Brexit: What legal implications for the culture and education sectors?

Written by Giandonato Caggiano on 31 July 2017

University graduates | Photo credit: Press Association

Giandonato Caggiano guides us through the legal intricacies of Brexit and the culture and education sectors.

In matters of culture and education, the EU has no legislative power, it can only support, coordinate or supplement member states' actions. 

Any act of harmonisation of legal and regulatory provisions of the member states is excluded. 

On this ground, the UK withdrawal from the EU will require less legislative change than in other matters of exclusive (customs union, competition and some common policies) or shared (social policy, agriculture, consumer protection, transport and the environment) competences where, by contrast, the EU has legislative power. 


Still, a number of questions will remain unanswered until the outcome of UK-EU negotiations is known. 

First, the question of UK participation in EU programmes in culture and education; second, the impact of EU provisions which do not primarily pertain to these two policies but are affected by cultural and education activities (return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state, media law harmonization, state aid in culture, working conditions in cultural and creative industries, the cultural dimensions of the EU's external actions, the recognition of higher-education diplomas, freedom of establishment of educational institutes, movement of students and teachers).

In the enlargement process, the culture and education sectors represent a whole package to be evaluated for a candidate state.

EU law consists of 21,000 regulations and directives, 1100 international agreements, ECJ judgments and soft law instruments. 

EU directives are implemented into national law and it is not easy to say how many need to be changed. 

EU regulations, which are directly applicable, will lose their effect. 

The most relevant act to be repealed is the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA), which recognises the supremacy of EU law (precedence to EU law over inconsistent UK legislation). 

International treaties, which are the EU's exclusive competence, will cease to apply in the UK and, case by case, will be decided to be renegotiated (or not) with the UK as a new contracting party. For mixed agreements, special negotiations will have to be made between the EU, the UK and the other contracting states. 

In respect of laws on freedom, security and justice, the UK has already used opt-outs clauses, but still there are many legal acts to be reconsidered. 

The extent of the withdrawal agreement is also unclear. The European Commission and UK government disagree on whether or not the withdrawal agreement will be limited to extricating the UK from EU. 

In any case, there will not be enough time (within the two years stipulated). The possible agreement(s) on the future relationship could be integrated in the same or separate text concluded at the same time or after the withdrawal agreement. 

I believe a separate agreement (or agreements) should be negotiated for future cooperation unless in case of a 'hard Brexit'. Cooperation with the UK will continue as before: in the Bologna Process (the European Higher Education Area), within the OECD (PISA, TALIS), the IEA-International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (TIMSS-Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and PIRLS-Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). 

After Brexit, EU students (5.5 per cent of the total UK student population) may be charged tuition fees at more expensive rates, as international students. A number of British universities may consider the possibility of establishing satellite campuses in other European cities overseas. 

Despite all this, the British will continue to profit greatly from the advantage that English has become the EU's lingua franca.


About the author

Giandonato Caggiano is a professor of EU law at the Roma Tre Law Faculty

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