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On the Limits of Exceptionalism: Principles and Practice in the Pursuit of Alternatives to Full EU Membership

David Phinnemore

Few states have been less uncomfortable with the relationship they have with the EU than the United Kingdom as a member and Turkey as an associate and would-be member. Both states currently find themselves questioning the substance and future of these relationships with domestic actors and, notably in the Turkish case, external voices actively advocating alternatives. While much discussion, particularly in the UK case, has focused on the advantages and disadvantages of particular existing arrangements (e.g. European Economic Area, Swiss bilateralism), this paper considers the broader principles and practices that the EU has to date either explicitly developed or implicitly established to govern the nature and substance of alternatives to [full] EU membership. It assesses the principled, practical and political limitations that exist in establishing alternatives to full membership for states seeking - or having sought for them - the accommodation of their exceptionalism. In doing so the paper considers the potential limits to a renegotiated EU membership for the EU and to an alternative short of full membership for Turkey. It also reflects on the precedent-setting consequences of any new arrangements that the EU might reach with either state for what forms membership and a relationship short of membership might take in the future.

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