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date: 15 November 2019

The Maastricht Treaty: Creating the European Union

Summary and Keywords

The Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union (EU), was signed in Maastricht on February 7, 1992, and it entered into force on November 1, 1993, after being ratified by the then 12 member states of the European Communities. The Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs) on Political Union (PU) and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) where the member states negotiated the amendments to the founding treaties took place against the turbulent geopolitical background of the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), German unification, and the end of the Cold War. The new treaty amended the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and established the European Community (EC) as the first pillar of the Union. It also amended the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). It further added two pillars of intergovernmental cooperation, namely Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in a second pillar and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) cooperation in a third pillar.

Overall, the Maastricht Treaty constituted one of the most important treaty changes in the history of European integration. It included provisions on the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), including a single European currency. It tried to increase the democratic legitimacy and efficiency of the decision-making process through empowerment of the European Parliament (EP) and the extension of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Next to introducing the principle of subsidiarity and the concept of European citizenship, it further developed existing policies such as social policy and added new ones including education, culture, public health, consumer protection, trans-European networks, industrial policy, and development cooperation.

Keywords: European Community (EC), European Union (EU), treaty reform, competences, decision-making procedures, voting rules, Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) cooperation, co-decision, European Union politics

The Treaty of Maastricht created the European Union (EU) by a reform of the founding Treaties of Paris and Rome, which had created the three European Communities in the 1950s, and it added foreign policy and justice and home affairs cooperation. This makes it one of the most important treaties in the history of European integration. Even if the latest major treaty reform, the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, made important changes, much of what was in the Maastricht Treaty remains valid in the post–Lisbon Treaty EU.

This article will briefly outline some of the more important contributions to the scholarship about the Maastricht Treaty, then look at the background, content, and negotiation of the treaty, and finally discuss explanations and the significance of the treaty for the process of European integration.

The Maastricht Treaty Scholarship

The Maastricht Treaty is undoubtedly the treaty reform that has produced the most publications, some informative and analytical, others more partisan as contributions to the debate that it sparked.

One of the first books that appeared soon after the conclusion of the negotiations was a detailed account in Danish by P. S. Christoffersen (1992), an official who followed the negotiations closely. One of the first books in English was the result of a study group at the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) in Maastricht steered by the authors of this article. It had country chapters on each of the then 12 member states as well as an introductory overview of the negotiations and concluding chapters trying to explain and evaluate the treaty. The book also included some of the most important documents produced by the actors, a useful contribution at a time when there was more secrecy and no Internet (Laursen & Vanhoonacker, 1992). One year later another book appeared with even more documents and a good overview of the negotiations (Corbett, 1993). It was published after the full ratification of the treaty, which was made possible by a second referendum in Denmark in May 1993, after the Danes had first rejected the treaty in a referendum in June 1992. The ratification problem created by the Danish voters had the EIPA team produce a second volume on the ratification process, again with chapters on each of the 12 member states, and other cross-cutting chapters and several documents (Laursen & Vanhoonacker, 1994).

The two Danish referendum debates produced several books in Danish including one by two political scientists reproducing the treaty text with a descriptive introduction outlining the main provisions in the new treaty (Nedergaard & Petersen, 1992). Other books appeared later covering Danish politics in the period between the two referendums, one relatively soon after the so-called national compromise, which was reached in autumn 1992, and which eventually led to Danish opt-outs accepted by the other member states in Edinburgh in December 1992 and allowing for a second referendum in May 1993 (Iversen, 1993). A more detailed study of this very important event in Danish and EU politics followed later (Ryborg, 1998). Sociologists at the Political Science Department of Aarhus University produced two substantial studies, one on why the Danes voted No in 1992 (Siune, Svensson, & Tonsgaard, 1992) followed by one on why the Danes voted Yes in 1993 (Siune et al., 1994).

The French referendum in September 1992, which produced a narrow Yes vote—known as le petit oui—also contributed to several publications appearing in French. A French participant in the negotiations of the treaty wrote an informed study (Doutriaux, 1992). Vlad Constantinesco and colleagues produced a thorough legal study with detailed comments on each article in the treaty and a general introduction (Constantinesco, Kovar, & Simon, 1995) A group of four lawyers, three from Luxembourg, closely associated with the negotiations, produced another substantial account in French on the background, negotiations, and content of the Maastricht Treaty (Cloos, Reinesch, Vignes, & Weyland, 1993).

Among works in English that appeared relatively quickly, we find one mostly written by lawyers (Dehousse, 1994) and another one mostly written by political scientists (Duff, Pinder, & Pryce, 1994), both with chapters on various aspects of the treaty. There were also several books focusing on the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), arguably the most important novelty of the Maastricht Treaty (e.g., Gros & Thygesen, 1992; Padoa-Schioppa, 1994).

Later in the 1990s Andrew Moravcsik included a detailed, theory-guided chapter on the Maastricht Treaty in his impressive but controversial work, The Choice for Europe (1998) He focused especially on the EMU, clearly considering the two new pillars of intergovernmental cooperation, Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Justice and Home Affairs (JFA), less important from an integration perspective, because there was no “pooling and delegation of sovereignty” in those two pillars, and thus they were problematic from the perspective of assuring “credible commitments.” The following year two British scholars published what probably remains the most detailed and impressive work on the negotiation of EMU (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999).

