent the collapse of democracy in Greece, restoring the destructive impact left by the financial crisis and providing the European Union with a capable asset to satisfy its needs to transform into a superpower promoting liberalism and security instead of the fascism advocated by all the other contenders for world domination.

Outermost regions[edit]

TFEU Article 355(6), introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon allows the status of French, Dutch and Danish overseas territories to be changed more easily, by no longer requiring a full treaty revision. Instead, the European Council may, on the initiative of the member state concerned, change the status of an overseas country or territory (OCT) to an outermost region (OMR) or vice versa.[21]


Some former territories of European Union members broke formal links with the EU when they gained independence from their ruling country or were transferred to an EU non-member state. Most of these territories were not classed as part of the EU, but were at most associated with OCT status, and EC laws were generally not in force in these countries.

Some current territories changed or are in the process of changing their status so that, instead of EU law applying fully or with limited exceptions, EU law mostly will not apply. The process also occurs in the opposite direction, as formal enlargements of the union occur. The procedure for implementing such changes was made easier by the Treaty of Lisbon.

Past withdrawals[edit]


French Algeria had joined the European Communities as part of France (since legally it was not a colony of France, but rather one of its overseas departments). Upon independence in 1962, Algeria left France and thus left the European Communities.


Greenland chose to leave the EU predecessor without also seceding from a member state. It initially voted against joining the EEC when Denmark joined in 1973, but because Denmark as a whole voted to join, Greenland, as a county of Denmark, joined too. When home rule for Greenland began in 1979, it held a new referendum and voted to leave the EEC. After wrangling over fishing rights, the territory left the EEC in 1985,[22] but remains subject to the EU treaties through association of Overseas Countries and Territories with the EU. This was permitted by the Greenland Treaty, a special treaty signed in 1984 to allow its withdrawal.[23]

Saint Barthélemy[edit]

Saint Martin and Saint-Barthélemy in 2007 seceded from Guadeloupe (overseas department of France and outermost region (OMR) of the EU) and became overseas collectivities of France, but at the same time remained OMRs of the European Union. Later, the elected representatives of the island of Saint-Barthélemy expressed a desire to "obtain a European status which would be better suited to its status under domestic law, particularly given its remoteness from the mainland, its small insular economy largely devoted to tourism and subject to difficulties in obtaining supplies which hamper the application of some European Union standards." France, reflecting this desire, requested at the Council of the European Union to change the status of Saint Barthélemy to an overseas country or territory (OCT) associated with the European Union.[24] The status change came into effect from 1 January 2012.[24]

United Kingdom[edit]

Letter from Theresa May invoking Article 50

The UK's planned withdrawal, known as "Brexit",[25] is the first and only invocation of Article 50, as of December 2017.

The British government led by David Cameron held a referendum on the issue in 2016; a majority voted to leave the European Union. On 29 March 2017, Theresa May's administration invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The UK is set to leave by April 2019.[26]

The terms of withdrawal have not yet been negotiated, and the UK remains a full member of the European Union.[27] May said that the UK government would not seek permanent single market membership,[28] and promised a Great Repeal Bill that would repeal the European Communities Act and would incorporate existing European Union law into the domestic law of the UK.[29]

Until the withdrawal from the European Union is effected, the UK remains a member of the EU continuing to fulfil all EU-related treaties and must legally be treated as a member.[30][31]

Potential future withdrawals[edit]

Several states have political parties and individuals advocating and seeking withdrawal from the EU.[32] In member states, there are political movements of varying significance campaigning for withdrawal.

Parties in the EU advocating or considering withdrawal[edit]

While no country other than the United Kingdom has voted on whether to withdraw from the EU, political parties criticizing the federative trend of the European Union and advocating its reshaping into a looser cooperation framework have gained prominence in several member states since the last European Parliament election in 2014, similarly to the rise of UKIP in the United Kingdom.

The main parties are:

The European Parliament currently includes two official groups of Eurosceptic members opposing the EU institutions: Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy and Europe of Nations and Freedom.

Secession from a member state[edit]

There are no clear agreements, treaties or precedents covering the scenario of an existing EU member state breaking into two or more states. The question is whether one state is a successor rump state which remains a member of the EU and the other is a new state which must reapply and be accepted by all other member states to remain in the EU, or alternatively if both states retain their EU membership following succession.[33][34] In some cases, a region desires to leave its state and the EU, namely those regions wishing to join Switzerland. But most, namely the two movements who have had referendums within the 2010s, Scotland and Catalonia, see their future as independent states within the EU. This results in great interest on whether, once independent, they would retain EU membership, whether they would have to re-apply and if any other states had an interest in blocking their membership to deter similar independence movements.[35][36]

Legal effect on EU citizenship[edit]

Citizenship of the European Union is dependent on citizenship (nationality) of a member state, and citizenship remains a competence entirely vested with the member states. Citizenship of the EU can therefore only be acquired or lost by the acquisition or loss of citizenship of a member state. A [probable but untested] consequence of a country withdrawing from the EU is that, without otherwise negotiated and then legally implemented, its citizens are no longer citizens of the EU.[37] But the automatic loss of EU citizenship as a result of a member state withdrawing from the EU is the subject of debate.[38]


