Rights and Obligations of EU membership

A paper was published by the Government on 14th April 2016, which sets out the main Rights and Obligations arising from the UK’s membership of the European Union.

“This paper aims to set out the main rights and obligations arising from the UK’s membership of the EU. It is not exhaustive and does not seek to cover every right and obligation arising under EU law. Instead, it aims to provide a balanced overview of the most important rights and obligations”

The paper contains a wealth of information outlining the interaction between the UK and the EU.

Here is a brief summary of the main points extracted from the document ( the original consists of almost 100 pages).

Detailed information on each of these topics is provided in  the full document.

The paper is available  at:


The EU’s Institutions

The EU has a number of institutions involved in taking decisions and making EU laws that apply to the UK. The UK is represented in, or able to nominate members to, all of them. The EU can only make laws within the rules set out in the EU Treaties. These provide different mechanisms for agreeing different types of laws. The UK has a say and promotes the UK’s national interest. Some core principles govern how EU law applies in the UK and in other Member States. But the UK has also negotiated a number of exceptions that give it a special position within the EU.

EU laws

The EU Treaties form the highest level of EU law. They define where the EU is permitted to act, to what extent and how. They also contain a mixture of procedural rules for how the EU operates and substantive rules, such as the requirement that Member States ensure a right to equal pay for men and women. The Treaties set out subject areas in which the EU can make more specific laws, known as the EU’s ‘competences’.Below this, the EU adopts directives, regulations and decisions using the powers set out in the EU Treaties. Directives set out a legal framework that the Member States have to follow, but leave it up to the Member State to choose exactly how to make it part of their law. So once an EU Directive has been agreed, all Member States have an obligation to make national laws that give it effect, but they have a choice as to precisely how to do so. Regulations contain detailed legal rules. Once made, regulations have the force of law in the UK and throughout the EU. Regulations only rarely require the Member States to create their own legal rules in order to ensure the regulation has the desired legal effect.The EU can adopt binding decisions. For example, the Commission has powers to issue decisions that are binding in order to enforce competition rules. Below this, the EU also adopts legislation in order to supplement and amend, or to implement, the rules set out in directives or regulations. Such pieces of legislation are referred to respectively as ‘delegated’ and ‘implementing’ acts.

The EU Budget System

The current EU budget system has a cycle of seven years. The total amount of money available over this period has to be agreed unanimously by all 28 Member States, so the UK, like other Member States, has a veto. The UK has a permanent rebate on its annual contribution (in the form of an upfront reduction to our gross contribution) to the EU budget, unlike any other EU Member State.

Joining and Leaving the EU

European countries can apply to join the EU but the process is complex and lengthy. Each existing EU Member State has a veto over any new country joining, as well as a veto over the pace of negotiations and the terms on which it joins. Any Member State can leave the EU.

What is the Single Market?

The Single Market was created in the 1980s. Its purpose is to ensure the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons (“the four freedoms”), subject to the conditions set out in more detailed EU rules.This means Member States cannot impose unjustified restrictions on companies and individuals exercising their rights of free movement, such as customs controls or licensing requirements. In many areas, there is detailed EU legislation setting out what sorts of restrictions are permitted.The EU has also adopted legislation to remove other barriers to free trade, such as adopting common standards to ensure trade is not impeded by differing national regulations or technical specifications and has developed a legal framework for dealing with anti-competitive practices. The following sections explain in more detail the specific rules governing the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

The Single Market – free movement of goods

EU law enables goods to move freely across the EU by establishing a customs union and a free trade area. This means that no customs duties (taxes) or other, unjustified restrictions are applied to the movement of goods within the EU, and that there is consistent application of customs rules and tariffs by all Member States for goods imported from outside the EU.

The Single Market – free movement of services and freedom of establishment

EU rules safeguard the right to provide and receive services across the EU. This makes it easier for businesses and citizens to permanently establish themselves in another Member State, by setting up a company or a subsidiary. It also means businesses and citizens can provide services in another Member State on a temporary basis. The free movement of financial services protects the right to provide and receive financial services across the Single Market. The EU’s primary role in regulating telecoms and audio-visual services is to promote competition. The settlement negotiated by the UK at the February 2016 European Council secured a commitment to further extend the Single Market in services.