At the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the signature of the Maastricht Treaty, the Journal of European Integration (JEI) and the Journal of European Integration History (JEIH) each dedicated a special issue to this milestone in the history of European integration. The JEI publication, edited by Thomas Christiansen, Simon Duke, and Emile Kirchner (Christiansen, Duke, & Kirchner, 2012), invited authors to reflect on the continuing significance of some of the main themes of the Treaty including the Euro, internal and external security, democratic legitimacy, as well as leadership. The contributors to the Journal of European Integration History, edited by Michael Geary, Carine Germond, and Kiran Patel (Geary, Germond, & Patel, 2013), highlight primarily the bargaining process between the member states and the European institutions as well as the Euro as a key product of the treaty.

The Negotiation Process

The treaty was negotiated during two intergovernmental conferences (IGCs), one dealing with EMU, and one dealing with political union.1

Table 1. Chronology of the Maastricht Treaty Negotiation Process, 1988–1992

June 1988

The European Council in Hannover charges a committee including the governors of the Central Banks of the member states, chaired by Commission president Jacques Delors, with drafting a report on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)

April 1989

The Delors Committee submits its report

26–27 June 1989

The European Council in Madrid examines the Delors Committee report and accepts in principle the idea of holding an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on EMU

9 November 1989

The Berlin Wall falls, ending the Cold War

17 January 1990

Jacques Delors proposes, in the European Parliament, the launching of negotiations on political union parallel to those on EMU

19 April 1990

Chancellor Kohl (Germany), and President Mitterrand (France), send a letter to the Irish Presidency supporting the idea of a second IGC on political union

25–26 June 1990

The European Council in Dublin agrees to the principle of a second IGC on political union to run parallel with that on EMU

15 December 1990

Launch of the two IGCs in Rome

15 April 1991

The Luxembourg Presidency presents a “non-paper” on political union constituting a synthesis of the many specific proposals submitted by the national governments, European Parliament, and Commission

18 June 1991

The Luxembourg Presidency presents a new version of the “non-paper,” called “draft treaty”

28–29 June 1991

The European Council in Luxembourg agrees to take the Luxembourg “draft treaty” as the basis for further negotiations

30 September 1991

A Dutch text on political union is rejected by a majority of the 12 member states in Brussels

8 November 1991

Dutch Presidency presents new draft treaty on political union, based on the pillar approach of the previous Luxembourg “draft treaty”

9–10 December 1991

The Maastricht European Council reaches conclusions on all the outstanding points in the two IGCs

7 February 1992

Signature of Treaty on European Union in Maastricht by foreign and finance ministers

Source: Compiled by the authors, based on Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992) and Corbett (1993).

The IGC on EMU was relatively well prepared thanks to the work of the Delors Committee, which had produced a report outlining how an EMU could be established through three stages. The decision to have a committee chaired by Commission president Jacques Delors, including also the central bankers and a couple of independent economists, to prepare a report was made at the June 1988 Hannover meeting of the European Council.2 The report was finished in April 1989. The decision to call the IGC on EMU was made in principle at the meeting of the European Council in Madrid in June 1989, confirmed by the European Council meeting in Strasbourg in December that year. The one dealing with political union was decided the following year by the European Council in June 1990 in Dublin.

It was on November 9, 1989, that the Berlin Wall fell, marking the end of the Cold Ear. Pressurized by this unexpected geopolitical earthquake, the European Parliament suggested a wider treaty reform on November 23, 1989. On November 28, 1989, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced a ten-point plan for German unification. This announcement surprised the other EC member states, which had not been consulted. French President François Mitterrand and U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher were against German unification. Eventually Mitterrand realized that he was fighting a losing battle. In April 1991 Kohl and Mitterrand took a joint initiative in a letter to the Irish Presidency supporting the idea of a second IGC on political union. Arguably, the French had now concluded that further integration in Europe was the best way to bind a united Germany, and Kohl favored more political integration, including the strengthening of the European Parliament (e.g., Baun, 1995–1996, pp. 605–624). In their letter dated April 19 to the Irish Presidency, Kohl and Mitterrand proposed that:

The European Council should initiate preparations for an intergovernmental conference on political union. In particular, the objective is to: - strengthen the democratic legitimation of the union, - render its institutions more efficient, - ensure unity and coherence of the union’s economic, monetary and political action, - define and implement a common foreign and security policy.3

Prior to the Kohl-Mitterrand letter the European Parliament had adopted the Martin Report, on March 14, 1990, arguing that it was “increasingly necessary, rapidly to transform the European Community into a European Union of a federal type” (Laursen, Vanhoonacker, & Wester, 1992, p. 5). The Belgian government issued a memorandum on March 19 suggesting that political union be put on the agenda, either of the EMU IGC or a separate second IGC. The memorandum gave three reasons, “the transformation of the political scene in Europe,” “the internal development of the Community, in particular the completion of the internal market and economic and monetary union,” and “the special responsibility which the Community is generally thought to have for seeking solutions to the problems of Central and Eastern Europe.”4 Eventually most member states produced memoranda or proposals outlining their views and priorities.

The two IGCs started on December 15, 1990, in Rome toward the end of the Italian Presidency. The IGC on Political Union was less well prepared than the one on EMU, partly because it was decided later. It also ended up with an agenda that included several controversial points, based on diverse proposals from the European Parliament, the Commission, and member states (Corbett, 1993, pp. 14–29). The five big themes on the agenda were:

  1. (1) Democratic legitimacy;

  2. (2) Common foreign and security policy;

  3. (3) European citizenship;

  4. (4) New common policies, such as health, education, culture, and improvement of some of the existing policies, such as environment and social policy; and

  5. (5) Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the EC (Laursen, Vanhoonacker, & Wester, 1992, pp. 11–12; Doutriaux, 1992, p. 50).

