We are taking forward a new programme of work exploring the challenges facing the UK in the context of an increasingly heated public and political debate over its relationship with the European Union (EU). This is being overseen by Professor Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King's College, London as Director for the initiative.

The relationship between the UK and the EU is complex, and changing. This new programme of work will explore this relationship, its shifting nature and its implications. The initiative will contribute to policy and political debates and deliver independent social scientific research to key stakeholder groups.

The following initial themes have been identified as potential priorities:

  • Key policy areas and their impact on the UK: the single market and its implications for trade, labour market dynamics, and internal migration (within Europe); financial services regulation, monetary policy, and the future of the eurozone; the EU's external relations; policies relating to internal security and justice; energy and environmental policy.
  • The UK and the workings of European institutions: European institutions, democracy, governance, regulation; the influence of member states and sub-national regions on EU decision making; the implications of multi speed integration, including of further eurozone integration on non euro members; legal aspects of membership and non-membership.
  • Attitudes towards the EU: Social and political attitudes; the nature of euroscepticism; the role of the media in shaping public and political attitudes.
  • A Changing UK: The impact of legal, constitutional, policy and political change in the UK on the relationship.

It is anticipated that work in all these areas will be informed by cross cutting questions, including:

  • What would be the impact of the UK's exit from the EU?
  • How are different territorial, ideological, functional and economic interests affected by the UK-EU relationship?
  • How does that relationship impact on the key areas of employment, growth and prosperity?
  • How does the UK perform in comparison with other member states?
  • Can alternative scenarios or structures be envisaged that would better serve UK interests?

Funding opportunities

Work to date

We commissioned a series of scoping reports around the themes to inform discussion of the potential research agenda or agendas across the spectrum of issues. A town meeting in London in April 2014 with guests from a mixture of the academic, public, business and third sector community saw an initial presentation of the findings and had an opportunity to add to the debate.

A further town meeting in Brussels in June 2014 looked at similar themes. With an audience from varied backgrounds and countries, attendees debated and fed into the consultation discussing current knowledge and highlighting gaps to help inform the development of our initiative.

Next steps

The findings from the scoping reports and discussions of the two town meetings were presented to the ESRC Council in September 2014 with the aim of providing advice on any strategic investment. Council emphasised the significance of this initiative in informing public debate on the UK relationship with the EU and emphasised the importance of effective synthesis and dissemination of existing evidence.

In recognition of the breadth and wealth of research that already exists, the first stage of the initiative will be to set up an evidence hub headed by the Director. The hub will begin the work of synthesising existing research findings and ensuring the effective dissemination of existing evidence.  The work of the evidence hub will be supported by a number of senior research fellows.

Further research may be commissioned once the evidence hub has been established, if knowledge gaps are identified in key areas.

Update following the referendum vote to leave the EU

Following the recent UK referendum vote to leave the European Union, the ESRC is reviewing potential options for supporting possible additional activity to analyse the implications of the referendum result. This issue will be discussed by our Council when it meets in mid-July 2016. 

In the meantime, the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative is administering a focused Commissioning Fund call for small-scale grants (up to £9,999) in specific areas of immediate priority.

This is to support UK RO-based academics to make the findings of social science research in the areas identified available in an accessible form to key stakeholder groups including the public.

Advisory Group

An Advisory Group provides strategic input for this initiative. Current members:

  • Chair: Professor Judith Squires, University of Bristol, ESRC Council Member
  • Professor David Bell, University of Stirling
  • Professor Simon Bulmer, University of Sheffield
  • Professor Maurice Fraser, LSE
  • Professor Simon Green, Aston University
  • Professor Panos Koutrakos, City University
  • Professor Brigid Laffan, European University Institute, Florence
  • Professor Nick Sitter, Central European University
  • Professor Jackline Wahba, University of Southampton
  • Mr David Walker
  • Professor Claire Wallace, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Wolfgang Wessels, University of Cologne
  • Professor Daniel Wincott, University of Cardiff
  • Professor Marcin Zaborowski, The Polish Institute of International Affairs