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Maastricht Treaty 15 years on: birth of the "European Union"

Institutions - 07-02-2007 - 14:44
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The Maastricht Treaty, 7 of February 1992

The Maastricht Treaty

Fifteen years ago this week the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in the Netherlands by representatives of the then 12 members of the EU. As well as replacing the term of "European Community" with "European Union" the Treaty also significantly increased the power of the European Parliament. With the introduction of the codecision procedure, Parliament became for the first time an equal partner in the legislative process, with acts jointly signed by the presidents of Council and Parliament.

Maastricht came into effect in November 1993. It was the first EU Treaty after the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe. It was also probably the most important development in the European Communities since the original Treaty of Rome in 1957. It set out a timetable for achieving economic and monetary union, the development of foreign and defence policies and a new concept to Community institutions like the Parliament.
 
The European Parliament saw its role and influence increase by Maastricht in the following ways: 
 
Legislative power: the "codecision" procedure was introduced. This gave Parliament equal law making weight with the Council of Minister in a few crucial areas - transport, the environment and consumer protection. An estimated two thirds of European laws are now made by the Council and Parliament.
 
The Treaty also gave Parliament the right to ask the European Commission to propose legislation.
 
The Treaty also stated that the President of the European Commission would be elected by Parliament - although with the candidate proposed by EU member states.
 
Electoral terms: Maastricht brought the electoral terms of MEPs and European Commission into closer alignment. Commissioners now serve 5 years and take office 6 months after Parliament's election.
 
Supervisory power: this was increased substantially by Maastricht. In particular it now had the right to set up its own committee of enquiry - a recent one looked into CIA "secret rendition" activities in Europe. Parliament could also elect the ombudsman - who investigates administrative failings in the EU - whilst its own petitions procedures were recognised.
 
Maastricht also required the head of the European Central Bank to provide MEPs with an annual report - in future MEPs would have to be consulted as to who should be governor of the bank.  Finally the Parliament could also ask the representatives of other EU institutions to appear before them if Parliament feels its prerogative is being infringed.
 
In addition the Treaty contained a proviso stating that European Parliament elections must be held by direct universal suffrage in accordance with the usual manner in EU members. Direct elections to Parliament had begun in 1979 but an insertion into the Treaty was an important step.
 
MEPs and Maastricht
 
The importance of the Treaty is well understood by past and present MEPs. Interviewed for this piece, the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering called it a "seminal document in the history of the European Union. In retrospect as a decisive turning-point towards the realisation of the kind of more integrated and more democratic Europe towards which many of us have worked all our lives". An MEP since 1979 he said "the most important shift in power took place as a result of the co-decision and assent procedures which were introduced by the Maastricht Treaty".
 
Someone who remembers Maastricht well was Enrique Barón Crespo who was President of the Parliament from 1989 to 1992. He said that in the Treaty the Parliament "obtained in the ...the recognition of European citizenship, co-decision, nomination of the President of the Commission for five years and the recognition of the participation of the European political groups".
 
He said agreement was possible because of the preparatory conferences which brought together the Parliament, Governments, the Council of Ministers and the "Assisses" (Assembly of all the Parliaments of the Community).
 
From Maastricht to Amsterdam
 
With each reform of the treaties, the European Parliament's role in the Union's decision-making procedure has been enhanced: the Amsterdam Treaty extended the codecision procedure from 15 areas to 38, the Nice Treaty from 38 to 43.
 
 
REF.: 20070206STO02783