The Maastricht Treaty, officially known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU), was one of the founding treaties of the EU.
The treaty was signed in Maastricht, the Netherlands on the 7th of February 1992 and entered into force on the 1st of November 1993. The collapse of communism and dissolution of the USSR in 1991 directed the attention of European leaders towards European political integration. Therefore, the purpose of the Treaty was outlined as being “to prepare for European Monetary Union and introduce elements of a political union (citizenship, common foreign and internal affairs policy)”. While the Treaty of Rome first established the European Economic Community (EEC), the Maastricht Treaty brought the countries of what we now know as the EU closer together politically. I will explain how this came to occur with focus on the features of the Treaty on European Union.
I will outline the objectives of the TEU as well as the results of its signing in order to demonstrate its significance during the 1990s as well as its relevance today. Before analysing the Treaty on European Union, it is important to remember that many other treaties and agreements were signed in the years before 1992, paving the way for the TEU. The ‘European project’, from its beginnings, post-World War II, has always consisted of a chain of events and collective decisions with each action influencing the next.
With this in mind, it is necessary to first consider another crucial treaty in the history of the EU, the Treaty of Rome, in order to understand the objectives of the Maastricht Treaty. While the Maastricht Treaty made amendments to the institutions established under the Treaty of Rome, the former did not replace the latter. The Treaty of Rome, as previously mentioned, had set up the EEC and Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community) in 1958.
This resulted in stronger economic cooperation between the countries of Europe. However, thirty-five years later, Europe was ready for greater integration and cooperation. Thus, the Treaty on European Union was created. The Treaty on European Union was so significant because it not only amended European institutions such as the EEC and ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), it established the three pillar structure of which the EU was composed until 2009. This came about through the foundation of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillars.
As with the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act (SEA) introduced changes that allowed for the creation of the Maastricht Treaty. The SEA rejuvenated the process of European integration. However, Schmitter said “More than the SEA, the Maastricht treaty helps to clarify the rules of the game and the international compétences of the emergent Euro-polity”. This demonstrates the progression of European integration through the years from each act and treaty to the next. The SEA had largely omitted monetary policy but after its entering into force in 1987, support for a single European currency grew. There was increased enthusiasm for monetary union around this time but one major event sent Europe into the next stage of integration. This event was the the collapse of the USSR. The fall of communism and disintegration of the Soviet Union raised hope for the possibility of German reunification for the first time in 50 years.
Following these significant changes in Eastern Europe and with this prospect in mind, two IGCs (intergovernmental conferences) were convened on monetary union and political union, respectively. These IGCs made several proposals that formed the basis of the Maastricht Treaty, which became a high profile issue. The TEU was signed in Maastricht (hence its alias) by leaders of twelve member states (Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal and Spain) in February 1992. The European Union had been created.The road to the Maastricht summit of 1991, at which many terms of the TEU were agreed, was not easy. There were varying degrees of support for the Treaty from the different member states and, naturally, the desires and worries of each nation were different to those of the others. This posed a challenge for the member states in ratifying the TEU. A number of referendums on the Treaty were held in Europe at this time.
For example, in Ireland sixty-nine per cent of voters supported the TEU in a referendum. However, other member states were more reluctant to agree to certain terms of the Treaty. An example of this can be seen in Denmark, where there was opposition to the idea of a ‘single currency’ as mentioned in the Treaty. The member states were able to overcome issues such as these by allowing ‘opt-outs’.
This meant that some member states, such as Denmark, did not have to participate in certain policy areas. The inclusion of this ‘opt-out’ method allowed the member states of the EU to come to an agreement without having to halt or call off negotiations on the TEU. ‘Opt outs’ were “a means of ensuring that when a given country does not wish to join the others in a particular field of EU policy, it can opt out, thus avoiding an overall stalemate”. It was a significant step towards European integration that facilitated the participation of all member states despite varying conditions among the nations. This ability to compromise on certain aspects of the Treaty demonstrates the willingness of the members states to cooperate with each other in order to achieve their shared objectives as laid out in the TEU. The aforementioned three pillars of the Union were another issue of considerable contention during Treaty negotiations. The pooled sovereignty of the member states was of consistent importance.
However, the second and third of the ‘three pillars’, the CFSP and JHA had an intergovernmental decision-making style in contrast to the supranational decision-making style of the European Communities (EC) which formed the first pillar of the Union. This intergovernmental process of decision-making was a distinctive feature of the new institutions established under the treaty. However, the first pillar retained the vast majority of EU responsibilities. The establishment of the three pillars was a significant result of the TEU.
A key objective of the TEU was the move towards monetary union and one of the main objectives of the union is stated in the Treaty as being “to promote economic and social progress which is balanced and sustainable … through the establishment of economic and monetary union”. The establishment of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and the European Central Bank was “the biggest single policy initiative in the TEU” However, the Treaty contained various other provisions such as the introduction of a citizenship of the Union. Until then, the various EC treaties had been unable to refer to the citizens of each member state collectively as “EU citizens”. The benefits of this provision are still being felt by EU citizens today, who can “move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States”.
These provisions deepened the connections between the member states of the EU and strengthened European integration. On the ten-year anniversary of the TEU in 2003, Dr. Willem F. Duisenberg, then President of the European Central Bank, said “I consider that the Maastricht Treaty embodies the most decisive impulse in the deepening of the European Communities established in the 1950s and strengthened by the Treaty of Rome”. The Treaty on European Union was the result of renewed interest in and greater prospect for European integration at the end of the Cold War. The TEU was so significant because it brought together not only three European communities, but also two areas of political cooperation between Member States with the establishment of JHA and CFSP. It was unlike other treaties before it in terms of its length and complexity and its establishment of a single currency in Europe which is still in use, the Euro, proves its relevance in the world of today.
While the Maastricht Treaty faced opposition and was not without its problems, the key provisions of the document are supported to this day. Measures to replace the Treaty and others like it such as the proposed European constitution of the 2000s have failed. Ultimately the Maastricht Treaty was one of many steps, preceding and subsequent, towards greater European integration.
It, in turn, paved the way for later EU treaties such as the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. However, while many events led to the establishment and enlargement of the EU, there is no doubt that the nature of the TEU makes it a milestone in the history of the EU. Its ambitious objectives were met and laid the foundation for many institutions of the EU which still exist and are of crucial importance economically and politically to this day.