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What can the EU make policy on?

Research and technological development is ‘shared competence’

EU membership does not mean all of a Member State’s policy will be developed at an EU level. Some areas of policy remain national ‘competences’, while some may be shared with the EU and others are in the exclusive competence of the EU – meaning that the EU makes policy in this area rather than each Member State individually.

Research and technological development is a ‘shared competence’, which means that both Member States and the EU can make policy in this area. Member States are only able to make policy in the area where the EU has not already done so or where it will no longer do so.

Would the UK have to remake research policies if it left the EU?

Were the UK to vote to leave the EU, the shape of its future relationship would depend upon the withdrawal agreement. Some EU agencies play a role in domestic law. Negotiations for this withdrawal agreement could include access to agencies that play a role in UK domestic law such as the European Medicines Agency. Similarly in international agreements where the EU acts en bloc for the UK, such as on climate change, the UK’s responsibilities are currently met through EU legislation.

Should the UK not want to access the European Single Market, then, broadly speaking, it would no longer be required to comply with EU legislation, such as biological standards and data protection. In theory, it could choose to draw up its own new legislation. 

However, to negotiate, trade and do business with the EU as a non-EU country, the UK would have to comply with a number of EU regulations. For example, under the terms of participation, UK researchers wishing to access Horizon 2020 funding would have to comply with EU animal research regulation, regardless of whether the UK is a Member State of the EU. 

Based on the current bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries, those agreements that provide increased access to the Single Market require the non-EU country to comply with relevant EU regulations, the free movement of people, and to make a financial contribution. 

Non-EU countries are not represented in the Parliament and Council, but some do have opportunities to comment on developing legislation, depending on the agreed relationship they have agreed with the EU.