Incipient panic about the future of Britain’s nuclear industry has rocketed Euratom into the Brexit headlines. In so doing, staggering ignorance is displayed by too many MPs and journalists about the basic facts of the matter. Lest we forget what it is we’re leaving before we leave it, therefore, here’s an explanation.
The European Union is founded on three basic treaties. These are the Treaty on European Union, signed at Maastricht in 1992, and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (formerly the Treaty establishing the European Community) that was signed in Rome in 1957 along with the Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The UK has been a signatory to all the basic statutes of the EU since its own accession treaty in January 1972. All three treaties were most recently revised by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, to which they are linked by virtue of Article 1 of Protocol No. 36.
Euratom is therefore a fundamental building block of the European Union and not an accessory. It cannot be separated out from the rest of the Union. Joining the EU means joining Euratom; leaving the EU means leaving Euratom: Article 50 applies automatically to the secession of membership of Euratom.
There is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom — or, indeed, of the wider European Union.
Euratom is not a mere agency like the Food Safety Agency or Europol. The institutions of Euratom are the institutions of the EU, and its budget is part of the general budget of the EU. The European Commission has wide powers under the Euratom treaty to regulate the European internal market in nuclear materials, impose safety standards, issue and remove licences to operators such as Sellafield, promote R&D and conduct international negotiations on atomic energy matters through membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
There is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom — or, indeed, of the wider European Union. There is however the possibility for a third country, which the UK will be, to seek an association agreement with the Union, including the continued use of Euratom. The future of Britain’s nuclear industry, its atomic science and the use of isotopes by the NHS will depend on the nature of that association agreement. Euratom will surely be included in the wider EU-UK accord that will comprise a deep and comprehensive free trade area, political collaboration in security matters and institutional linkages.
Continued participation in Euratom can be assured on a provisional basis under the terms of the Article 50 secession treaty.
Before that final accord emerges, transitional arrangements will be necessary. Continued participation in Euratom can be assured on a provisional basis under the terms of the Article 50 secession treaty. Although there would be a fee to pay, the UK’s continuing association with Euratom will lower the costs of Britain’s final bill which is now being negotiated between Michel Barnier and David Davis.
Carrying on effective membership of Euratom would relieve the UK of taking on new heavy regulatory and nuclear safeguard duties as set out in the Commission’s negotiating paper of 23 June. And the transfer of ownership to the UK of all fissile materials based on British soil, notably nuclear waste, may not be necessary.
The transitional period must be time-limited but, if agreed on a flexible and renewable basis, it could be extended until the entry into force of the new accord. Brexit means the UK loses its voting rights in the EU’s political institutions, but its government and nuclear stakeholders would have consultative rights under the new arrangements. The UK would have to commit to respect the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice even where it may liberate itself from the Court’s direct jurisdiction.
The Joint Committee now proposed by the Commission to manage Brexit would oversee the whole process.
It may be rocket science, but there’s no need to panic.
Not a normal third country
The delicacies of Britain’s future relationship with Euratom expose many of the issues which affect the rest of the Article 50 process. I reported on the latest state of play for the European Policy Centre (6 July) here.