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Article 50: What it is, How it Works, and Example

File Photo: Article 50 File Photo: Article 50

What Exactly Is Article 50?

The Lisbon Treaty’s (E.U.’s) Article 50 specifies the procedures to be followed by a nation wishing to quit the E.U. voluntarily. It is possible for nations to formally proclaim their decision to leave the E.U. by invoking Article 50, which initiates the formal withdrawal process. Following the 2016 referendum in which most British voters chose to leave the Union, the United Kingdom was the first nation to activate Article 50.

Workings of Article 50

The Lisbon Treaty, which was signed and adopted by all 27 E.U. members in 2007 and went into force in 2009, contains Article 50. The article describes the procedure for a member country to quit the EU voluntarily. According to the article mentioned above, “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

The language of the article states that:

According to the provisions of its constitution, any Member State may choose to leave the Union. When a Member State intends to withdraw, it must inform the European Council of its plans.

The European Union shall negotiate and reach an agreement with that State outlining the terms of its exit, taking into consideration the framework for its future relationship with the Union in light of the directives granted by the European Council. According to Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, this agreement shall be negotiated. After receiving the approval of the European

Parliament will be finalized on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority. The Treaties will no longer apply to the State in question as of the withdrawal agreement’s effective date or, if earlier, two years after the notification mentioned in paragraph 2 unless the European Council unanimously decides to extend this time frame in agreement with the Member State in question.

The member of the European Council or the Council representing the withdrawing Member State must not participate in the debates of the European Council or the Council or in adopting decisions about it for paragraphs 2 and 3.
According to Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, a qualified majority should be defined.
If a State withdrawing from the Union requests to return, the process outlined in Article 49 must be followed.

Particular Considerations

When Greece’s economy looked to be spiraling out of control during the European sovereign debt crisis of 2010 to 2014, Article 50 became a topic of serious discussion. Leaders contemplated kicking Greece out of the eurozone to prevent the euro’s collapse and potentially the E.U.

They had trouble with Article 50 since there was no clear direction for forcing a member state to leave against its choice. It wasn’t even required to kick Greece out of the E.U., only the eurozone. At some point, Greece was able to come to terms with its E.U. creditors.

The History of Article 50

The European Economic Community, founded in 1957 to promote economic interdependence among its members in the wake of World War II, served as the precursor of the European Union. Six European nations made up the initial bloc: the Netherlands, France, Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, and Italy. In 1973, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark joined them. The Maastricht Treaty officially established the E.U. in 1992 and saw the group grow to 15 members by 1995, including all of Western Europe. The E.U. added 12 new members, including former Communist republics, between 2004 and 2007, marking its largest-ever growth.

The Lisbon Treaty was written to increase the Union’s effectiveness, democratic legitimacy, and action coherence. All 27 member nations signed and approved the agreement in 2007, enacted in 2009. The Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) are the two sections of the agreement. Article 50 is one of its 358 overall articles.

The provision’s creator did not first consider it necessary. In November 2016, Scottish peer Lord Kerr of Kinlochard told the BBC, “if you stopped paying the bills and you stopped showing up at the meetings, eventually your friends would notice that you seemed to have left.” In the event of a coup, which would result in the E.U. suspending the affected nation’s membership, he saw Article 50 as potentially helpful: “I thought that at that point the dictator in question might be so pissed that he’d say ‘right, I’m off,’ and it would be good to have a procedure under which he could leave.”

Illustration of Article 50

The U.K. was the first nation to use Article 50, and it exited the E.U. on January 31, 2020. British Prime Minister Theresa May invoked the article on March 29, 2017, after most British voters chose to leave the Union and pursue Brexit in a referendum on June 23, 2016.

Missed deadlines, delays, discussions, and roadblocks proposed by the E.U. and the U.K. leaders hampered the process. Parliament rejected May’s attempts to reach an accord. After May resigned as prime minister, Boris Johnson continued the negotiations.

After leaving the bloc, the nation immediately started an 11-month transition phase. British representatives in the European Parliament ceased to exist once the country left the Union, and it no longer had veto power inside the EU. However, a new trade deal needed to be negotiated between the two sides. During the changeover, there were still a lot of problems to be solved, including:

Pension-related issues

  • How the two sides would approach joint law enforcement and security efforts
    access to common fishing grounds
  • Border and customs checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Taxes and other trade restrictions
  • The problem of E.U. citizens relocating to the U.K. or vice versa was a major source of worry. Before Brexit, an estimated three million E.U. citizens resided, worked, or attended school in the U.K., compared to one million British citizens who did the same elsewhere in the E.U. During the transition, nationals were permitted to travel borders, but after that, they needed a visa.

Throughout the changeover phase, negotiations went on despite several stops and barriers. The E.U.’s single market and customs union about the United Kingdom would be replaced by a trade agreement between the two sides, which was eventually confirmed on December 24, 2020. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the E.U. and the U.K. was signed on December 30 and temporarily took effect on January 1. It wasn’t properly approved until April of the following year. On May 1, 2021, the new trade agreement became completely effective.


  • Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union describes how a nation might freely exit the organization.
  • According to the text, “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
  • When Greece’s economy looked to be in peril during the European sovereign debt crisis from 2010 to 2014, the article became a topic of significant discussion.
  • Following a vote in which most citizens chose to leave the EU, the United Kingdom was the first nation to activate Article 50.

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