Maastricht, Treaty of

views updated Jun 08 2018




The Treaty of Maastricht, signed by the then twelve member states in 1991, is considered the symbol of the refoundation of the project of European integration, and for two reasons. First, it expanded the scope of European integration and thoroughly revised its institutional setting. Second, after it was signed, it gave rise in most member states, for the first time since the 1950s, to wide public debate on the future of European integration and the fate of nation-states.


Created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957, the European Economic Communities progressed very slowly in the early decades. The 1960s saw the gradual formation of the customs union (the progressive reduction of protectionist measures) among the six founder states, but any attempt to extend the integration was thwarted by the French Gaullist governments. In the 1970s the governments launched broad discussions on further integration; they adopted new legislation in areas such as environmental protection, public health, and consumer policies, and initiated flexible mechanisms of cooperation in the fields of monetary policies and foreign affairs, but they proved unable to coordinate their economic policies to face the oil crises or to revise the EEC's institutional framework. The relaunching began in the mid-1980s, when the governments agreed to complete the "single market" objective set up by the Rome treaty. With the exception of the rather technical 1965 treaty, the Single European Act of 1987 was the first new treaty signed since the establishment of the EEC. It set the objective of a single European market and adopted a clear deadline; extended qualified majority voting where this was deemed necessary to attain this objective; slightly enhanced the powers of the European parliament; and codified a mechanism of cooperation in the field of foreign affairs that had been practiced informally in the 1970s. Taken together, these revisions indicated the willingness of the member states to further European integration. Yet several governments, the European Commission, and the federalist movements within and around the European parliament found this treaty too modest. Many hoped that it would be but a first step toward a more ambitious project of economic and monetary union, on a par with deeper institutional changes.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 gave a new impetus to these ambitions. In the founding countries—France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy, as well as in Spain and Portugal, which joined the EEC in 1986—a majority of the political class argued that far from depriving the European project of its raison d'être, the disintegration of the Soviet bloc made European integration more necessary than ever. Although they had no clear idea at that time of what their relationship with central European countries and with Russia would be, the European leaders knew that a new era had opened and agreed that European institutions should be adapted to this context. Moreover, the prospect of German reunification prompted widespread concerns in several capitals—first and foremost in Paris—where the diplomats and politicians feared the emergence of a hegemonic country with strong Eastern connections that would alter the European balance. In this climate, the governments agreed in the first months of 1990 to convene an "intergovernmental conference"—the political-diplomatic forum stipulated by the treaty to revise the treaty itself—endowed with a double task: on the one hand, to negotiate the mechanism of monetary unification that had been discussed in expert groups since 1988; on the other, to discuss the institutional reforms of the European Community and the decision-making rules of its foreign policy. The Treaty of Maastricht signed in 1991 was the outcome of this conference.


The most innovative chapter of the treaty established a process leading toward an "economic and monetary Union" (EMU). The first plans for a single European currency were made in 1970, but in the 1970s and 1980s the member states managed only to coordinate their monetary policies within a "European monetary system" based on flexible and evolutive parity mechanisms between national currencies. The Treaty of Maastricht established a three-stage mechanism leading toward full monetary unification, inspired by a report written by a group of central bankers under the chairman-ship of Jacques Delors (b. 1925): the countries that intended to adopt the euro had to respect the "Maastricht criteria"—regarding inflation and budget discipline—in order to make their economies converge. No country was forced to adopt the mechanism—this "opt-out" was required by the reluctant Britain and Denmark—but once they are part of the "eurozone" the member states transfer their monetary powers to an independent European central bank and have to abide by strict measures of budget discipline monitored through multilateral surveillance. This plan was the outcome of a major intergovernmental bargain spearheaded by France and Germany: France saw it as a condition for reanchoring a reunified Germany in the European Union, and the Federal Republic agreed to abandon the powerful deutsche mark if its own doctrine of monetary policy was codified by the treaty.

