Art. 50 TEU: A Well-Designed Secession Clause

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Table of Contents: I. Introduction. – II. The problem of unilateral secession and withdrawal. – III. Does the right to unilateral secession/withdrawal matter? – IV. The EU’s unity in withdrawal negotiations. – V. The not-so-unilateral character of withdrawal under Art. 50 TEU. – V.1. Obligation to promptly activate the withdrawal procedure. – V.2. Absence of a right to unilaterally revoke the notification under Art. 50. – VI. Unilateral withdrawal from the EU: right or risk? – VII. Conclusion: a well-designed secession clause.

Abstract: Art. 50 TEU has been criticised because it allegedly grants EU Member States an unfettered right to unilateral secession, which questions the EU’s quasi-federal character and fosters its disintegration. This On the Agenda demonstrates that this widespread pessimism is unjustified, since it is based on an exceedingly formalistic reading of the law. Secession (from States) and withdrawal (from international organisations) is always possible de facto: the relevant question is whether constitutional provisions ensure an orderly secession and discourage casual recourse thereto. Art. 50 TEU arguably constitutes a “well-designed secession clause”, since it ensures the EU’s unity in withdrawal negotiations, limits the discretion of the departing State regarding the activation and termination of the withdrawal procedure, and induces it to reach a compromise with the Union. Art. 50 thus ensures a fair balance between the concern for the EU’s integrity and the democratic and federal principles that inspire it.

Keywords: withdrawal – secession – Brexit – Art. 50 – negotiation – unilateral.

European Papers, Vol. 2, 2017, No 1, pp. 159-181
2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/149

* Research Associate, University of Luxembourg,



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