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EU agencies

What are EU agencies and why do they matter?

UK and EU flag, Brexit


What are EU agencies and why do they matter?

The EU has a regulatory structure that includes over 40 agencies in addition to the core institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament.

These agencies are tasked with assisting the EU institutions and member states, and are forums through which regulators and important stakeholders from across the EU can co-operate.

All EU agencies have one or more of the following four functions:

  • shaping EU policies either directly or through advice to EU institutions
  • implementing EU policies
  • monitoring compliance
  • administering EU co-operation programmes.

Agencies operate under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and are legal entities in their own right. Some are permanent – known in EU law as ‘decentralised agencies’ (like the European Chemicals Agency or the European Environment Agency); others are set up on a time-limited basis to oversee specific initiatives and are known as ‘executive agencies’.   

Will the UK still participate in EU agencies during the transition period?

According to the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will still participate in EU agencies to ensure alignment during transition, but would lose its voting rights and have no say over policies extending beyond 31 December 2020.

The UK has already agreed to limit its involvement in agencies to an observer status during this time.

Does the UK want to participate in EU agencies after the transition period?

The Political Declaration, which the UK and EU revised in October 2019, makes clear the UK and EU could explore co-operation – for example, with EU agencies – to further reduce regulatory barriers. This is a different position to the May government which wanted to secure "associate membership" of some EU agencies.

Depending on the level of regulatory alignment in the sector, as well as its strategic and economic importance for the UK, the potential benefits for continued participation or co-operation include:

  • reducing regulatory burdens and barriers to trade with EU member states
  • removing duplication
  • avoiding the need to establish new UK bodies at extra costs
  • ensuring access to EU expertise and resources
  • influencing European and global standards through continued co-operation.

But there are some disadvantages – the UK would have less influence in the agencies than now, the potential for future divergence would be limited, and the agencies will remain under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

It is unclear whether the UK government would agree to this. The prime minister's written statement to Parliament on 3 February 2020 made clear the UK wants to be able to diverge from EU rules and that the ECJ should have no role over UK laws after the transition period.

One important European agency the UK is leaving is the Euratom Supply Agency. It is part of the Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community) Treaty, which is legally separate from the EU but is governed by EU institutions. The government has already legislated to delegate legal responsibility for the UK’s nuclear safeguards regime to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (through the Nuclear Safeguards Act).

Would the UK be able to participate in EU agencies after Brexit?

There is precedent for third countries to participate in EU agencies (although some like the European Fisheries Control Agency, or the Euratom Supply Agency, are currently EU only).

Membership is usually reserved for third countries that are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA). They have the right to appoint experts to the relevant technical committees and working groups, as well as representatives on management boards, either without or with very limited voting rights (usually for day-to-day matters, such as approval of policy papers and public positions, but not on decisions regarding proposals, methodologies and implementing measures).

Observer status is generally reserved for accession and neighbourhood countries, or EFTA states, in agencies that do not allow non-EU membership. They can also participate in relevant agency groups or management board meetings, but do not have voting rights. Both are usually conditional on “signing the necessary agreements”, which require compliance with the relevant EU regulations, level playing field provisions as well as monitoring and inspection protocols.

For agencies focused on research or pooling expertise, the requirements are less stringent. Generally, participation of non-EU states also requires financial contributions and staff, as well as ensuring the adequacy of data protection rules to standards deemed equivalent by the EU.

Below we set out how non-EU members are involved in a few of the EU’s key agencies.


Non-EU participation

  EEA/EFTA Other third countries
European Aviation Safety Agency

European Chemical Agency


European Medicines Agency


European Food Safety Authority



Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators

Norway joining


Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication

European Environment Agency


European Railway Agency


European Union Intellectual Property Office



Euratom Supply Agency



European Fisheries Control Agency



European Banking Agency


European Securities and Markets Authority


European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority









Member status Observer status No precedent but theoretically possible No precedent


Non-EU countries can also work with EU agencies on the basis of administrative arrangements and memoranda of co-operation, as well as on specific projects or initiatives (not included in the table above). These types of agreements establish frameworks for agencies to co-operate with third countries that do not have permanent member or observer status, for example, to facilitate trade or research partnerships, or co-ordinate joint projects.

The agencies can invite the third countries they have cooperation agreements with to attend relevant management board or committee meetings as observers (Europol, for example, can invite the US to relevant management board meetings on the basis of their co-operation agreements). However, such agreements only allow very limited, mostly invitation-based engagement with the agency’s work, in comparison with the access the UK is seeking.


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