The United Kingdom occupies a unique place in the European Union. While a member of the EU, the UK is not a member of the Eurozone and retains its own national currency. The UK’s tenuous position in the EU came into greater focus this week, when Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the nation would be opting out numerous criminal-justice provisions and measures before they become binding on member states. These agreements include the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), Europol and Eurojust, prisoner transfers, and access to EU police databases. UK’s decision has been met with consternation and condemnation within the EU, especially as the UK is widely recognized as a leader in criminal justice and security.

When the Lisbon treaty was enacted in December 2009, these agreements were non-binding. Under Protocol 36 of the Treaty, they are enforceable by law, and thus binding, starting in 2014. The general consensus is that member states, including the UK, are suspicious and critical of arrangements such as the EAW, which some argue is costly, overly-sweeping, and subject to the caprices of member states. The UK government has additionally disapproved of a EU-wide prosecutor with sweeping powers, highlighting concerns with protecting its own citizens.

However, some speculate that the UK’s decision runs deeper than dissatisfaction with particular institutions or regulations – specifically a general unwillingness to submit to the EU’s supreme authority over criminal-justice matters if it were to opt into the system. Rather, the UK wishes to preserve autonomy over an area at which it is an undisputed leader. For instance, the Economist’s article references a sentiment that “there is growing annoyance at what many see as the subcontracting of British justice to European courts.” This resentment is a microcosm of the British reluctance to fully integrate itself in the European Union, most visibly in regard to the Eurozone.

In fact, critics of the UK’s participation in the EU, commonly known as Eurosceptics, are increasingly calling for the country to remove itself from the Union altogether. Under TEU Article 50, every member state of the European Union has the option to withdraw from its membership in the Union. Public discourse regarding the UK’s membership in the EU has become so prominent that a potential referendum on leaving the EU has become a legitimate political issue.

An editorial in the New Statesman illustrates the perils that accompany a UK renegotiation – or exit –from the EU for the Community as a whole.  If the UK were to disengage from serious EU legislation under the pretense of protecting its national interests, the flood gates for other member states to do the same could open, wreaking havoc on the internal market and undermining the efficacy and legitimacy of EU institutions, in turn irrevocably harming the framework of the EU.

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