The European Economic Area

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Series Details No.8129 (06.06.18)
Publication Date 06/06/2018
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This briefing paper outlined the institutional structure of the EEA, its pros and cons and the debate over withdrawal from the EEA.

This briefing paper was prepared for a debate on British membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), that took place in the House of Commons on 6 November 2017. The Briefing Paper was periodically updated in 2018.

The EEA includes the EU Member States plus three countries which are not in the EU: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EEA essentially extends the EU single market to those three non-EU countries. Membership of the EEA has been suggested as a possible option for the UK after Brexit. The Government has ruled this out, however.

Those in favour of the EEA option argue that continued membership of the single market would bring economic benefits as a result of favourable access to the EU market. However, EEA membership also involves a range of obligations including free movement of people, financial contributions to the EU and accepting EU rules with no direct say over them.

Further information


Article 127 of the EEA Agreement sets out a basic rule for withdrawing from the Agreement. It requires a ‘contracting party’ (of which the UK is one) to provide 12 months’ notification of withdrawal, in order to give the remaining parties time to modify the Agreement. However, there is considerable opinion that when the UK leaves the EU, the whole EEA Agreement will automatically cease to apply to the UK. Under this view – which is currently held by the UK Government amongst others – the UK is a member of the EEA only by virtue of its membership of the EU. Much of the Agreement appears to rest on the assumption that only EU or EFTA states can be members, and even if the UK remained a party to the Agreement after leaving the EU, many of its provisions could not apply.

The UK has given no explicit notice under Article 127, although it is possible that sending the Article 50 letter on 29 March 2017 also amounted to implicit notice of leaving the EEA. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill currently before the House of Commons seeks to repeal the domestic effect of the EEA Agreement, but several amendments to the Bill have been tabled relating to Article 127.

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Related Links
The Conversation, 19.07.17: Could the UK rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) after Brexit? (et al)
UK: Parliament: House of Commons: Library: Debate Pack, No.31, 2018 (02.02.18): The European Free Trade Association
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union
ESO: Find further information in ESO on Brexit and the European Economic Area / EFTA
EU Law Analysis: Blog, 13.06.18: Brexit: Some conceptual clarifications concerning EFTA and the EEA
CAPX, 12.06.18: Why the EEA isn’t the answer to the Brexit conundrum

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