The IGCs continued throughout 1991, first through the Luxembourg Presidency (first half of the year), later through the Dutch Presidency (second half). The Luxembourg Presidency presented the first draft negotiating text for the IGC on Political Union, a so-called Non-Paper, in April 1991, and it presented a revised version as the first Draft Treaty text on June 18, 1991.5 The Draft Treaty text was based on the pillar approach: next to the existing supranational community pillar, two new intergovernmental pillars with provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) were added. Article A said inter alia: “This Treaty marks a new stage in the process leading gradually to a Union with a federal goal.”6 The European Council meeting in Luxembourg at the end of June decided to take this draft as the basis for further negotiations.

The IGCs then continued through the Dutch Presidency. The Dutch presented a new Draft Treaty on September 30, 1991, which abandoned the pillar approach for a more unified treaty structure.7 This, however, was rejected by most of the member states. The Dutch then duly presented a second Draft Treaty reintroducing the pillar approach in November 1991. The IGCs finished in December in Maastricht with a meeting of the heads of state or government. Some of the most controversial issues, such as the defense dimension of CFSP, social policy, economic and social cohesion, co-decision of the European Parliament, and extended application of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the Council were only sorted out in Maastricht.

Economic and Monetary Union

Arguably the most important feature of the treaty was EMU. The introduction of a single European currency and a common monetary policy supported by a novel governance structure constituted a watershed in the European integration process that would impact directly the daily life of European citizens. EMU was introduced through three stages. The first stage, complete liberalization of capital movements, started in 1990. The second stage followed in 1994, including the creation of a European Monetary Institute (EMI), designed to help coordinate national monetary policy and prepare for stage three. The final stage consisting of the introduction of the single currency and creation of the European Central Bank (ECB), was based on controversial convergence criteria:

  • - National inflation rate may not be higher than 1.5% of the average inflation rate of the three best performing countries,

  • - Nominal long-term interest rate may not be higher than 2% of the average of the three best performing countries in terms of price stability,

  • - The government deficit may not exceed 3% of GDP,

  • - The government debt may not exceed 60% of GDP, and

  • - Normal fluctuations in margins in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) must be observed without devaluation for at least two years (Art. 109j and “Protocol on the Convergence Criteria,” in Council of the European Communities, 1992, pp. 185–186.)

If a majority of the member states fulfilled the necessary conditions by December 31, 1996, a qualified majority could decide to introduce the single currency—referred to in the treaty as the ECU (European Currency Unit), but later changed to the Euro. If not, then stage three would start on January 1, 1999, involving the member states fulfilling the convergence criteria by then. The heads of state or government would decide in 1998 by a QMV which member states fulfilled the necessary conditions. The solution was a compromise between the states that insisted on a fixed timetable, including France and Italy, and those who insisted on convergence as a precondition, including Germany and the Netherlands.

For domestic politics reasons, the United Kingdom had problems with the proposed EMU and asked for an opt-out. This was one of the difficult issues in the negotiations. Should opt-outs be allowed, should there be a general opt-out clause, or should opt-outs be country specific? Late in the IGC it was agreed to give the United Kingdom an opt-out through a protocol to the treaty.8 Denmark also asked for an exception and received it.9 The other member states committed themselves to introduce the single currency upon the fulfillment of the criteria.

In 1996 there was, however, no majority of member states meeting the convergence criteria. In 1999 the third stage started with 11 of the 15 member states. The criteria were bent slightly, allowing Belgium and Italy, which had a very high public debt, to join. It was decided that Greece was too far from meeting the criteria. The United Kingdom and Denmark had their opt-outs, and Sweden, which had joined the EU in 1995 after the Maastricht Treaty entered into force, chose to stay out for the moment. But Austria and Finland, the two other countries that had joined the EU in 1995, were among the original members of the euro zone.

The Maastricht Treaty also created a governance system for EMU, including the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), composed of the ECB and the national central banks.10 Both bodies are independent, and the ECB has legal personality.11 The ESCB’s primary objective of price stability, which was also the objective of the German Bundesbank, was not uncontroversial. Some countries, like France, which have a long tradition of political interference into monetary policy and are used to instrumentalizing it for other objectives, like job creation, were opposed (Thiemeyer, 2013). Also the role of the Community institutions was controversial. The treaty assigns the main role in monetary policy to the ECB, but it also gives the Council of Ministers powers to deal with exchange rate policy (Art. 109). France wanted the Council of Economics and Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) to become a gouvernement économique.

Fiscal policy remains a national responsibility, implying that the participating countries continue to have different tax structures and spending priorities. There are, however, rules against excessive deficits including the possibility of the Council imposing fines against a member state with an excessive deficit. Treaty provisions on deficits were further developed in June 1997 by the European Council prior to the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty in the form of a controversial Stability and Growth Pact (Tsoukalis, 2000, p. 168).

Political Union

The IGC on Political Union dealt with a wide variety of topics ranging from a new treaty structure to institutional as well as policy changes.

The Pillar Structure

The Treaty on European Union (TEU) as adopted in Maastricht is often visualized as a Greek temple: a roof with common provisions (Art.1–6, TEU); the three pillars of the EC, CFSP, and JHA; and the final provisions as the common basis (Art. 46–53, TEU). Although the pillars share a common institutional framework, each of them has its own policymaking procedures. The first pillar of the European Community covered primarily socioeconomic areas, including the new provisions on EMU.

The second pillar of CFSP was an improved version of the preexisting European Political Cooperation (EPC), which had been operational since 1970, and which had been given a treaty basis in the Single European Act (SEA) in 1987. CFSP remained predominantly based on intergovernmental cooperation as EPC had been and as a result the artificial separation between the Union’s external economic and foreign policy activities was further institutionalized. The European Commission was given the right of initiative and it became possible to use QMV for the implementation of certain foreign policy decisions.

