|European Parliament Visitor Centre|
A number of years ago, I visited the European Parliament in Brussels. They have an excellent visitor centre which explains the history and current status of European institutions in as dynamic a manner as possible.
Before visiting, I don't think I had realised just how complex the European settlement is. I tended only to think of "The EU" and was perhaps vaguely cognisant of the terms "Council of Europe" and "Single Market", but hadn't given any thought as to how the whole thing fits together. I think the same is true of most of us - we think of the mythical beast that is "Brussels" rather than its web of complex associations.
The truth is that Europe is a hotch-potch of treaties and diplomatic agreements, and different countries have joined in - or not - as suits their circumstances.
Take, for example, the Eurozone. Most EU member states have joined in, but the UK, along with eight other members, has not. Then there's the Shengen Agreement, allowing borderless travel, which has been signed up to by all but six member states, along with five non-member states. Then there's Cyprus and Ireland who're in the Euro but not in Schengen. But Monaco is in Schengen, but not in the EU. And it mints the Euro but is not in the Eurozone. Like San Marino - though that is not in Schengen. But it is in the Customs Union.
This is all before we've even considered the rival body to the EU - the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Membership of each is mutually exclusive. EFTA members are currently Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. They're all in Schengen, and three of the 4 have joined all of the EU in the European Economic Area, or Single Market. But Switzerland hasn't. It is in EFTA and Shengen, but not the EEA. And I've not even mentioned the Central European Free Trade Area or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has such famously European members as the USA and Canada.
This could become very complicated to explain. What's that, you say? You're crying out for a Venn diagram? I am only too happy to oblige:
The UK has voted to leave the inner orange section of the diagram. The question is where we end up. It seems to me that there are four possible locations for Britain once we leave the EU, as indicated on the diagram in increasing degrees of separation from the EU:
1. This would see us defect from the EU to EFTA and staying inside the Single Market, but unlike the other countries with this deal, we would remain outside the Schengen area. This is often referred to as the "Norway" model.
2. The "Switzerland" model, we would leave the EEA, but through membership of EFTA would still have relatively free access to trade.
3. This would see us leave the EEA but remain in the EU Customs Union. Looking at the other bed-fellows in this position, I'm not sure the "Turkey" model or "Andorra" model have quite the same appeal as Norway or Switzerland.
4. This seems to be the position the government are aiming for - outside of the EU, EEA and Customs Union. Again, though, my eyes are drawn to the other states in the same section of the diagram. Does any of these countries have an economic model or trading relationship we want to emulate? Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine.
I haven't even considered complications such as the need for a common travel area with Ireland. Perhaps, as is so often the European way, a new circle will be drawn at the eleventh hour. But if option four is where we are headed, we cannot continue to ignore the economic and political reality of becoming a European outsider.