The Single Market – free movement of capital

EU rules facilitate the free movement of capital around the EU. While many rules in this area require Member States to adopt equivalent approaches across the EU, EU law provides that Member States can in some cases exceed EU standards, for example to protect financial stability.

The Single Market – free movement of persons

EU law gives UK and all other EU nationals rights to enter, live and work in another EU Member State, as well as to their family members and their dependants. These rights are not unqualified as citizens can be refused entry to, deported or excluded from their host State on a number of grounds.

Competition and Consumer Policy

EU competition and consumer laws seek to create a level playing field across the Single Market, so as to underpin the rights for goods and services to move freely within the EU. The purpose is to ensure that markets are undistorted by anti-competitive practices and work fairly for consumers and society as a whole. EU competition rules apply to businesses in the UK and other Member States, and at times to the public sector. They apply where trade between Member States is affected or to mergers with an EU dimension. EU law also provides important rights and protections for consumers.

Research and Development

The EU aims to boost competitiveness and productivity by supporting scientific research and technological development. The UK and other Member States retain the right to operate their own national research and technological development programmes. EU programmes complement this national activity.

Agriculture and Fisheries

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) framework is designed to provide a level playing field across the European Union, and to ensure that there is a sustainable and affordable supply of food that meets EU standards. Membership of the EU also provides full access to the Single Market for trade in agricultural products. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is designed to make fishing and the supply of fish sustainable. The UK’s agricultural and fisheries industries receive EU funding.

Animal Health and Welfare and Food Policy

The EU’s rules on animal health, public health and food safety are designed to ensure protection for consumers. These rules seek to facilitate trade in animals and animal products and a level playing field across the Single Market. The EU provides support to Member States, including the UK, when they are faced with animal disease outbreaks.


The EU has sought to create a Single Market for transport services within the EU so as to introduce greater competition. It has also agreed common rules and standards to protect consumer rights, ensure safety and protect the environment.

Economic and Monetary Union

The UK is not a member of the euro and has an opt-out from joining the euro. The UK retains control over its own economic and monetary policy. The Economic and Monetary Union comprises the coordination of EU Member States’ economic and fiscal policies and, for those countries whose currency is the euro, a common monetary policy.

Customs Union and Taxation

The UK and other Member States set their own tax policy, and raise their own taxes, though these tax rules must comply with certain principles of EU law. The EU does not decide rules relating to direct taxation, such as income or corporation tax, but it can pass rules where this would make the Single Market work more effectively. Rules on some indirect taxes, such as VAT and certain excise duties, are partially harmonised at EU level.

Employment rights, non-discrimination and data protection

EU law gives EU workers certain rights and protects the health and safety of EU nationals at work. The EU has set minimum standards to prevent discrimination at work and promote equality. But Member States can exceed these if they wish. EU law also gives certain rights to EU citizens, whose personal data is being collected, stored and used or otherwise processed by others. To help protect these rights, EU law imposes obligations on those collecting personal data and making decisions about its processing.

Welfare and Social Security

The UK and other Member States remain responsible for the design, organisation and funding of their welfare systems. The EU has a role in coordinating Member States’ social security rules to ensure they are in accordance with EU law. Member States can restrict the access of certain EEA nationals to some welfare benefits in order to prevent them from becoming an unreasonable burden. The UK’s new agreement will also enable the UK to limit EU workers’ access to in-work benefits for up to four years and to export Child Benefit at a rate that reflects the conditions of the Member State where the child lives.

Environment, Climate Change and Energy

EU action seeks to protect and improve the environment, tackle climate change and promote energy security and energy networks and markets. EU rules aim to protect EU nationals, for instance by making rules on cleaner air, access to cleaner water and sanitation and aim to prevent cross-border environmental damage. EU rules also provide a right for EU nationals to obtain environmental information.

Cohesion Policy and Structural Funds

Cohesion policy aims to reduce disparities between regions and support economic development. The policy is mainly delivered through structural and cohesion funds by funding infrastructure, training and similar development projects all over Europe from the EU budget. The UK receives a national allocation.


EU law confers certain rights on EU nationals. They include a right to vote in elections to the EU Parliament and in local elections wherever they live in the EU, and to consular support outside the EU. UK nationals benefit from these rights, as do nationals of other EU states.

