The "Treaty on the European Union" which was signed in Maastricht, the Netherlands, was the biggest step taken on the path to a political union in Europe since the Treaties of Rome in 1957.
The Maastricht Treaty
In 1989/90, European politics entered a somewhat icy phase. The Germans were being accused of forging ahead with reunification without showing any regard for the concerns of their neighbors. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925) was anxious about the prospect of an overly powerful Germany in the heart of Europe. More than 80 million Germans would be living in a single state and - so she feared - would likely dominate over other European countries. French President Francois Mitterrand (1916 - 1996) was also not especially thrilled at the prospect of a unified Germany on France's eastern border.
German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Finance Minister Theo Waigel sign the treaty
In Brussels, Jacques Delors (1925) had been president of the European Commission since 1985. Behind the scenes, he was masterfully directing a negotiation process which eventually succeeded in reversing an initial mutual mistrust. Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1930) were the most vocal proponents of European unification. The European Union was not only meant to be a political union; it should also have a common currency. A common foreign and security policy was to be agreed, and this was to be represented by European "foreign ministers." All citizens of the European Union were also to be granted common European citizenship. At its core, Europe was to be further democratized and - via a protocol on social policy - offer improved social conditions for its citizens.
The euro replaced the national currencies
The political arenas in which future European policy was to be unified and commonly represented to the outside world didn't have as much emotional resonance as the decision to introduce a common currency. By January 1, 1999, the banking sector would be operating with a virtual common currency known as the euro, and by January 1, 2002, it would be introduced to the public for cash transactions. The thought of bidding farewell to deutschmarks, francs and guilders sparked fears about inflation and instability. Across Europe, people debated the pros and cons. Older people in particular could still remember the devastating inflation of decades past. Politicians were barely able to calm these fears. The Stability and Growth Pact which the German government introduced at the 1996 EU summit in Dublin managed to calm the situation somewhat. The pact was designed to avoid extensive deficits and resulting high inflation rates. As the years passed, the pact proved to be an effective instrument to maintain balance in most of the EU's national budgets.
In Germany, Chancellor Kohl was accused of sacrificing the stable deutschmark in order to win acceptance of Germany's neighbors for reunification. Additionally, the treaty was said to be suited to creating a bureaucratic monster which would undemocratically and opaquely rule over Europe from its seat in Brussels. There was no doubt that the treaty was the product of compromise, and for this reason, quite complex. For the Germans, however, the benefits of being part of a political union in Europe outweighed the disadvantages. In 1992, Chancellor Kohl defended the treaty at a CDU party conference: "I would say that Europe is a vital question for Germany. As the country at the center of our continent, we have more borders and neighbors than the others. And much more than the others, our national future is linked to the development of Europe. That's why we must not be apathetic to the path Europe takes; whether it irrevocably commits to a political and economic union, or whether it once again falls back into the national rivalries of earlier times."
View to Eastern Europe
Eastern European states were eager to join the union created in Maastricht
The discussions about a new treaty framework for Europe were also influenced by events in Eastern Europe. In 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and one after the other, former Eastern Bloc countries made the transition to democratic forms of government, expressing the desire to be allowed to join the European Union created in Maastricht as quickly as possible.
The EU expanded in several phases, and now includes 27 member states. EU membership continues to be an attractive goal for non-member states. From the outside looking in, at least, the advantages of belonging to a geopolitical entity with some 500 million citizens far outweigh the difficulties and disadvantages.
Author: Matthias von Hellfeld (dc)
Editor: Andreas Illmer