JHA bundled several issues together: asylum policy, external border control, immigration policy, combating drug addiction, combating fraud on an international scale, judicial cooperation in civil matters, judicial cooperation in criminal matters, customs cooperation, and police cooperation. Previously the member states had cooperated informally in most of these areas.

The pillar structure of the Treaty on European Union was introduced to deal with delegation of national powers in the delicate areas of foreign and security policy as well as justice and home affairs. Matters of external and internal security were considered too sensitive to be subjected to the supranational Community method according to which the European Commission has an exclusive right of initiative; the Council of Ministers, increasingly as a co-legislator with the European Parliament (EP), regularly decides by a qualified majority vote (QMV); and whereby the European Court of Justice (ECJ) interprets Community law, making binding decisions. The intergovernmental cooperation in the second and third pillar foresaw only a limited role for the Commission and the European Parliament, normally required consensus in the Council, and largely excluded the ECJ.

The three-pillar structure survived until entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, when the competencies in different policy fields were classified according to a new scheme of exclusive, shared, and supporting competencies and when the “General Provisions on the Union’s External Action” were brought together under a common roof (Title V, Art.21–22, TEU),

The Main Institutional Changes

The Maastricht Treaty also introduced important institutional changes (Dinan, 2012). In light of the criticisms on the lack of the democratic legitimacy of the EC, the European Parliament (EP) was given important new powers in a variety of ways (Articles 138a–138e): it may request the Commission to submit a proposal; it may set up a temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration; citizens may address a petition to the Parliament; it appoints an ombudsman; it approves the president and other members of the Commission, and it gets a right of co-decision in some areas. One of the most vocal supporters of addressing the democratic deficit was Germany, which could also count on the support of countries like Belgium and Italy. Chancellor Helmut Kohl even made it a condition for his approval of EMU (Van Wijnbergen, 1992).

The introduction of the new co-decision procedure, arguably the most important institutional feature, took the EU toward a bicameral system. This new legislative procedure, initially applicable to only one fourth of the legislative texts of the EP (Corbett, Jacobs, & Shackleton, 2007), put the parliament on equal footing with the Council.12 It also radically changed the institutional power balance between the EU institutions as well as their internal decision-making processes (Rasmussen, 2013).13 The power to approve the Commission president was an important change, even if it did not amount to the kind of power parliaments have to appoint prime ministers in national parliamentary systems. Maastricht did not create a full-fledged federal system, but it empowered the EP further and engendered new possibilities of accountability.

The question of efficiency, which had become especially important due to the prospect of possible enlargement with Central and Eastern European countries, was mainly dealt with through the extended use of QMV. Also here Germany was an important driving force (Van Wijnbergen, 1992). The treaty expanded the use of QMV to about thirty existing or new policy areas. This included several aspects of EMU and many new policies areas, such as education, public health, consumer protection, and development cooperation. It also included certain environmental policy measures (Miller, 2004, pp. 13–14). We should also mention QMV for certain aspects of social policy among the 11 member states, minus the United Kingdom.

At the instigation of Germany and Spain, Maastricht also created a new Committee of the Regions “consisting of representatives of regional and local bodies.” This advisory body must be consulted by the Council and Commission on certain questions (Article 198).

In respect to the ECJ the most important change was a provision including the possibility of imposing “a lump sum or penalty payment” on a member state which has “failed to fulfill an obligation” under the treaty (Article 171).

Main Policy Changes in the First Pillar of the European Communities

In addition to the new provisions on EMU already discussed, the text on the European Communities (European Community, ECSC, and Euratom) was amended and strengthened in a variety of other ways. Firstly, the treaty introduced the two principles of subsidiarity and European citizenship. The subsidiarity principle, which had already been included in the SEA for environmental policy, now became a general principle for the new union, mentioned in the preamble as well as Article 3b under the first pillar. The inclusion of this principle was especially important for federal Germany, where subsidiarity is part of the German Basic Law (Van Wijnbergen, 1992). The Treaty stipulates that “In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.”

The principle was a response to popular criticism of the ever-expanding EU competencies and the regulatory drift of the European bureaucracy.

On the insistence of the British, the proposal to mention “a federal goal” in Article A was taken out in Maastricht. Instead the treaty talks about “creating an ever closer Union among the peoples of Europe, where decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizens.”14 The formulation was sufficiently vague to find support from both those who wanted to restrain European integration, like the United Kingdom, and those who wanted the EC/EU to become more federal, like Germany (Smith, 2002, p. 129).

A new concept in the treaty was that of Citizenship of the Union, championed especially by Spain and establishing EU citizenship for every national of a member state, which included the following:

  • - Right to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states;

  • - Right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the member state in which one resides;

  • - Right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament in the member state in which one resides; and

  • - Right to protection by diplomatic or consular authorities of any member state on the same condition as nationals of that state (Article 8, Maastricht Treaty).

The treaty also introduced changes in some of the existing policy chapters and added new ones. The new policy chapters added to the treaty were education, culture, public health, consumer protection, trans-European networks, industrial policy, and development cooperation. A strengthening of the EU’s social policy was an important topic on the agenda because it was seen as a way to counterbalance some of the negative implications of the liberalization forces generated by the Single European Market (SEM) initiative of the late 1980s. It was, however, controversial because of British opposition. The new Prime Minister, John Major, who had taken over from Margaret Thatcher just prior to the IGCs, was not able to accept a social policy chapter in the treaty. In the end 11 member states decided to develop social policy, and the United Kingdom was given an opt-out.15 The 11 would use QMV for some decisions among themselves. But some decisions would continue to require unanimity.

