The right of a Member State to withdraw voluntarily from the European Union was introduced for the first time by the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009. Previously, the possibility of unilateral withdrawal was not very clear, with no precedent in this respect. Perhaps, in the past, the withdrawal could have been done through the revision of the treaties and the unanimous agreement of the Member States. At present, however, “any Member State may decide, in accordance with its constitutional rules, to withdraw from the Union“.

There are no conditions for withdrawal, it is a voluntary act and does not require the approval/consent of other Member States; only the decision to withdraw is to be taken in accordance with the constitutional provisions of the withdrawing State.

Article 50, however, provides for a withdrawal procedure which begins with the formal notification of the European Council of the intention to withdraw, after which the Council adopts guidelines for the negotiation and conclusion of a withdrawal agreement between the European Union and the withdrawing State. From the moment of notification, the withdrawing State has two years to reach an agreement on the withdrawal. If, at the end of the 2 years, no agreement has been reached, the membership of the EU is automatically lost. The European Council, unanimously and in agreement with the withdrawing State, may decide to extend the deadline.

It is interesting to note here that the withdrawal agreement is a bilateral one, between the withdrawing state and the EU. However, the agreement on the future relationship between the EU and that state must be ratified by all Member States. It can be argued that, since the withdrawal agreement is not ratified by the Member States, it should contain only provisions which fall within the exclusive competence of the Union.

The consequences of a withdrawal from the EU are multiple, starting with the fact that the European treaties and the rights and obligations stemming from them will cease to apply and continuing with phasing out from the EU-funded programs, cessing the contribution to the European budget, losing the European citizenship and affecting the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital and ending with the impact on the institutional structure of the European institutions. All these aspects should be clarified in the withdrawal agreement, containing a number of transitional provisions, as well as in the agreement on the future relations between the withdrawing State and the European Union. In the absence of such agreements, the withdrawing State shall be considered to be a third State, with all the consequences arising therefrom.

It should be borne in mind that, with the withdrawal of a Member State, a Pandora’s box will be open for the amendment of treaties and the revision of European law and there is a danger that the EU will intervene more than necessary to adapt to the withdrawal of one state. In addition, the withdrawal of a Member State may have a domino effect on other Member States affected by economic stagnation, globalization and the feeling of loss of national and cultural identity as a result of EU over-nationalization and migrant invasion.

Article 50 states that a state that has withdrawn from the EU may become a member again, but not automatically, only by following the accession process.