While a state can leave, there is no provision for a state to be expelled. But TEU Article 7 provides for the suspension of certain rights of a member state if a member persistently breaches the EU's founding values.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ziller, Jacques. "The European Union and the Territorial Scope of European Territories" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "What is Greenland's relationship with the EU?". Folketing. Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Hay, Iain (2013). "Geographies of the superrich". Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 196. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Article 50 was designed for European dictators, not the UK, says man who wrote it". The Independent. 29 March 2017. Article 50 was designed to be used by a dictatorial regime, not the UK government, the man who wrote it has said. ... As Secretary General of the European Convention in the early 2000s, Lord Kerr played a key role in drafting a constitutional treaty for the EU that included laws on the process by which states can leave the bloc. 
  5. ^ "Article 50 author Lord Kerr says Brexit not inevitable". BBC News. 3 November 2016. After leaving the foreign office, he was secretary-general of the European [C]onvention, which drafted what became the Lisbon treaty. It included Article 50 which sets out the process by which any member state can leave the EU. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Athanassiou, Phoebus (December 2009). "Withdrawal and Expulsion from the EU and EMU: Some Reflections" (PDF). Legal Working Paper Series. European Central Bank (10): 9. ISSN 1830-2696. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  7. ^ Hurd, Ian (2013). International Organizations: Politics, Law, Practice. Cambridge University Press. p. 10. ISBN 9781107040977. 
  8. ^ "Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union" (PDF). HM Government. 
  9. ^ page 99 of 344
  10. ^ Instead, the European Council may, on the initiative of the member state concerned, change the status of an overseas country or territory (OCT) to an outermost region (OMR) or vice versa.
  11. ^ Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union.
  12. ^ Renwick, Alan (19 January 2016). "What happens if we vote for Brexit?". The Constitution Unit Blog. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  13. ^ Article 50(4) of Lisbon Treaty which cites Article 49 Accession process
  14. ^ Oliver, Tim. "Europe without Britain: Assessing the Impact on the European Union of a British Withdrawal". Stiftung Wissenshaft und Politik. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  15. ^ "What will Brexit mean for British trade?". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2 April 2017. 
  16. ^ "We have not passed the point of no return – Richard Corbett". 26 April 2017. 
  17. ^ a b "Chief EU negotiator pushing to ensure Britain can't pull back from two-year Brexit process". 8 April 2017. 
  18. ^ Dammann, Jens (5 April 2017). "Revoking Brexit: Can Member States Rescind Their Declaration of Withrawal from the European Union". Columbia Journal of European Law. Columbia University. Retrieved 5 April 2017. 
  19. ^ Cite error: The named reference EU Law Analysis was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  20. ^ Article 50(4) of Lisbon Treaty, which cites Article 49 accession process.
  21. ^ The provision reads:

    "6. The European Council may, on the initiative of the Member State concerned, adopt a decision amending the status, with regard to the Union, of a Danish, French or Netherlands country or territory referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2. The European Council shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission."

    — Treaty of Lisbon Article 2, point 293
  22. ^ "Greenland Out of E.E.C.," New York Times (4 February 1985)
  23. ^ "European law mentioning Greenland Treaty". 
  24. ^ a b "Draft European Council Decision on amendment of the European status of the island of Saint-Barthélemy – adoption" (PDF). 
  25. ^ Hunt, Alex; Wheeler, Brian (3 November 2016). "Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU". BBC News. 
  26. ^ "Article 50: Theresa May to trigger Brexit process". BBC News. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  27. ^ "Advice for British nationals travelling and living in Europe". British Government Website. The U.K. Government. 19 January 2017. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 
  28. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (17 January 2017). "Theresa May confirms Britain will leave Single Market as she sets out 12-point Brexit plan". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 January 2017. 
  29. ^ "Brexit: PM to trigger Article 50 by end of March". BBC News. 2 October 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  30. ^ "George Osborne: Only the UK can trigger Article 50". Al Jazeera. 
  31. ^ Henley, Jon (26 June 2016). "Will article 50 ever be triggered?". The Guardian. 
  32. ^ "Brussels' Fear of the True Finns: Rise of Populist Parties Pushes Europe to the Right," Spiegel (25 April 2011).
  33. ^ Edward, David, "Scotland's Position in the European Union", Scottish Parliamentary Review, Vol. I, No. 2 (Jan 2014) [Edinburgh: Blacket Avenue Press]
  34. ^ "Scottish independence: Irish minister says EU application 'would take time'". BBC. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  35. ^ Carrell, Jennifer Rankin Severin (14 March 2017). "Independent Scotland 'would have to apply to join EU' – Brussels official" – via www.theguardian.com. 
  36. ^ The Catalan independence movement is pro-EU – but will the EU accept it?, London School of Economics 10/OCT/17
  37. ^ http://www.ilecproject.eu/sites/default/files/GUIDELINES%20INVOLUNTARY%20LOSS%20OF%20EUROPEAN%20CITIZENSHIP%20.pdf
  38. ^ http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2324&context=ilj

External links[edit]