The objective of social policy was defined as “promotion of employment, improved living and working conditions, proper social protection, dialogue between management and labor, the development of human resources with a view to lasting high employment and the combating of exclusion.”16 In order to do that the EC would “support and complement the activities of the Member States in the following fields:

  • - improvement in particular of the working environment to protect workers’ health;

  • - working conditions;

  • - the information and consultation of workers;

  • - equality between men and women with regard to labor market opportunities and treatment at work;

  • - the integration of persons excluded from the labor market . . .”17

Energy, civil protection, and tourism are mentioned in Article 3, but no special chapters on these policy areas were included in the treaty, despite proposals to do so.

There were changes in some existing policy chapters, including common commercial policy, economic and social cohesion, research and technological development, and environment. Economic and social cohesion was controversial, especially because Spain requested a treaty commitment to doubling the amount of money going into the Structural Funds to be able to prepare for EMU. This was not granted, but a new Cohesion Fund was created. It would contribute “to provide a financial contribution to projects in the fields of environment and trans-European networks in the area of transport infrastructure.” (Corbet, 1993, p. 410)

Concerning environmental policy, which first got a treaty chapter in the SEA, the use of QMV was introduced, except for some sensitive areas, which would still require unanimity.

Among the new policy areas included in the treaty, culture and industrial policy would be based on unanimity. France insisted on unanimity for culture, including the audiovisual area. Some countries with a long history of economic protectionism such as France, wanted an EC industrial policy, while others with a liberal tradition such as the United Kingdom were opposed. It was finally included on the condition that it would be based on unanimity.

All in all, the policy scope of European integration was expanded substantially by the Maastricht Treaty.

The New Pillars of CFSP and JHA

The topics of external and internal security were high on the agenda in Maastricht. The collapse of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the break-up of the Soviet Union, German unification, and uncertainty about the future fate of the transatlantic alliance end of the Cold War were all factors reviving the debate on the development of an independent European foreign policy and security identity. At the same time, the Single European Market initiative with its abolishment of internal border controls required coordinated action to handle challenges of international crime and terrorism and drug trafficking as well as migration.

In the run-up to the IGC on Political Union it was clear that CFSP would be an important but controversial point on the agenda. The war that broke out in Yugoslavia in June 1991, painfully illustrating the limits of the EC as a civilian power, reminded it of the importance of the development of a European security policy. Because the EC was still relying on NATO as the main European security organization, the ambition was not to develop a new collective defense organization but a role as crisis manager. The debate on a European security role crystallized around two diverging visions. While Atlanticist countries such as the United Kingdom, supported by The Netherlands and Portugal, pleaded for the development of a European pillar in NATO, the Europeanists, led by France and Germany and supported by Belgium and Spain, favored the development of an independent European security identity. The tortuous formulation of the final compromise well reflects the highly sensitive nature of the negotiations: “The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defense policy, which might in time lead to a common defense.” The elaboration and implementation of the security policy was entrusted to the Western European Union (WEU). Some member states such as neutral Ireland and Denmark opted for an observer status in the WEU, allowing them to stay on the sidelines. However modest the results of the protracted CFSP debate may have been, the agreement was a first important foundation for the development of an EU crisis management role under the Amsterdam Treaty and for what would under Lisbon become the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Cooperation in the field of immigration, asylum, and judicial and police cooperation had already started prior to Maastricht but it is with the TEU that these policy fields were integrated into a formal treaty frame and institutionalized. The ambitions of the member states ranged from those that wanted a full communitarization of JHA (e.g., the Benelux countries, Italy, Spain) to those like Denmark, Greece, Italy, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, for which a brief reference to JHA in the treaty sufficed (Monar, 2012). The communitarization camp did not manage to realize its aims, but what was achieved was that the TEU defined no than nine areas of common interest for further cooperation: asylum; rules applicable to the crossing of the Union’s external borders; immigration policy and the handling of third country nationals; combating drug addiction and drug trafficking; the fight against international fraud; judicial cooperation in civil as well as in criminal matters; customs cooperation; police cooperation to prevent and combat international terrorism; and police cooperation to combat international organized crime. Many observers at the time were disappointed with the choice for an intergovernmental governance structure but as has been argued by Monar (2012), one should not underestimate the importance of the fact that JHA now had become a formal EU policy domain, opening the gate for a whole range of new initiatives and providing the basis for subsequent and more ambitious treaty changes at later IGCs.

Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty

Once the Treaty had been signed, it had to be ratified in all 12 member states. Most required a parliamentary ratification but in Denmark, Ireland, and France there was a binding referendum. The ratification process did not go smoothly. On June 2, 1992, the Danes voted No in a referendum. In France it was barely accepted in a referendum in September 1992, and U.K. prime minister John Major had big problems getting it through Parliament (Laursen & Vanhoonacker, 1994).

