House of Lords Library

Leaving the European Union: Euratom

Published Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Government has stated that leaving the EU also means leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). This Lords Library briefing examines what Euratom does and the possible implications of leaving Euratom for the future of the nuclear industry and nuclear research in the UK.

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The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) was established alongside the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1950s. The UK became a member of both on 1 January 1973. Euratom is a distinct legal entity from the European Union, but the two bodies have a shared institutional framework.

Euratom was founded to contribute to the formation and development of Europe’s nuclear industries, to guarantee high safety standards and to prevent nuclear materials intended principally for civilian use from being diverted to military use. It provides the basis for the regulation of civilian nuclear activity, implements a system of safeguards to control the use of nuclear materials, controls the supply of fissile materials within EU member states and funds research into nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Euratom has signed a number of international agreements with third countries on nuclear research (both fission and fusion), the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear safety.

The Government introduced the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Commons on 26 January 2017. The Bill would give the Prime Minister power to notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, under the procedure set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The Explanatory Notes prepared by the Department for Exiting the European Union state that the Bill also would also provide for the UK to leave Euratom, although Euratom is not mentioned in the Bill itself. The Government’s position is that the way in which Euratom and the EU are uniquely legally joined means that triggering Article 50 also entails giving notice to leave Euratom. This is disputed by some lawyers, who argue that the nexus between the Treaty on European Union and the Euratom Treaty creates a parallel but separate process for leaving Euratom.

An amendment that would have preserved the UK’s membership of Euratom was defeated at the Bill’s committee stage in the House of Commons. Similar amendments have been tabled for the committee stage in the House of Lords which is scheduled to take place on 27 February and 1 March 2017.

Lords Library notes LLN-2017-0010

Author: Nicola Newson

Topics: EU grants and loans, EU institutions, EU law and treaties, Nuclear power, Research and innovation

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