Maastricht Treaty: Political Union and Ratification

 I. Introduction

                         The negotiations of the Maastricht Treaty (a.k.a. Treaty on European Union) addressed many important concerns for better, worse, or indifference. Negotiation at Maastricht was an undertaking that required delicacy. These negotiations revolved around creating the structure of a European Union. Once this structure was conceptualized many more detailed issues needed attention. By addressing these core issues a foundation for political union was formed. Maastricht was a feat of great negotiation that produced political union; however, ratification remained the final obstacle to be overcome for a true multi-country European Union to be realized.

 II. Political Union

             Political union covered a large number of institutional and policy issues. These issues ranged from the extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council, to the role of Parliament, to social policy, to the transformation of European political cooperation into the common foreign and security policy (CFSP). The positions of member states varied widely on these issues. One of the biggest concerns centered on what kind of entity the European Union (EU) would form. The most contentious point being whether it would be described as a federation; a concept Britain vehemently opposed. The phrase “federal goal” was dropped from the draft treaty in exchange for British concessions in key policy areas. Jacques Delors (President of the European Commission) held the opinion, “what does the word matter, as long as we have the actual thing.”[1]

             A topic that dominated most of the mid-1991 conference (Luxembourg summit) was the structure of the EU. It was proposed that the EU consist of three pillars. This was largely due to the determination of the British and Danish to restrict the CFSP and cooperation on justice and home affairs to intergovernmental decision making. The proposed three pillars were: 1) revising the Rome Treaty, 2) the CFSP, and 3) justice and home affairs. Member states were divided on the issue. Most member states wanted CFSP and justice and home affairs to operate on an intergovernmental foundation, but believed that the EU should have a unitary structure. The Belgian foreign minister called it a “tree with branches” rather than a “temple with pillars.”[2] The Rome Treaty, which already included a number of decision making mechanisms, could integrate the CFSP and justice and home affairs. Delors played a huge role in the discussion about the EU structure. He believed that the proposed pillar system would disconnect the Commission and the Parliament from the CFSP and justice and home affairs. This is exactly what some member states wanted.[3]

             Disregarding the agreement at the Luxembourg summit, the new Dutch presidency attempted to restore the EU’s unitary structure. John Major (the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) warned the Dutch to stay in line with the Luxembourg agreement. Many other member states sympathized with the Dutch position, but were not willing to battle with Britain over the EU’s structure. The Dutch produced a new draft treaty with a unitary structure anyway. Only Belgium and the Commission supported the new Dutch text. This was a setback for the Dutch presidency and its supporters. This put an end to the debate over the EU’s structure and made certain that the treaty agreed to in Maastricht would include the three pillars structure.

 III. The First Pillar: Revising the Rome Treaty

             The Maastricht Treaty included many important revisions of the Rome Treaty under the EU’s first pillar. The treaty’s main institutional reforms included an extension of QMV in the Council and an extension of the Parliament’s legislative authority. This was expected to increase the effectiveness of decision making and the democratic legitimacy of the European Community. Member states were aware that the Single European Act (SEA)[4] had increased the democratic deficit[5] in spite of the extension of the Parliament’s role under the cooperation procedure. Even with this knowledge, the Parliament and its supporters (Belgium, Germany, and Italy) advocated for the increase of legislative power of the Parliament.

             Concern over the increase of democratic deficit diluted the resistance of member states. Some of the member states opposed to the extension of Parliamentary power included Britain (for reasons of national sovereignty) and Ireland (because of the country’s small representation). After prolonged negotiations, member states agreed to extend the Parliament’s power significantly. Of course, it was not extended as much as the Parliament had wanted. The Maastricht Treaty changed the decision making foundation on a number of policy areas from consultation[6] to cooperation[7]. It also switched some others from cooperation to the new co-decision procedure[8]. As a result, cooperation became the EU’s most important procedure in legislative decision making even though co-decision was the most extensive to Parliamentary power. The co-decision procedure nearly made the Parliament a legislative equal to the Council.