Table 2. Chronology of the Ratification Process, 1992–1993

2 June 1992

Danish referendum produces 50.7% No to 49.3% Yes, thereby rejecting the treaty

3 June 1992

President Mitterrand announces a referendum in France

4 June 1992

Foreign ministers of the member states meeting in Oslo agree to continue the ratification process, leaving an open door for Denmark, but excluding any possibility of a renegotiation of the treaty

18 June 1992

Irish referendum approves treaty by 69% Yes to 31% No

2 July 1992

Luxembourg Parliament approves treaty by 51 votes to six

17 July 1992

Belgian Chamber of Representatives approves treaty by 146 votes to 33

31 July 1992

Greek Parliament approves treaty by 386 votes to eight

17 September 1992

Italian Senate approves treaty 176 votes to 16; on the same day a monetary crisis forces the United Kingdom and Italy to withdraw from the European Exchange Mechanism

20 September 1992

French referendum approves treaty by 51.05% to 48.95%

22 October 1992

Seven parties in the Danish Parliament, Folketinget, agree on “national compromise,” seeking special arrangements for Denmark

29 October 1992

Italian Chamber of Deputies approves the treaty by 403 votes to 46

Spanish Congress approves treaty by 314 votes to three

4 November 1992

Belgian Senate approves treaty by 115 votes to 26

17 November 1992

Portuguese Parliament approves treaty by 200 votes to 21

25 November 1992

Spanish Senate approves treaty by 220 votes to 0

2 December 1992

German Bundestag approves treaty by 543 to 17

11–12 December 1992

European Council in Edinburgh agrees to package on Denmark and on subsidiarity, transparency, and openness in decision-taking

15 December 1992

Dutch Parliament approves treaty with unanimous vote in first Chamber

18 December 1992

German Bundesrat approves treaty by a unanimous vote

13 January 1993

Poul Schlüter government falls in Denmark. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen becomes prime minister in Social Democrat–led majority government

18 May 1993

2nd Danish referendum approves treaty (including Edinburgh Agreement) by 56.8% to 43.2%

20 May 1993

U.K. House of Commons approves Maastricht Bill (3rd reading) by 292 votes to 112

20 July 1993

U.K. House of Lords approves Maastricht Bill (3rd reading) by 142 votes to 29

1 November 1993

Treaty enters into force

Source: Compiled by the authors, based on Corbett (1993) and Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1994).

The first shock for the political establishment came when 50.7% of the Danes voted No to Maastricht on June 2, 1992. It was a binding referendum because there was not a five-sixths majority in favor of the treaty in the Danish Parliament, the Folketing (Laursen, 1994). The foreign ministers of the member states who happened to be in Oslo for a NATO meeting agreed on June 4 that the ratification process should continue. So, the Danish problem was a problem for Denmark to solve. The other country that needed a referendum to ratify the treaty, Ireland, was much more successful, with 69% of the Irish voting Yes on June 18, 1992 (Van Wijnbergen, 1994).

When the Danes voted No, President Mitterrand decided the following day that there should be a referendum in France too, expecting a relatively easy win. As the referendum day, September 20, approached, the opinion polls showed an increasingly narrow battle. In the end the French accepted the treaty with only 51.05% Yes (Keraudren & Dubois, 1994).

In the Benelux countries, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece parliamentary ratifications went smoothly (Vanhoonacker, 1994; Den Hartog, 1994; Pauly, 1994; Balducci, 1994; Gil Ibáñez, 1994; Lopes Marinho, 1994; Koliopoulos, 1994).

To solve the Danish problem the leading opposition parties drafted a so-called national compromise, which was accepted by the government parties with only minor changes. It was sent to the other member states on October 30, 1992. In it the Danish government sought four special arrangements, namely for defense policy, the single currency, Citizenship of the Union, and supranational JHA cooperation (Laursen, 1994). The Edinburgh meeting of the European Council basically satisfied the Danish request. An agreement was reached that gave Denmark the four special arrangements—referred to in Denmark as reservations (forbehold).

A second referendum took place in Denmark on May 18, 1993. This time the treaty supplemented with the special arrangements granted by the Edinburgh agreement was accepted by 56.7% of the Danish electorate. In the meantime, the Conservative-Liberal government led by Prime Minister Poul Schlüter had been replaced by a four-party government led by Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. (The change of government was unrelated to the Maastricht issue.) The main difference between 1992 and 1993 was that a much larger proportion of the Social Democratic voters voted Yes in 1993. Important for the difference was also that the Socialist People’s Party, which had been against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, was actively involved in reaching the National Compromise and supported the treaty with the reservations in 1993 (Siune et al., 1992, 1994; Worre, 1995).

Two days after the Yes in the second Danish referendum the UK House of Commons approved the treaty, and the House of Lords followed on July 20 (Best, 1994b). On October 12 the German Constitutional Court ruled on the constitutionality of the treaty, so Germany could complete its ratification, as the last member state to ratify (Beuter, 1994). The treaty entered into force on November 1, 1993.

Explaining the Maastricht Treaty

Scholars give various reasons why the Maastricht Treaty was adopted and emphasize different factors influencing the negotiation process. They disagree on the relative importance of economic, geopolitical, and ideational factors. Andrew Moravcsik (1998) emphasized economic factors in his liberal intergovernmentalist interpretation. Starting from national preference formation, demands from economic actors were seen as very important. Moravcsik admitted that geopolitical factors, including pro-European ideology, had played a role but a secondary one. Concerning influence during the negotiations he focused on asymmetrical interdependence: those who depend most on an agreement are willing to compromise most. Institutional choice, the pooling and delegation of sovereignty that had taken place in the EC, was explained as a way to get “credible commitments.” Pooling refers to the use of majority voting. Delegation refers to the powers given to supranational bodies, first of all the Commission and ECJ. Starting from the assumption that the big member states matter most, his empirical research focused on France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. One of his cases was the Maastricht Treaty (Moravcsik, 1998).

