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Brexit & the Euratom Treaty, by Silke Goldberg

The Euratom Treaty, signed in Rome on 25 March 1957, established the European Atomic Energy Community, alongside the European Economic Community (EEC). Its function is to provide a regulatory and cooperative framework which governs the development of nuclear energy and its trade across Europe, a kind of ‘nuclear common market’, which also funds cross-border research and development projects, upholds safety standards and procedures, notifies the potential impact of activities on other Member States, and ensures that nuclear materials are not deployed for military use. Euratom has established nuclear cooperation agreements with third countries, including Canada, Japan, and the USA, and sets out provisions for international compliance with nuclear safeguards. Euratom also reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

While a separate legal entity from the EU, it is tied to its laws and institutions, and subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). No country is a full member of Euratom without being a full member of the EU. On 29 March 2017, the triggering of Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU, also incorporated the UK’s withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty of which they had been members since they joined the EEC in 1973. While legal opinion is divided as to whether exiting the EU also forced an exit from Euratom, as a concomitant requirement of leaving the bloc, Theresa May argued for its inclusion on the grounds of ending the supremacy of EU law over domestic law.

 

  • What are the possible repercussions of exiting the treaty for both the UK and the EU?
  • Given the UK’s commitment to a nuclear future, as evident by the recent investment in Hinkley Point, and the UK’s deep-seated integration in the EU nuclear energy market, how might the UK attempt to establish itself independent of the legislation, regulatory expectations and terms of compliance set out by Euratom?
  • During the European Union (withdrawal) bill debate on 13 December 2017, the Minister of State for Courts and Justice, said that the UK government intended to retain a close association with Euratom. Could associate membership, à la Switzerland and Ukraine, be an option?
  • How would that be reconciled with an absolutist position on ECJ interference?
  • What does it mean for the research projects dependent on funding from Euratom members, such as that at Culham Oxfordshire?
  • Could the UK be sidelined from lucrative nuclear trade agreements with third parties? With replacement provisions yet to be determined, industry warnings suggest that the UK’s exit from Euratom could cause a major disruption to the entire nuclear fuel cycle. In this podcast, Silke Goldberg from Herbert Smith Freehills discusses the UK’s position, the legal terms of their exit, and the potential consequences of their withdrawal.