There are different reasons why a number of countries can not view close cooperation with EU from the stand point of a full membership, the thing in common among them is the need of a new mechanism to embody cooperation that is yet appropriate or possible.
The EU is limited in the kind of trade arrangements it offers to third countries, but the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is said to be an innovative form of external action, offering a new type of integration without membership of the EU. This agreement is fully operational and might be useful for the UK in its search for the framework of post-Brexit trade arrangements with the EU to combine access to the Single Market, create technical standards and apply the same norms to procurement and competition avoiding the obligations of full membership of the EU.
Michael Emerson, a researcher at the Brussels-based EU affairs think tank CEPS, states that the Ukraine’s EU association agreement offers “a very clear structure for the content of negotiations”.
According to Emerson’s point of view, UK can go similar way as Ukraine. The Association agreement does not spread over free movement of labour, though the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Ukraine enables the other “three freedoms”: the free movement of goods, services and capital.
The EU trade agreement with Ukraine reveals that the EU is willing to adapt previous Association Agreements to new circumstances, so that might be an option for the UK. The most important point is that the EU-UA model helps to come up with such an AA for UK that will be deprived of the disadvantages inherent to the five main alternative models proposed for future UK-EU relations. Andrew Duff presumes, that the UK can unravel its trade relationship with the EU and renegotiate a new relationship that would require less unravelling of existing UK laws, but offer some room for independence in negotiating future issues between the two parties, for example security.
At the same time, there are some risks about this option. The EU-Ukraine AA allows the EU to keep the upper hand in setting the agenda, the terms of entry to the EU market and the role of EU law, and the European Court of Justice. Thus, there may need to be a little more flexibility on the part of the EU if this type of Agreement is to serve as a new framework for the future UK trade relationship with the EU. It is also hard to predict if the EU will consider UK with its great economic development to be a similar case to Ukraine, that requires support. Let take for example the conditions of the Agreement between EU and Norway, they are far stricter then the Ukrainian one.
In any case, some of the academics presume that the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine could be a starting point for the UK’s future relationship with Europe and at the same time grow into a road map for EU relations with Ukraine for the next decades. The German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel mentioned, that alternative forms of closer cooperation should be thought through, if full EU membership isn’t an option for some countries. A smart consensus with the United Kingdom will pave the way to govern UK-EU relations after Brexit and might be a good platform for countries like Ukraine to model its further relations with Brussels.
What can be done in Ukraine in the mean time? We might take the chance to become a truly reliable partner and strive to reach the EU standards as soon as possible, that is the only way to be seen as a full member at some point in the future.