The Brief: Can the Ukrainian model solve the Brexit conundrum?

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.


Britain is having a mid-life crisis and wants, after 40 years of marriage to the EU, to trade the bloc in for a younger model.

But what kind of model? The Swiss model isn’t the UK’s type. The Norwegian model is way out of Britain’s league and the less said about the Albanian model, the better.

The Canadian model might work but could the answer be the Ukrainian model?

There are obviously huge differences between Britain and the Ukraine but the bright sparks and boffins at the Centre for European Policy Studies think-tank believe a “Ukraine-plus” agreement could be the best Brexit divorce deal.

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is unique in the EU’s deals with third countries. It brings all the advantages of associate membership while being written in such a way that there is little danger of the Ukraine actually joining the EU.

The Ukrainian model ticks off several boxes on the UK’s Brexit wishlist. It grants substantial market access but does not demand subservience to EU law or the European Court of Justice.

Most importantly, it does not require the observance of free movement rules – a British red line – and it allows Ukraine to negotiate its own free trade deals.

Britain will need better access to the Single Market, especially for its financial services, which would have to be worked into the deal – “Ukraine-plus”.

This access would require “a substantial payment” to the EU budget, according to CEPS. Britain’s average annual contribution now is €6.5 billion. Paying half that each year could be acceptable to Brussels.

The association deal with Ukraine allows collaboration on foreign and defence policy and on fighting crime and terrorism. Theresa May has said she wants to work with the EU on these matters.

Much of the legal and technical heavy lifting has already been done for the Ukraine association agreement. The UK deal, although difficult, could step on the shoulders of that work, which could speed up negotiations.

But there needs to be a quid pro quo. Britain would get some access to the Single Market, wouldn’t be subject to the ECJ and have control on freedom of movement.

The EU would get the benefit of continued unfettered trade with Britain, (the bloc has an almost €80 billion trade surplus with the UK) and cooperation on foreign and defence policy.

But the EU has to be able to present that cooperation as genuine, whole-hearted, and a real advantage for its member states.

Only then, according to CEPS, could Ukraine-plus be presented as a bespoke deal and not a preferential pact that other member states would seek to imitate.

The EU’s pound of flesh could be a demand for British support for the EU common defence policy – and possibly an EU army.


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