Fundamental Rights

EU fundamental rights are part of EU law. The EU can make laws to protect specific fundamental rights, such as combating discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability or age. However, the EU does not have a general power to adopt laws or to take action in relation to fundamental rights. EU institutions have to comply with EU fundamental rights at all times. EU fundamental rights do not apply to every aspect of a Member State’s activities, and only apply when Member States are acting within the scope of EU law.

Other Areas (Health, Education, Culture, Tourism and Sport)

The EU has a limited role in health and education, where the UK and other Member States remain responsible for setting their health and education policies. The EU’s role in culture, tourism and sport is also very limited.

Justice and Home Affairs

The UK, unlike most other Member States, does not automatically take part in EU justice and home affairs measures, or those relating to Schengen. Justice and home affairs covers border controls, asylum, immigration, civil and criminal judicial cooperation, police cooperation, and criminal law. Schengen is the term given to the legal framework which relates to the border-free travel area in parts of continental Europe, and also to some cross-border police and judicial cooperation measures. There are mechanisms allowing the UK to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether to participate in justice and home affairs measures. On the Schengen border-free area, the UK has chosen not to participate in the border-free area, and through its opt in, the UK has a choice about whether it participates in measures building on the police and judicial cooperation aspects of the 1990 Schengen Convention. There is a set process that enables it to do so.

Asylum and non-EU Migration

The UK has a special status in relation to the EU’s asylum and migration programme. The UK chooses to participate in some EU asylum and immigration measures and not others. The Directives in this area, in which the UK has chosen to participate, set minimum standards on issues including the process by which asylum applications are determined and the provision of accommodation and support for asylum applicants. The UK also participates in the Dublin Regulation, which sets out the rules on Member States’ responsibility for examining an asylum claim. The present EU migration crisis has led the Commission to propose a number of additional measures for EU action. The UK has made it clear that it is prepared to play a major role in practical cooperation with other Member States to tackle all aspects of the crisis. Where changes to EU law are proposed, the UK will decide whether it is in the national interest to opt in, on a case-by-case basis. Where the legal instrument brought forward concerns the Schengen border-free area, the UK does not participate.

Police and Criminal Justice

The UK has a choice about whether to participate in all new police and criminal justice measures. Most of the rules in this area exist to facilitate cooperation between law enforcement agencies, investigators, prosecutors and judges when handling cross-border crimes in the EU. There are also some minimum standards measures for criminal law and procedure.

Civil Judicial Cooperation

The EU has agreed a set of rules aimed at resolving cross-border issues that may arise in civil, commercial and family law disputes. These enable national courts, parties and their legal representatives to know which court is responsible for deciding on a case and which country’s law applies. They also create effective mechanisms for enabling the decisions of national courts to be applied and enforced in other Member States, and for courts to cooperate effectively. The rules apply, for example, to cross-border disputes concerning claims relating to consumer contracts or matters relating to divorce or custody of children. These rules bind the UK courts and affect UK businesses and individuals, but are subject to the UK’s right to choose whether to participate or not.

Foreign and Defence Policy

The EU can agree common positions on foreign and security issues. Member States continue to operate an independent foreign policy but must respect common EU positions once they are agreed. The EU can run peacekeeping or other missions to prevent conflict or defend international security. No mission can be launched without the UK or any other Member State’s agreement. No UK troops or other personnel can be deployed unless the UK offers them voluntarily. The UK and other Member States remain responsible for their own defence and national security.

Trade and Investment

The EU agrees the common tariffs and rules that apply to imports at the EU’s external borders with non-EU countries. Once inside the Single Market, all goods move tariff-free. These common tariffs and rules are necessary to ensure that the Single Market and customs union works properly. The EU therefore negotiates trade deals with non-EU markets collectively, through a process laid out by the EU Treaties. The European Commission represents the EU and Member States in these negotiations with non-EU countries and at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in order to reach agreements on these issues. But the UK and other Member States have a significant say in the nature, extent and final shape of those agreements.

Development and Humanitarian Aid

The UK is the world’s second largest country donor of international aid. The UK spends the bulk of this itself. The remainder is spent through other organisations, including the EU. The UK works with the EU on development assistance to pool its resources with the other 27 Member States. The EU operates within agreed policies.