Other scholars have emphasized high-politics factors such as the end of the Cold War and German unification (Baun, 1995–1996; Garrett, 1993). These scholars thus come closest to the Realist International Relations (IR) theory. Grieco tried to adapt neorealism to explain the Maastricht Treaty, especially EMU (Grieco, 1995). He admitted that neorealism had problems explaining EMU. His revised version, “voice opportunities,” states that secondary states, instead of balancing, might have interest in choosing to cooperate with stronger partners through international institutions. Put differently, it can be advantageous to be present at the table where decisions are made. However, this proposition does not explain why Germany chose to accept EMU. Here Grieco adds two further elements. It is also necessary to look at German domestic institutions, he says, singling out the German attachment to price stability, which Germany assured by insisting that this should be the main objective of the new independent ECB. In addition, he reverts to the neorealist hypothesis on balancing: “Germany may have come to believe at the end of the 1980s that it needed to accept some limitations on its influence regarding European monetary affairs as the price for fostering a more effective EC coalition against Japan” (Grieco, 1995, p. 38). No supporting evidence was given for that proposition.

Moravcsik also battled with the German decision. Instead of reverting to an international systemic explanation he referred to leading German politicians’ commitment to European integration as a secondary ideological factor: “Even those who accept the predominance of economic interests cannot dismiss entirely the role of geopolitical ideology, in particular the European federalism of Kohl, Genscher, members of the Bundestag, and the German public” (Moravcsik, 1998, p. 388).

A third group of scholars goes back to early integration theory, neofunctionalism, and sees elements of spillover from preceding integration, including the internal market and the existing monetary cooperation under the European Monetary System (EMS), often combined with other factors. Sandholtz discusses five propositions, which, he argues, together can explain EMU and Maastricht: (1) spillovers from the 1992 program, (2) domestic politics (role of economic groups and public opinion), (3) politics in the EMS, (4) foreign policy beliefs and German unification, and (5) concerns about credibility and binding commitments. He concludes that spillover and the positive role of domestic politics were necessary but insufficient factors. The demand for a greater voice within the EMS from France, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands constituted a proximate cause. The fourth proposition included the commitment to integration by the German leaders. But the fifth proposition, “governments seeking to institutionalize their commitment to low inflation,” was “the best choice.” It was about tying hands to assure price stability (Sandholtz, 1993). As we have seen, this last proposition was also central to liberal intergovernmentalism.

Beach examines the role of Community institutions in treaty reforms, including Maastricht, through the lenses of institutionalism. He admits that the Commission played less of a role in the Maastricht negotiations than in the previous reform, the SEA (Beach, 2005). But still he found that it is insufficient to focus mostly on the role of the member states. The Council Secretariat, for instance, can play an important supporting role in connection with IGCs.

Focusing on EMU, Dyson and Featherstone (1999) developed a framework including both structural and agency factors. Dyson had focused on structural factors in an earlier work (1994).

Why was it possible to negotiate the EMU in a relatively short period of time? Many factors entered into the explanation, including economic, diplomatic, and political. Economic factors included shared economic-policy beliefs that developed during the 1980s replacing the discredited Keynesian ideas. A new consensus about the importance of sound money and public finances developed, giving priority to price stability. This belief was reinforced by the increased capital mobility. A further economic factor was the structural power of the D-Mark in the ERM. Economic expansion in the late 1980s also produced a climate of optimism. Finally, EMU could be seen as economic “spillover” from other EU policy programs, especially the Internal Market (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999, pp. 752–754).

Politically the authors emphasize what they call the “core-executive” character of the EMU negotiations. The most important actors were central bankers and finance ministers. Institutionally this included the EC Monetary Committee, the Committee of EC Central Bank Governors, ECOFIN, and eventually the IGC on EMU. These fora produced a “club-like” character, which took the best performing national model, Germany, as guidance (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999, pp. 754–756).

Diplomatic factors that were identified included the means to contain German power and Franco-German reconciliation. The important leadership role of Kohl and Mitterrand fit in here. They both worked for a stable peace order in Europe in the wake of German unification (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999, pp. 756–758).

Dyson and Featherstone criticized Moravcsik’s account of the Maastricht Treaty. Part of the criticism concerned the role of ideology. The British governments of Thatcher and Major were concerned about protecting national sovereignty. The German government wanted to build Europe and overcome “painful historical legacies.” Geopolitics was important too. German unification and the uncertain future of Central and Eastern Europe created threat perceptions in many Western European countries. Further, the cognitive dimension was “much more important than Moravcsik recognizes.” Also, the role of agency was “unduly neglected” by Moravcsik. And the authors’ own approach put more emphasis on the role of the institutional setting (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999, pp. 770–772.)

Dyson and Featherstone concluded: “An adequate explanation of the EMU process requires recognition of the cognitive and institutional dimensions of the shaping of policy and strategy, and the role of ‘agency’ as well as ‘structure’ in the process (Dyson & Featherstone, 1999, p. 774). They, however, admitted that EMU was sui generis and that the IGC on Political Union was quite different. For instance, it involved other political actors, foreign ministers, and heads of state or government much more, and it did not start with a blueprint like the Delors report on EMU.

In the absence of a theoretical frame that can fully grasp all the Maastricht Treaty negotiations and their outcome, we may conclude that the best approach is an eclectic one, admitting that a number of factors interacted to produce the Maastricht Treaty and that these factors do not fit neatly into any particular theory. Some were international systemic factors, like the end of the Cold War marking an end to the bipolar structure of the international system. Others were endogenous to the EC system, like spillover and learning processes, and developments within EMS. Domestic politics is obviously a very important factor. How could British and Danish opt-outs be explained without looking at domestic politics? Nor should the question of agency, the role of leaders like Kohl, Mitterrand, and Delors be ignored, as also emphasized by Dyson and Featherstone. Such leaders provided ideas and leadership for the process, helping to overcome collective action problems (Laursen, 1992).

