Britain offered EU ‘associate membership’: Can it help rebuild post-Brexit ties?

France and Germany are said to be working on a proposal to offer the UK and other European countries “associate membership” of the EU. This comes as the UK’s ties with the bloc have been strained ever since the Brexit vote in 2016.

What is associate membership of the EU?

Associate membership is a lesser-known concept that could help create a new tier of membership between full EU membership and third-country status. It means that countries that opt for associate membership would not be bound by the EU’s “ever closer union” policy, but would be expected to share common principles and values with the EU. They would also pay into the EU’s budget.

The proposal by France and Germany reportedly creates four new tiers of membership, with the most closely aligned states forming an “inner circle”. The second-tier would be for countries opting for full membership, followed by a third-tier for countries that choose to be “outer associates” like Switzerland. The fourth tier, known as “the outermost circle”, would be for countries that do not want to commit to a closer relationship with the EU, such as Turkey.

The creation of this “outer tier” of associate membership is seen as a potential olive branch to countries like the UK that chose to leave the EU. It could offer a way for these countries to participate in the EU’s single market without having to rejoin the bloc fully.

How could associate membership help rebuild post-Brexit ties?

Firstly, associate membership could provide a framework for a closer economic relationship between the UK and the EU. This would be important for both sides, given the close economic ties that exist between the two.

Secondly, it could be seen as a way to repair the damaged relationship between the UK and the EU post-Brexit. Many experts have speculated that the UK’s departure from the EU was a mistake, and associate membership could offer a way for the UK to remain connected to the EU without having to rejoin the bloc fully. Former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine has urged the UK to explore the idea, stating that “the overarching majority of people in Britain see Brexit as a mistake”.

Finally, associate membership could offer a way to rebuild trust between the UK and the EU. Since the Brexit vote, relations between the two have been strained, with both sides accusing the other of negotiating in bad faith. Associate membership could provide a fresh start for both sides and allow them to work together on issues of mutual interest.

The concept of associate membership is still in its early stages, and it remains to be seen whether the UK or any other country will opt for this type of membership. However, the proposal does offer a glimmer of hope for the rebuilding of post-Brexit ties between the UK and the EU. By providing a framework for a closer economic relationship, repairing damaged relationships, and rebuilding trust, associate membership could provide a solution to some of the challenges posed by Brexit.


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