             The conference benefited the Parliament in other ways. The Maastricht Treaty extended the assent procedure[9] to all international agreements that set up institutions or had important financial implications. The Parliament made use of this enhanced power to play a role in the conduct of CFSP. The Maastricht Treaty also introduced the assent procedure into many of the EU’s internal affairs, such as the creation of a uniform election procedure for elections to the Parliament, adoption of provisions for EU citizenship, residency rights, and the use of structural funds. The treaty also extended the Parliament’s oversight role. This gave the Parliament the right of inquiry, the right of petition, and the right to appoint an ombudsman to attend to complaints regarding the EU’s institutions. The treaty also forced the member states to consult Parliament before nominating a new Commission president.

 Maastrict photo            Aside from institutional concerns, member states added provisions to alleviate popular concerns. One of the main provisions was the clause containing the principle of subsidiarity. This principle stated that the EU should only involve itself with issues best dealt with at the European rather than national level.

 Felipe González (Prime Minister of Spain) included the concept of EU citizenship into the Maastricht treaty. In appeal to ordinary people, the treaty also redefined or expanded a number of policy areas, such as education, culture, the environment, and consumer protection. González also advocated the clause of cohesion. This argued that heading towards European Monetary Union (EMU) justified a redistribution of money to poorer member states.

 Social policy was the final major negotiation of the Maastricht summit. Delors and eleven national leaders wanted to extend QMV giving a greater role to employers and employees representatives. Major argued against this provision which almost disrupted the conference. In the end a provision was attached allowing the use of EU institutions and decision making procedures to develop social policy without British participation.

IV. The Second Pillar: Common Foreign and Security Policy

The CFSP was one of the most difficult of the conference. Foreign and security policy was considered to be the heart of national sovereignty. There was no driving factor for member states to share sovereignty and have a truly common CFSP or defense policy.

 The best that could be hoped for was a high level of coordination. The European Council could not agree on the scope, content, or procedure of a CFSP. However, after much debate, the Maastricht Treaty allowed for “the eventual framing of a common defense policy, which might in time lead to common defense.”[10]

 The section of the Maastricht Treaty regarding foreign and security policy was limited. It outlined the policy’s objectives which called for systematic cooperation between member states and joint action[11] by the EU in foreign and security policy. The treaty allowed for the implementation of joint actions via majority voting, but only if governments first agreed on the principle of joint actions via unanimity. This agreement remained rather incomplete. So, while negotiating Maastricht they agreed to hold an intergovernmental conference in five years’ time to review the progress of foreign, security, and defense policy cooperation.

 As a result of the shortcomings of the Maastricht Treaty regarding CFSP another intergovernmental conference was held during 1996 – 1997. This intergovernmental conference resulted in the Amsterdam Treaty which did implement significant changes to CFSP.[12]

 There were a few important changes that Maastricht formed which paved the way for the significant changes made in Amsterdam. The Maastricht Treaty established two CFSP instruments: common positions and joint actions. Common positions “are adopted in the Council by unanimity and require the member states to implement national policies that comply with the position defined by the EU on a particular issue.”[13] Joint actions are the actions to implement common positions which may be adopted by QMV following a decision by unanimity that QMV can be used. This was the first instance of a treaty allowing the use of QMV in foreign policy issues. In addition, the Maastricht Treat raised the issue of defense policy for the first time in relation to the EU.[14] Although Maastricht can be seen as a starting point for CFSP and Amsterdam furthering the concept significantly it should be noted that CFSP remains a difficult issue. There is evidence that this lingering difficulty may be due to national partisan constraints.[15]

V. The Third Pillar: Justice and Home Affairs

One of the top agenda items of the conference that produced the Maastricht Treaty was centered on the free movement of people. This included issues, such as immigration, asylum, and control of cross-border crime. The movement of people was an issue that member states had already been addressing in a number of ways.

 In 1985, at the beginning of the Single Market Program the original member states (except Italy) reached an agreement in Schengen, Luxembourg. The agreement was on steps to expedite the removal of border checkpoints.[16] This would eventually lead to the elimination of barriers to cross-border travel within the European Community. This agreement covered a number of issues like police cooperation, fiscal fraud, and the rights of guest workers.[17]

 The conference on Maastricht gave governments the opportunity to revisit these issues. The treaty’s third pillar “established asylum policy, the crossing of external frontiers, immigration policy and policy towards third-country nationals as areas of common interest to the member states… the Maastricht Treaty lumped together immigration policies and police and judicial cooperation, which ensured that these issues [would continue] to be addressed as security questions.”[18] Given the importance of these issues in relation to economic integration, the treaty included a provision making it possible to move some of these issues to the first pillar.