The emphasis on specific explanatory factors depends on which part of the Maastricht Treaty one attempts to explain. It can, as suggested, be argued that the explanation of EMU is not theoretically the same as the explanation of CFSP. Here it has to be mentioned that Moravcsik actually focused on the EMU part of Maastricht. The IGC on Political Union “generated modest results,” he said (Moravcsik, 1998, p. 379). Explaining EMU, consistently with liberal intergovernmentalism, he argued that “national preferences . . . were driven primarily by the enduring structural economic interests of strong- and weak-currency countries under conditions of increased capital mobility and macroeconomic convergence. They were essentially unchanged by German reunification.” The national positions, he argued, were “consistently supported by a decisive majority in peak business groups in both France and Germany” (Moravcsik, 1998, p. 381).

Looking at influence during the interstate bargaining, Moravcsik argued that “the outcomes of distributive conflict . . . consistently reflected the preferences of Germany—the country with the tightest domestic win-set and the most to give up in the monetary negotiations.” And, “finally, the choice of institutions reflected above all the need for credible commitments, in particular Germany’s desire to ‘lock in’ a guarantee of low inflation by creating an autonomous ECB, by far the most contentious issue in the negotiations” (Moravcsik, 1998, p. 386).

Looking at the timing of events can be useful. The Delors Committee finished its report in the spring of 1989 before the end of the Cold War, but the decision to have a second parallel IGC on Political Union, which came in the first part of 1990, was influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the subsequent German unification. The end of the Cold War created a fundamentally new situation in Europe with new demands to and responsibilities of the EC. The EMU plans followed the relatively successful monetary cooperation within the EMS, which, however, had produced an asymmetry in favor of the German currency, the Deutschmark, and the German central bank, the Bundesbank. Some EC member states, France and Italy in particular, became increasingly dissatisfied with the system and called for a real European monetary union. Alternatively, one could also see EMU as a kind of spillover from the internal market. The Commission produced a study entitled One Market, One Money (1990), a title that suggests some spillover. But, in reality, there was also an element of power politics inside the Community. France and some other member states could not accept that Germany was in the driver’s seat when it came to monetary policy. This suggests that a more realist-inspired explanation of EMU also has some explanatory power.

Significance of Maastricht

Maastricht created the EU. Many see EMU as the most important achievement of the treaty. However, as we have seen in this article, it also expanded the scope of European integration to several new policy areas and improved the institutions in various ways. The introduction of co-decision empowered the EP, in principle contributing to the democratic legitimacy of the EU. The extended use of QMV was designed to make it easier to arrive at decisions among an increasing number of member states and thus improve efficiency.

Maastricht further formalized intergovernmental cooperation in two new pillars, CFSP and JHA cooperation. Given that decisions normally required unanimity these pillars have not been very efficient. But the member states were not ready to accept the use of the Community method for these areas in 1991. The importance of intergovernmentalism in the new setup has contributed to a debate about new intergovernmentalism in the post-Maastricht era (Puetter, 2014; Bickerton, Hodson, & Puetter, 2015)

The ratification problems gave impetus to the debate about a democratic deficit, accountability, and openness in the EU as well as multispeed or differentiated integration (Leuffen, Rittberger, & Schimmelfennig, 2013). The Danish opt-outs have continued to put restraints on Danish contributions to European integration. The British opt-outs could, arguably, be seen as foreshadowing Brexit. Once the negotiators in Maastricht realized some of the shortcomings of their agreement, they decided that a new IGC should take place in 1996. IGC 96–97 produced the next treaty reform, the Amsterdam Treaty, which started moving JHA to the first pillar, thus applying the Community method, but included only minor reforms of CFSP. Eventually the Lisbon Treaty abolished the pillar structure, only to leave special procedures for CFSP, which de facto remained a kind of separate intergovernmental pillar.

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(1.) The following has relied partly on Laursen (2012).

(2.) For chronology, see Corbett (1993, pp. xvi–xxii).

(3.) Text reproduced in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, p. 276).

(4.) Text reproduced in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, p. 269).

(5.) Reproduced in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, pp. 358–406).

(6.) Text in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, p. 358).

(7.) External Relations part of text reproduced in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, pp. 407–412).

(8.) “Protocol on Certain Provisions Relating to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” in Council of the European Communities (1992, pp. 191–193).

(9.) “Protocol on Certain Provisions Relating to Demark” in Council of the European Communities (1992, p. 194).

(10.) The Governing Council of the ECB consists of the members of its Executive Board (president, vice president, and four other members) and the governors of the national central banks.

(11.) For details, see “Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank” in Council of the European Communities (1992, pp. 148–171).

(12.) Today, co-decision or the “the ordinary legislative procedure” applies to almost all areas where the Council decides with QMV.

(13.) Co-decision applied to the following areas: free movement of workers, right of establishment, coordination of provisions for special treatment of foreign nationals, mutual recognition of diplomas, coordination of provisions for the self-employed, most provisions concerning services, harmonization of laws for the internal market, mutual recognition of non-harmonized provisions, education (incentive measures, excluding legislative harmonization), culture (incentive measures, excluding legislative harmonization), public health (incentive measures, excluding legislative harmonization), consumer protection (specific supplementary measures), trans-European networks (guidelines), multi-annual framework program for research and technology, and general action programs for some areas of the environment (see Best, 1994a).

(14.) Text in Laursen and Vanhoonacker (1992, p. 429).

(15.) “Protocol on Social Policy” in Council of the European Communities (1992, p. 196).

(16.) “Agreement on Social Policy concluded the Member States of the European Community with the exception of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” Council of the European Communities (1992, pp. 197–201, Art. 1).

(17.) Council of the European Communities (1992, pp. 197–201, Art. 2(1)).