by Dr. Luis Ritto*
The European Union (EU) celebrated on 1 November 2013 the twenty years of existence of the Maastricht Treaty, which was signed on 7 February 1992 in the town of Maastricht in the Netherlands by the Member-States of the Union, and is in force in the EU since 1 November 1993.
As it is known, the European Union is based on treaties. They make out the constitutional base of the EU and the laws and principles under which the Union is governed. They have also established the various EU institutions (the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice….) and in some way they have laid out the structure of what is called today “the body of EU law”.
There are two core functional treaties of the European Union: the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, is effective since 1958 and is officially called today the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”; and the “Treaty on the European Union”, which was signed in Maastricht in 1992 (and which we will discuss in more detail below in this paper). These treaties have been regularly altered and revised by amending treaties, the latest of which was the “Treaty of Lisbon”, which came into force in 2009. With that treaty, the “EU Charter of Fundamental Rights” was also formally recognised to become a major EU regulation which is legally binding on the Union nations and which, among others, (i) guarantees the EU four freedoms (the free movement of goods, capital, services and people), (ii) protects the right to life, (iii) forbids capital punishment, (iv) covers social and workers’ rights and (v) guarantees that to all EU citizens the right to a fair trial, that they are equal before the law, to the presumption of innocence and the principle of legality.
In this context of treaties, what makes the Maastricht Treaty— or Treaty on the European Union—special and worth to be particularly mentioned and celebrated this year in Brussels?
It must be said that the Maastricht Treaty was agreed after the end of the Cold War, which occurred in 1989. The year 1989 marks the beginning of a drastic transformation of the European continent. In fact, it was the year when communist rule across most of European countries ended, the Soviet Union disintegrated, Germany started to be re-unified and a new era dawned for Europe. The European Union, which was also affected by these changes, decided to adapt to the new era by coming forward with a treaty which could modernise the Union and give it a new lease of life. This treaty is the Maastricht Treaty which, after several years of negotiations, was agreed in February 1992, marking the start of a new era in the European integration process by giving it a political dimension (internal and external) and by establishing the single European currency (the euro).
At the same time that treaty created the European Union in replacement of the European Economic Community, which, as mentioned above, was established in 1958. The Maastricht Treaty is therefore the successor to both the Common Market launched by the Treaty of Rome of 1958 and the integrated customs union established by the Single European Act of 1987. By modifying those previous treaties— Rome Treaty and the Single European Act— the initial objective of the Community, which was to build a common market, was changed and, for the first time, a distinctive vocation of political union was claimed and included.
In that sense, the Maastricht Treaty established the three pillars of the European Union— the EC pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy pillar (CFSP) and the Justice and Home Affairs pillar (JHA). The creation of the pillar system was the result of the wish by several Member-States to extend the Union to the areas of foreign policy, the military, criminal justice and judicial cooperation. In what concerns in particular the foreign dimension of the EU, the Lisbon Treaty created later the European External Action Service, which is the EU diplomatic arm since 2010 and aims to make the Union’s voice heard in the world by speaking with one voice and ensuring consistency of its external policies and practices.
It is important to mention also that the Maastricht Treaty gave new powers to the European Parliament (EP), like for example its right to take the European Commission to account, and besides it received legislative co-decision powers (a major step forward), which the EP has made excellent use, as it is commonly agreed in Brussels.
Looking back to what has been achieved in the EU in these last 20 years, we can say that in the first place the map of Europe has changed substantially from the one of 1993: in fact, when the Maastricht Treaty was signed it had 12 members and today the Union is made up of 28 Member-States, many of each were former communist countries. With the EU support and the Maastricht provisions, they were able to make a successful transformation from one-party states to multi-party democracies and from command-driven economies to liberal market economies.
Besides, Maastricht allowed for the establishment of the euro, which is today a respected (and strong) currency. The Union has a population of more than 500 million people, it is the largest donor of development aid in the world, a major international trade actor and an important area of democracy, peace, progress and stability in Europe and the world. Many of these achievements were made possible due to the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, which pushed European integration further, adapted its functional structures to modern times and allowed past foes to work together, with respect for their differences and diversity.
There is still a long way to go and the road has not always been easy, as the recent economic crisis in Europe has shown, but without Maastricht the Union would not certainly be where it is today. We believe therefore that the result is a positive one and that it marked a turning point in EU’s life, a new era in its modernity and maturity, with no return to what it was in the past. Let us hope that in the future our political leaders can stand to the legacy they received from Maastricht and make Europe a more prosperous place for all of us to live, free from its current economic problems and the scourge of unemployment, a sustainable and free place in this continent, where it will be good to continue living.
*About the author:
Dr. Luis Ritto is the former EU Ambassador to the Holy See, Order of Malta and to the United Nations Organisations, ISPD Emeritus Professor and expert on diplomacy, diplomatic protocol and world affairs.