VI. The Outcome of Maastricht

The treaty conceived at the Maastricht summit was a great achievement. European Monetary Union reemerged as the main objective of the new European Union. The treaty represented continuity. The treaty increased the scope of QMV, expanded the cooperation procedure, and introduced the co-decision procedure. In addition, new policy instruments were created and issues were introduced that were never officially discussed in an EU context in the past. All of these outcomes had major implications for the European Union. The European level of governance now included the Council and Parliament playing key legislative roles.

Maastrict photo The treaty also allowed for integration by parts (differentiated integration)[19]: Britain would opt-out of social policy provisions, not every member state would participate in Stage Three (Introducing the Euro as the single currency) of European Economic Union, etc. For the first time, member states could choose to be obligated to core activities or not. This conference did not produce any clear winners or losers. The final agreement allowed individual member states to claim victory even though no single member state got everything that it wanted.

VII. Ratification of Maastricht

Monetary union was the main concern of the Maastricht Treaty for most people. Many Europeans were uncomfortable with losing their national currency. However, national governments were confident that ratification of the treaty would be completed effortlessly. The treaty was signed in Maastricht in February 1992 and the foreign ministers predicted that ratification would be competed by January 1993.[20]

 The first vote was held by the Danes in June of 1992. The Danes were known to be unsure about the European Community.[21] Regardless of this knowledge, everyone assumed the result would be in favor of ratification. However, ratification failed in the Danish referendum. The EU leadership was facing a serious problem; unless all member states ratified the treaty it could not be implemented.

 The next vote was in Ireland. The turnout of the referendum was small by Irish standards. But, the vote for ratification succeeded. If the vote had not succeeded, Ireland stood to lose the billions it would gain under cohesion. Even though ratification did succeed many Irish voters either abstained or voted against the treaty.

 Towards the end of June 1992, the European Communities leaders met in Lisbon. Their goal was to set the Danes at ease. To do so, they attempted to clarify the principle of subsidiarity. The Commission dropped a number of proposals that were not necessary to be legislated at the European level. They also made an effort to make the EU’s operations more open, available, and understandable.[22]

 In September of 1992 France held a referendum on the treaty. This was seen as the final test as to the survival of the treaty. The result was another narrow victory. Now, there was no doubt about the public dissatisfaction with the treaty.

 There was a great political effort to resolve this ratification crisis.[23] The public’s perception of democratic deficit and confusion about subsidiarity seemed to be the main issues. It was not until May 1993 before the Danish government convinced a majority to ratify the treaty. Ratification proceeded smoothly in most other member states. The exception was Germany where questions of constitutionality delayed ratification.  The United Kingdom also had misgivings regarding a speedy integration and many core issues.[24] Once German courts ruled that the treaty was compatible with German law and the British Parliament passed ratification legislation the problems of the treaty’s implementation were largely resolved.

VIII. Conclusion

Maastricht was a feat of great negotiation that produced political union; however, ratification remained the final obstacle to be overcome for a true multi-country European Union to be realized. After the pillar structure of that European Union had been negotiated many policy issues within each pillar were discussed. At that time many new concepts would come to fruition. These new concepts shaped power distribution, legitimacy, and participation. All of the negotiating parties amazingly worked through differences to form a political union. In reaching this agreement, the foreign ministers mistakenly believed the difficult part was over. Ratification of the Maastricht Treaty proved to be just a complicated. The newly formed political union would be tested throughout the member states. The test mainly centered on the presence of a public union. This was a test that required further political cooperation to rally a union of the public. The treaty finally came into effect in November 1993. From that point on the name “European Union” would quickly become commonplace.


Dinan, Desmond. Europe Recast: A History of European Union. Boulder:Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2004.

