The Maastricht Treaty - 20 years later

7 February 2012

 “A combination of events and political will led to the signature of the Maastricht Treaty,” said Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission.

In the period 1988-91, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and conflict just beyond Europe’s borders in the former Yugoslavia led to heated debate on the future of Europe, recalled Delors, currently president of think-tank Notre Europe.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union had an enormous impact on Europe. The ‘Eastern Spring’ gave us hope. The vision of Europe’s leaders made sure that the fall of the Wall didn’t produce still more deaths and victims,” Delors said.

Other European nations were concerned about the implications of developments in Germany and further east. “Chancellor Helmut Kohl had to allay their fears. It was a tough time and there were grounds to question Europe’s future,” Delors said.

“Once the Berlin Wall had fallen, the European Commission took its responsibilities and declared that East Germany belonged to Europe. Reunification occurred in 1990,” he recalled.

“Chancellor Kohl recognised the difficulties of German reunification and French President François Mitterrand knew that a European political union would be required to address them,” the former Commission president said.

Despite differences of opinion between governments at that time, “there was trust and willingness to move ahead” with European integration, Delors recalled.

“12 million jobs were created in Europe between 1985 and 1991. French ministers were talking about Economic and Monetary Union long before it became a reality – the climate was promising,” he said.

“Debate was dynamic and many letters were exchanged between France and Germany, just like today. But not all these exchanges were accepted by the UK – just like today!” Delors added.

As for the issue of a common European defence policy, “many member states said that a common European defence existed already – NATO. The UK and the Netherlands were strongly against the idea,” Delors said, explaining that the UK in particular would have preferred to strengthen NATO.

“I understood then that getting a common defence policy would be extremely difficult,” he said.

The idea of Maastricht was to move towards Economic and Monetary Union in three stages. The first stage was free movement of capital. The second was the creation of a European monetary institute, and the third was the introduction of a common currency, the former Commission president explained.

“My report suggested that economic criteria, such as youth unemployment figures, should be more important than monetary criteria, like interest rates and participation in the European Monetary System,” Delors recalled.

“But Spain and Portugal refused,” he said.

“Not everything about the Maastricht Treaty was a success. The participants were very tired. Some compromises weren’t good enough, so the UK opted out of two parts: Economic and Monetary Union and the Social Protocol,” he said.

He cited the right of all European citizens to vote in municipal elections in their place of residence regardless of their nationality and the birth of the euro among the Maastricht Treaty’s greatest achievements.

“Joint decision-making has been a success and awareness of Europe was raised. But the social dimension has not been mentioned enough and the focus has always been on the intergovernmental dimension,” Delors said.

“Together we have a better chance of achieving our goals in this world. That’s why we should celebrate the Community method and not despise the European Commission. Whatever has happened to the Community method, never mind federalism?!” he wondered.  

“Our governments must put out the flames of the crisis and lay the foundations of the future. Neither task can be ignored,” Delors said.

Much will depend on the extent to which the EU institutions can inspire governments to take common, decisive action. “Institutional pressure can help to push member states into line. But if governments fail to realise that it’s in their own interests to act together, then any institutional efforts will come to nothing,” he warned.

“Europe doesn’t yet have the answers to all these questions. But maybe future generations can find them,” Delors concluded.

To read Jacques Delors' speech in full (French only), please click here.