The EU is the main source of shared political and legal order in contemporary Europe. It shapes the political, economic and security systems under which European democracies. Yet it is structurally difficult to arrange relations between EU members and non-member democracies in ways that secure core standards of democratic legitimacy for all of them. BENCHMARK investigates whether Brexit aggravates that difficulty.
Given that Norway has developed what is probably the most ambitious model to date for how a non-member can cooperate with the European Union, BENCHMARK investigates how the UK has decided between replicating or rejecting a relationship similar to that between Norway and the European Union. The research identifies a puzzle: before the referendum it was widely assumed that if the UK had to find an alternative to membership it would least have to consider a relationship to that between Norway and the EU. Yet, since the referendum, the Norwegian model has largely disappeared from the UK`s political agenda.
That, however, leaves many unresolved problems, including i) the position of Scotland and Northern Ireland which would, arguably, have preferred to adopt features of the Norwegian model; ii) problems of procedural legitimacy in how alternatives to membership, such as the Norwegian model, have been discussed and decided and iii) difficulties for particular policies. Important amongst the latter is that failure to replicate aspects of the Norwegian model leaves the UK without access to the EU's Single Market, given that the European Economic Area constitutes the set of institutional and legal arrangements that are probably necessary for any non-member to participate in the Single Market.
BENCHMARK has made important conceptual and theoretical advances in distinguishing different types of `non-membership` of the European Union by how far they deviate from the Norwegian model. Importantly BENCHMARK has gone beyond the standard classification of non-membership of the EU based on trading relationships with the European Union. It theorises and typologises different forms of non-membership by standard of legitimacy: by how far they conform to different of democratic self-rule and of justice/fairness, taking into account that it is intrinsically hard to satisfy those standards for both full members of the European Union and non-members simultaneously. Full members cannot easily accord decision-rights to non-members without losing some democratic control over the making and administration of their own laws. Indeed, they cannot easily sustain forms of cooperation they have laboured hard to construct between themselves if too many benefits of membership are extended to non-members without the full costs and obligations. Yet, non-members often have little choice but to be rule-takers, or, in other words, to follow the European Union`s rules closely, even though they have limited means of participating as equals in the authoring and control of those rules.
BENCHMARK has investigated the rise and fall of the idea that the UK should consider a form of `non-membership` of the European Union similar to Norway through an analysis of UK Government documents and decisions and through an analysis of UK parliamentary and media debates. For the latter, BENCHMARK has coded articles from the Guardian and the Daily Mail on the assumption that those two newspapers represent the range of public opinion on Brexit within the UK. To gain some comparative perspective with other non-member states, sample articles have also been coded from Aftenposten and Dagbladet and the Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten/20 Minutes. The results are being disseminated through conference papers, journal articles and book projects.
BENCHMARK uses the question of whether the UK should adopt a similar relationship to that between Norway and the European Union to identify difficulties of arranging relationships between members and non-members of the EU in ways that ensure democratic control, political equality and fairness for all European democracies. Through studies of UK Government decisions and parliamentary and media debate, we show how deciding between alternatives to membership has been as important as deciding between remaining or leaving the EU to what kind of democracy, political system, legal order, international actor, economy and society the UK is likely to be outside the EU. As well as contributing to research fields on European political order after Brexit, BENCHMARK has a societal impact by showing that it is not just membership of the EU that affects the overall structure of institutions, laws and opportunities under which citizens live their lives. So do choices between forms of non-membership.
The European Union is the main source of shared political and legal order in contemporary Europe. It shapes the political, economic and security systems under which all European democracies live. Yet it is structurally difficult to arrange relations between EU members and non-member democracies in ways that secure core standards of democratic legitimacy for all of them. BENCHMARK investigates whether any Brexit will aggravate that difficulty. Given that Norway has developed what is probably the most ambitious model to date for how a non-member state can co-operate with the EU, BENCHMARK will distinguish four scenarios for any Brexit in which (i) UK/EU relations break down completely or the UK and EU commit after Brexit to (ii) fewer; (iii) similar or (iv) even more obligations than Norway’s present relationship with the EU. BENCHMARK will then use the scenarios to investigate whether avoiding or replicating Norway’s relationship with the EU will make any Brexit more or less legitimate: (a) in the UK as a whole; (b) in Scotland and Northern Ireland; (c) with the European Union; and (d) in Norway itself. BENCHMARK will use official documents and parliamentary and media debates to analyse how far claims about detailed institutional implications of each of the scenarios are accepted as legitimate across (a)-(d). BENCHMARK will likewise analyse whether there is variation in the legitimacy of the four scenarios across policies of importance to Norway: trade, security, migration, agriculture and fisheries, development aid, energy and climate. Throughout the research, climate policy will also be used as a reference case for how collective-action problems and constitutional problems can interact differently across policies to shape the legitimacy of alternative ways of structuring relations between the EU and non-member democracies after any Brexit.