The Maastricht Treaty (1991/1992)
The Maastricht Treaty is a milestone in European history. It established the European Union (EU), introduced the euro and European citizenship, and extended European cooperation to many new areas. In 2018, the Maastricht Treaty received the prestigious European Heritage Label from the European Commission because of its great importance to European history, culture and identity.
European Heritage Label for the Maastricht Treaty
The European Heritage Label (EHL) designates sites that have played a key role in Europe and in the creation of the European Union. Sites that are awarded the label symbolise European ideals, values, history and integration.
Few treaties have had as great an impact on the daily lives of Europeans as Maastricht. That is why the European Commission designated the Treaty as European Heritage in 2018. This happened at the intercession of the Dutch government and the Province of Limburg. It is a distinct honour. In the Netherlands, only three other sites have been awarded the Heritage Label: Camp Westerbork, the Peace Palace in The Hague and the Colonies of Benevolence.
In honour of the 30th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, Studio Europa Maastricht is working on two oral history projects. Oral history is a form of historiography based on interviews. Historians interview people about their recollection of a specific event in which they were involved. This could include important political events, such as the establishment of treaties, but also experiences from daily life, such as the festive decorating of a shop or café in honour of the 1991 Maastricht European Summit. Our partner in this oral history project, Mestreech ’92, is Chapeau Magazine.
Political oral history project: The Netherlands, Europe and the Maastricht Treaty
What happened behind closed doors at the Government on the Maas on 9 and 10 December 1991? Which government leaders dominated the European Summit? How were the deals made? Who were the winners, who were the losers? These are some of the questions we seek answers to in our political oral history project.
We are asking these questions not only to senior politicians and diplomats but also to bankers, economists, lobbyists, journalists and opinion leaders. Our focus is primarily on the Dutch side of the story, but we also want to hear what relevant actors from our neighbouring countries—Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom—have to say.
Public oral history project:
We are also collecting the stories of ‘ordinary’ residents of Maastricht and Limburg—because all the memories of the 1991 European Summit and the signing of the treaty in 1992 are cultural heritage, also those of the general public. They teach historians how a local community responded to an event of global importance.
Were you a chauffeur for government leaders during the European Summit? Did you take part in the farmers’ protests? Did you play a role in this special event as an entrepreneur or with your association? Did you, perhaps as a civil servant, contribute to the preparations? If so, please contact us. You can do so via the website of Mestreech ’92 (in Dutch). Check out the first anecdotes and share your stoy, too!
Online special with Historisch Nieuwsblad:
Europe comes together
Brexit, the euro, the COVID recovery package, refugee reception, the climate agenda: European politics is the talk of the day. But to understand current affairs, one must know the history behind it all—starting with the founding of the European Union with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. That is why Studio Europa Maastricht and Historisch Nieuwsblad are launching the online Dutch-language magazine Europa komt samen: Het Verdrag van Maastricht 1992 [Europe comes together: The 1992 Maastricht Treaty].
5 questions and answers about the Maastricht Treaty
- What is the Maastricht Treaty about?
- Why is it important?
- Why was the Maastricht Treaty agreed?
- Why Maastricht?
- What does it mean today?
What is the Maastricht Treaty about?
The Maastricht Treaty (1992) is one of the most important treaties in the history of Europe and European integration. With this treaty, the twelve member states of what was then called the European Community (EC) established the European Union (EU). This Union has deepened, broadened and streamlined European cooperation.
The treaty was agreed during a summit of EC leaders in Maastricht on 9 and 10 December 1991. It was signed on 7 February 1992 in the Limburg provincial government building on the river Maas. The Maastricht Treaty, along with the Treaties of Rome (1957), laid the foundations of the EU as we know it today.
In 1992 the European Community consisted of twelve member states, which together established the EU: Belgium; Denmark; France; Germany; Great Britain; Greece Ireland; Italy; Luxembourg; the Netherlands; Portugal and Spain.
Read the Treaty
Would you like to see the Maastricht Treaty for yourself? You can: the Limburg Government on the Meuse has a copy on display. You can see it during one of the guided tours.
The original text of the treaty can also be found in several languages on the EU website. But first, a word of warning: it is an extremely boring and difficult text. This is partly because there were disagreements between the member states on various decisions made in Maastricht. Vague formulations were used to obscure these differences of opinion, allowing each government to interpret the treaty in such a way that they could agree with it. The upshot is that, to this day, there is much debate on how certain provisions should be interpreted.
The official name of the Maastricht Treaty is the Treaty on European Union. This title is rarely used, however, because treaties are conventionally named after the place where they were drawn up.
Why is the Maastricht Treaty important?
The agreements made by the member states in Maastricht set many changes in motion. No treaty in recent history has had so much influence on the daily lives of Europeans. Some of the most important provisions of the Maastricht Treaty are:
More influence for the European Parliament and citizens
More European cooperation
Why was the Maastricht Treaty agreed?
Important agreements such as the Maastricht Treaty are not concluded out of the blue The treaty was the result of a long and complicated process. That process dates back to the 1950s, when the founding nations of European integration (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany) took the first steps towards a united Europe.