The second innovation of the Treaty of Maastricht was the creation of the European Union and its so-called intergovernmental pillars. Changing the name from European Economic Community was one of the symbolic measures aimed at highlighting the importance of this refoundation, but it was merely a compromise. The most pro-European governments—Germany, the Benelux countries, and Italy—had pleaded for the extension of the Community's tasks to foreign affairs and internal security policies, and for the preservation of a single institutional framework. The most reluctant countries—Britain, Denmark, Greece, and to a certain extent France—agreed to expand European integration in these new fields only on two conditions: first, these policies would remain intergovernmental affairs, governed by unanimity voting and granting a very limited role to the European institutions; second, they would be organized outside the framework of the existing Community. The Treaty of Maastricht combined these two views: it created "intergovernmental" pillars outside the Community in the areas of foreign security policies and justice and home affairs and also created a European Union that would incorporate both the Economic Community and the new cooperative security. This compromise was criticized because it complicated the European structures, but it symbolized the dual nature of the European project, based on fundamental integration in the original economic field and less extensive cooperation in the other areas.


The Treaty of Maastricht was also a turning point in institutional reform. Since the end of the 1970s, the European Community's institutional framework had been the object of two criticisms. On the one hand, the continued requirement for unanimity voting in many areas undermined its decision-making capacity. On the other, the Community was criticized for being insufficiently democratic. The governments endeavored to answer these two concerns: they slightly expanded the use of qualified majority voting and made several reforms meant to curb the EU's alleged "democratic deficit." In this spirit, the treaty created a Committee of the Regions to give subnational entities a say in European processes; it set up an ombudsman and made the deliberations of the Council of Ministers public to address Denmark's concerns about the EU's "lack of transparency." Last but not least, it strengthened the European parliament by giving it a say in the appointment of the European Commission and a power of co-decision in many legislative areas. By so doing, the treaty furthered the parliamentarization of the EU and altered the original institutional balance of the "Community model."

In hindsight, the Treaty of Maastricht appears to have opened a new dynamic of European integration, characterized by gradual and constant revision of the founding treaties. Although they amounted to deep structural changes, these reforms were indeed deemed insufficient by several member states, which called for and obtained a clause stating that the treaty would be revised in five years. This paved the way for the process of quasi-uninterrupted treaty change that took place subsequently: the treaties of Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2000), and Rome (2004) were all meant to achieve the reforms initiated at Maastricht and to adapt the Union to its new dimensions after it was enlarged to include Eastern Europe. As of 2004, however, none had managed to produce a broad consensus on the "finality" of the European Union.

See alsoEuro; European Constitution 2004–2005; European Union .


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Magnette , Paul. L'Europe, l'État et la démocratie: Le souverain apprivoisé. Brussels, 2000.

Moravcsik, Andrew. The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht. Ithaca, N.Y., 1998.

Nicolaïdis, Kalypso, and Robert Howse, eds. The Federal Vision: Legitimacy and Levels of Governance in the United States and the European Union. Oxford, U.K., 2001.

Weiler, Joseph. The Constitution of Europe: "Do the New Clothes Have an Emperor?" and Other Essays on European Integration. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Paul Magnette

Maastricht Treaty

views updated May 18 2018

Maastricht Treaty (February 7, 1992) Agreement on European Union (EU) signed by the leaders of 12 European nations at Maastricht, se Netherlands. The treaty included a timetable for the introduction of a single currency (the euro); a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), with the Western European Union (WEU) as a possible defence arm of the EU; a common European citizenship for nationals of all member states, and the extension of European cooperation in justice and home affairs. The treaty introduced the principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are taken at the most appropriate level: local, regional or national. It extended qualified majority voting in the European Council of Ministers and increased the powers of the European Parliament (EP) over the budget and the European Commission. Eleven states adopted a separate protocol on social policy (the social chapter), with the UK opting-out. The UK signed up to the social chapter in the Amsterdam Treaty (1997).

Maastricht, treaty of

views updated Jun 11 2018

Maastricht, treaty of. Popular name for the treaty on European Union, signed on 7 February 1992 at Maastricht in the Netherlands by the twelve EEC members. The treaty amended the treaty of Rome and Single European Act, making institutional changes, increasing the competence of the European Union (EEC), and giving the European Council (meetings of heads of government) greater powers in the fields of defence and immigration. John Major, the British prime minister, obtained opt-outs for the social chapter and single currency and claimed the negotiations as a victory. This satisfied neither those who wanted full participation, nor Euro-sceptics who feared a loss of sovereignty.

Christopher N. Lanigan

Maastricht Treaty

views updated May 14 2018

Maastricht Treaty a treaty on European economic and monetary union, agreed by the heads of government of the twelve member states of the European Community at a summit meeting in Maastricht in December 1991. Ratification was completed in October 1993.

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