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Happy Birthday European Union!

On November 1, 1993, the “Treaty on European Union” (Maastricht Treaty) entered into force, marking “…a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”. The Maastricht Treaty officially established the European Union (EU), but the journey to its establishment began as early as 1957 with the signing of the Rome Treaties. At that time, there was no legal person “EU,” rather the Rome Treaties established the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) and the predecessor of the EU, the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC Treaty was amended several times over the years, but one of the most important amendments was the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. However, the EU that we know today is not the same that it was back then, legally speaking. Even though people colloquially talked about acts of the “EU,” it was mostly the European Community (EC) that acted externally. A quote commonly (but falsely) attributed to the former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger illustrates the confusion: “Who do I call if I want to talk to Europe?”

The EU flag is sunbathing outside the European Parliament in Brussels. © European Union 2013 – European Parliament. Used under Creative Commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

Maastricht Treaty – Pillar Structure

The Maastricht Treaty established the EU, but it did not replace or succeed the EEC (now renamed “European Community” (EC)). Instead, the EU was established based “on the European Communities, supplemented by the policies and forms of cooperation established by this Treaty” (so-called “pillars”). (Art.1.) The three pillars were:

There was no provision that explicitly recognized a legal personality of the EU, a reason why many authors claimed that the EU lacked legal capacity under international law. It wasn’t until the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, which changed the structure radically by abolishing the pillar structure and reallocating the competencies between the EU and the Member States, that an explicit provision was included. (Treaty on European Union, art. 47.)

European Monetary and Economic Union (EMU)

In addition, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the European Monetary and Economic Union (EMU) which was to be achieved in three successive stages. A single currency, the euro, was created whose stability was to be ensured by focusing on price stability as a primary objective. The Maastricht Treaty also set out the four criteria that countries have to fulfill to join the euro area, the “convergence criteria“ (TFEU, art. 140, para. 1). Furthermore, countries must have an independent central bank to join. (TFEU, art.130). Not all EU countries have yet advanced to the third stage of the EMU, meaning the adoption of the euro as their currency and the implementation of a single monetary policy under the responsibility of the European Central Bank (ECB). Two so-called “Member States with a special status”—United Kingdom and Denmark—have opted out of moving to Stage Three for the time being.

Co-Decision Procedure

The Maastricht Treaty also expanded the competencies of the European Parliament in order to address the perceived “democratic deficit” of the EU. The term “democratic deficit” is used to describe the perceived lack of democratic legitimacy of the EU institutions and its decision-making processes. The Maastricht Treaty created the “co-decision procedure,” which allowed the European Parliament to adopt legislative acts in conjunction with the Council in some policy areas. Prior to that change, the European Parliament had mainly a consultative function and decisions were taken by the Council on a proposal from the Commission. The 2007 Treaty of Lisbon established the “co-decision” procedure (now called “ordinary legislative procedure”) as the standard procedure used for the adoption of EU legislative acts.

EU Citizenship

The Maastricht Treaty also introduced the concept of EU citizenship. EU citizenship is additional to national citizenship and does not replace it. It entitles all EU citizens to:

  • the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States;
  • the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in their Member State of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that State;
  • the right to enjoy diplomatic and consular protection in a non-EU country from any Member State if their Member State does not have an embassy or consulate there;
  • the right to petition the European Parliament;
  • the right to apply to the European Ombudsman; and
  • the right to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the EU in any of the Treaty languages and to obtain a reply in the same language.

Further Reading

If you would like to learn more about the European Union, its laws, and its history, check out some of our previous posts:

Other recent EU legal updates can be accessed on our Global Legal Monitor website.

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