Common European market
The Treaties of Rome, agreed in 1957, laid the foundation for amongst others a common European market, which provides for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the member states.
Treaties of Rome
With the Treaties of Rome in 1957, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands founded amongst others the European Economic Community, the main predecessor of the EU. After the creation of the EEC, the European Community soon became the collective name for the countries involved in European integration.
By the late 1980s, the time seemed ripe for a major step in European integration: the introduction of a single European currency. This would make trade between the now twelve member states even easier.
Businesses and banks supported the initiative, as did some politicians and the European Commission. Advocates of a European federation (a ‘super state’) also saw the introduction of a single currency as a way of moving one step closer to their ideal. But there were doubts, too. For the member states, giving up their own currency was a radical step. West Germany in particular placed great value on its national currency: the German mark was of such importance to the global economy that it gave the Germans a great deal of influence on the European stage.
The wonder year of 1989 accelerated the debate on a single European currency. On 9 November, the Berlin Wall fell – a momentous occasion initiated the end of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, which had divided Europe (and Germany) ever since the end of World War II. There was much euphoria, but also fear.
West and East Germany wanted to become one country again. This would create a new and more powerful Germany that could once more dominate its neighbours. The French and German governments, led by President François Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, came up with a proposal: German unification would be allowed to go ahead only if the united Germany was firmly embedded in a new and closer European partnership.
This partnership became the EU, with a single European currency as its most important safeguard: this new currency would tie the member states more closely together and facilitate mutual trade.
In addition, by abolishing the German mark, the single currency would provide a counterweight to the economic power of the German giant. This clever plan, which would maintain the balance of power in Europe after the Cold War while simultaneously fostering European integration, was ultimately set in motion with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.
The European summit was held in Maastricht in December 1991, when the Netherlands held the six-monthly presidency of the European Community. Major European summits now take place in Brussels, but in those days they were also organised by the country that held the rotating EC presidency.
The Dutch government chose Maastricht partly because of its proximity to Brussels, which was already the main locus of European meetings. Maastricht was also appealing because it possessed the necessary experience, having previously organised a European summit in 1981.
The Maastricht summit of 9 and 10 December 1991 became an exciting affair. All heads of government of the European Community were present, including the French president François Mitterrand, the German chancellor Helmut Kohl and the British prime minister John Major. Their officials and advisers, working with the European Commission and the Netherlands as EC president, had already prepared most of the agreements made in Maastricht during feverish negotiations leading up to the summit. But despite the intensive preparations, it was by no means certain that the summit would succeed; the creation of the EU was hanging by a thread.
All member states had their doubts about this great leap forwards. Great Britain was particularly concerned, seeing no benefit in the introduction of a common currency. Partly as a result of intensive lobbying by the Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers and minister of foreign affairs Hans van den Broek, the British delegation was persuaded to refrain from using its vetoing the treaty altogether. In exchange for Britain being allowed to opt out of adopting the euro, Prime Minister John Major ultimately signed the historical treaty.
The British struggle with the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of a common European currency is now widely considered to be the beginning of Brexit. The British decision to opt-out of the introduction of the euro can be seen as the first actual step out off the EU.
The treaty today
The Maastricht Treaty continues to be highly influential. Because it forms part of the legal foundations of the EU, it still shapes how member states work together today.
The loose threads of Maastricht
At the same time, the Maastricht Treaty left a number of highly important issues open. The member states were unable to agree on whether the EU should become a genuine political union, with many more national powers transferred to the joint European institutions in Brussels (e.g. the European Commission and the European Parliament). Nor did they specify how the EU should be reformed when new countries join the club, and what role the EU ought to play on the world stage.
These and other delicate issues have only become more urgent over time. But finding joint solutions is not getting any easier, particularly given the steady growth in the number of EU countries since 1992. And this in turn has consequences for European cooperation and the ability to act decisively on pressing issues: consider the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, and the EU’s relationship with the United States and China.
The legacy of the Maastricht Treaty in Europe is both complex and far-reaching. It can be seen not only at the European level, but also at the national and local levels. And it is often closer than you think: in your wallet, your city, your supermarket, on the street, at school and at work.
In cooperation with the Regional Historic Center Limburg and others, we are developing a Europe archive. This archive is intended to collect historical sources on the Maastricht Treaty and to make them widely accessible. This includes sources on the political background, on the negotiations surrounding the Treaty and on the development of European cooperation since 1992. This archive will form an important basis for various educational projects.
When the Maastricht Treaty celebrated its 25th anniversary, the Province of Limburg and the City of Maastricht joined forces in the partnership Europe Calling! This programme not only included celebration and remembrance, but it also addressed the financial and economic problems in Europe, the solidarity issue and the discussion about the openness of Europe.
For an entire year, more than 100 activities were organised in and around Maastricht. The Limburg capital became a meeting place for debate and dialogue on Europe. This is where the idea of the programme ‘Maastricht, Working on Europe’ arose. It is a continuation of this collaboration, which Maastricht University has also joined as a partner, supporting the programme with pioneering research and expertise on Europe.