 Friis, Lykke. “EU and Legitimacy – The Challenge of Compatibility: A Danish Case Study.” Cooperation and Conflict 34.3 (1999): 243 – 271.

 Gold, Michael. “Social Policy: The UK and Maastricht.” National Institute Economic Review 139 (1992): 95 – 102.

 Goodey, Jo. “Migration, Crime and Victimhood: Responses to Sex Trafficking in the EU.” Punishment & Society 5 (2003): 415.

 Hix, Simon. The Political System of the European Union. New York:Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

 Jensen, Christen B. et al. “Who Calls for a Common EU Foreign Security Policy?: Partisan Constraints on CFSP Reform.” European Union Politics (EUP) 8.3 (2007): 387 – 410.

 Kersbergen, Kees Van and Bertjan Verbeek. “The Politics of International Norms: Subsidiarity and the Imperfect Competence Regime of the European Union.” European Journal of International Relations (EJIR) 13.2 (2007): 217 – 236.

 König, Thomas and Simon Hug, “Ratifying Maastricht: Parliamentary Votes on International Treaties and Theoretical Solution Concepts.” European Union Politics (EUP) 1.1 (2000): 93 – 124.

 Matthews, Duncan and David G. Mayes. “The 1992 UK Presidency of the Council of Ministers.” National Institute Economic Review 141 (1992): 71 – 80.

 Neumayer, Eric. “Asylum Destination Choice: What Makes Some Western European Countries More Attractive Than Others?” European Union Politics (EUP) 5.2 (2004): 155 – 180.


[1] Dinan, Europe Recast: A History of European Union, 250.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Single European Act (SEA) was the first major revision of the Treaty of Rome that formally established the single European market and the European Political Cooperation.

[5] The Democratic deficit in the European Union is an argument made against the perceived democratic problems that have been a result of the process of creating the European Union.

[6] Under this procedure the European Commission sends its proposal to both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. However, the Council officially consults actors and is not bound by the Parliament’s position.

[7] The cooperation procedure gave the European Parliament greater influence in the legislative process by allowing it a second reading of European Commission proposals.

[8] The co-decision procedure gives the European Parliament the power to adopt legislation jointly with the Council of the European Union, requiring the two bodies to agree on an identical text before any proposal can become law.

[9] Under this procedure, the Council of the European Union must obtain Parliament’s assent before certain decisions can be made. Acceptance (assent) requires an absolute majority of votes cast. With this procedure Parliament can only accept or reject a proposal.

[10] Ibid., 254.

[11] A joint action is a time-limited project that requires coordinated action by EU member states where human and financial resources, know-how, equipment are mobilized to attain the specific objectives set by the EU Council.

[12] Hix,  The Political System of the European Union, 390.

[13] Ibid., 389.

[14] Ibid., 389 – 90.

[15] Jensen, Christen B. et al., “Who Calls for a Common EU Foreign Security Policy?: Partisan Constraints on CFSP Reform,” 406.

[16] Goodey, Jo, “Migration, Crime and Victimhood: Responses to Sex Trafficking in the EU,” 417.

[17] Neumayer, “Asylum Destination Choice: What Makes Some Western European Countries More Attractive Than Others?,” 157.

[18] Hix, 354.

[19] Member states that exercise this option are often referred to as “opt-outs” in European Union politics.

[20] Matthews, Duncan and David G. Mayes, “The 1992 UK Presidency of the Council of Ministers,” 72.

[21] Friis, “EU and Legitimacy – The Challenge of Compatibility: A Danish Case Study,” 249.

[22] Kersbergen, Kees Van and Bertjan Verbeek, “The Politics of International Norms: Subsidiarity and the Imperfect Competence Regime of the European Union,” 217 – 236.

[23] For more information regarding common treaty constraints (i.e. Two-level games, ratification constraints, etc.), present in Maastricht negotiations, and how such constraints work refer to:  refer to: König, Thomas and Simon Hug, “Ratifying Maastricht: Parliamentary Votes on International Treaties and Theoretical Solution Concepts.”

[24] Gold, Michael, “Social Policy: The UK and Maastricht,” 102.

Photo by sara~

Photo by jula julz

Photo by johnjones