European journal of international law


"Europe will not be made at once". In his declaration of 1950, Robert Schuman -strong supporter of European unity- turned out to be right about the rhythm of European integration (Nugent, 2006:36). Indeed the real turning point within the European community came 42 years later with the signing, in 1992, of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU), also known as the Treaty of Maastricht (Europa, 2007a). It was the first text to develop ideas and policies regarding a European political union. Yet, from the first steps of European construction -with the European and Steel Community founded in 1952 (McCormick, 2008:45)- to the TEU, a lot had already been achieved. So why exactly did the Treaty of Maastricht mark a 'big step' in creating a political union?

In this essay, we will see how the treaty emerged and went beyond the historical process of economic integration, giving a much needed impetus to the development of a political union. By analyzing the steps between the Single European Act of 1986 (SEA) and the TEU, this essay will show that the treaty did not signify an end per se, but rather, should be seen as a first step towards building a political union and not the end of a process (Wincott, 1996). This essay will also demonstrate that the idea of a political union has always been controversial, thus explaining why critics emerged and doubts rose around the TEU.

The project of a political union had been mentioned by Altiero Spinelli[1] at the beginning of the 1980s, as well as during the talks regarding the Single European Act (SEA) of 1986; however at first the idea was rejected. (Le mondediplomatique, 2006). Indeed, the idea of a move towards a political union was still controversial at that time, since many feared it would lead to a loss of national sovereignty. In those years, the focus of the SEA was more on economic concerns such as completing the internal market, remove the fiscal and physical barriers to free movements of people and capitals, and managing to create a truly single market by 1992 (McCormick, 2006: 57). Nonetheless this first major act since the Treaties of Rome should not be only seen from an economic angle. On the one hand, it did put to the fore an unbalanced relationship between the growing economic Europe and the politically united Europe. (Le monde diplomatique, 2006). But on the other hand, one must admit that the SEA did, give a new momentum to the European integration, and it has to be seen as one of the steps towards the TEU and the creation of a political union. Indeed it amended, among other things, Community powers in the field of common foreign policy, thus giving a greater global voice to the European Community (Europa, 2007a). Finally, even though the signing of the SEA did not create a political union at the time, the 'Euro-optimists' were soon to be proven right in believing in greater political integration. Indeed, as soon as 1988, talks regarding the creation of an Economic and Monetary Union (UMU), as well as the development of a political union started. These talks led to the Intergovernmental Conferences (IGCs) in 1990 (Europa, 2007b), which then led the Treaty of Maastricht.

Both internal and external events triggered the move towards a greater political integration. External events included the collapse of Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe. Firstly, it gave a new international role to the European Economic Community (EC), besides, Eastern countries saw a path to Western countries, and expressed their will to join the EC (Wincott, 1996). At the same time, the outlook of German reunification made European Member States realize the need to strengthen the Community's international position, and prepare for expansion towards Eastern Europe (Europa, 2007b). As for internal events, we can mention the desire of some countries such as Germany to go beyond the SEA. The willingness of French President, Franois Mitterrand, to reassert France's leadership in the EC also explains the move towards political union (McCormick, 2006: 60)

But the development of a political union did not mean economic integration was going to stop. On the contrary, both the economic and the integration policies worked together. Based on these factors, as well as a Belgian memorandum on institutional reform and a Franco-German initiative, two intergovernmental conferences (IGCs) took place in 1990 (Europa, 2007 b). These conferences had two different, yet complementary themes, and the main goal was to prepare a plan for the future TEU. The first one regarded economic integration. The previous economic policy, the European Monetary System, had proved to be successful, thus in 1988, the EC created a committee led by Jacques Delors and charged to prepare a plan for a possible EMU. Its findings were published in 1989, and the EMU became the first major step to develop a 'positive' integration based on creating common institutions (Wincott, 1996). Because of its great scope, the EMU would necessarily lead to political integration, thus the second theme of the conferences naturally focused on political union. This second conference was not as straight forward though. Any talks regarding a political union were controversial, as there were great disagreements regarding which direction the EC should take. Three sides were opposed. On one side, some countries wanted to keep the policy established by the SEA, namely the European political cooperation (EPC), the EPC involved a pillar system which kept European practices and institutions "around" the Community but did not integrate them. In the middle was the proposal made by the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council in 1990. This proposal, also known as "the Luxembourg non-paper" planned a construction based on three pillars this time, and with a greater political integration. Finally, the Dutch wanted a "tee-trunk approach", which was the opposite of the EPC approach. It wanted to bring the legal institutions within the jurisdiction of the European Court of justice. But France and Britain strongly opposed this system (Wincott, 1996). In the end and after negotiations, the 3 pillar approach was to be kept, thus allowing the talks and vote of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1991 (McCormick, 2008: 61).

The signing of the Maastricht Treaty was big political step for the EC and gave birth to the "European Union"(EU), the idea of union lied within the name of the newly named community. The accent was no longer just on cooperation but on integration (Wincott, 1996). The treaty truly changed the contract among the Member States of the EU, firstly by creating three pillars as the main European institutions. The first pillar gathered three pre-existing communities: the EEC, the Euratom and the ECSC. This domain is the one in which EU members shared their sovereignty via the Community institutions. The second pillar established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), this authority replaces stipulation made in the SEA and allows Member States to take joint action in the field of foreign policy (McCormick, 2008: 61). This is one step more towards a political union and it helped developing intergovernmental decisions. It also helped putting to the fore the EU on the international scene (Dehouse, 1994). The last pillar was dedicated to Justice and Home Affairs. For the first time a protection coming from the EU, rather than a single state, was offered to each citizen. But the TEU also involved other 'integrationist' changes. Firstly, it developed Community policies in six new areas such as consumer protection (McCormick, 2008), giving the EU a greater political voice (Wincott, 1996).It also expanded the role of the European Parliament (EP), and increased contacts between the EP and the European Council, through the co-decision system. Although this may look like a detail, it actually contributes greatly to the creation of a political union. Indeed, the new role played by European political parties means they no longer represented just their countries, but also helped shaping 'European awareness" (Wincott, 1996). The EMU was also at the center of the treaty. Through the TEU, it clearly appeared that the goal of this policy was in the end to create a single currency, ensure its stability, and put the finishing touches to the single market. The currency was to be established in the union in three successive stages between 1990 and 1999. But Britain did not agree to go through the whole process, and stopped before stage three. This puts to the fore the existence of barriers and critics behind the first steps of a European political union (Wincott, 1996).

Indeed, critics against the treaty exist. But they exist both on the 'Euro-skeptics' side, and on the 'Euro-optimists' one. According to the optimists, the progress is real, but they hoped Europe would play a more assertive and united role in foreign and security policy (McCormick, 2008:46). Others also criticize the position of countries like Britain, which wanted a European Union with a limited scope and favored an ' la carte' approach (Wincott, 1996). Britain is also the country that removed the mention of federalist goals from an article of the TEU, thus answering to the concerns of many Europeans citizens. And the rejection of the TEU by Danish voters in 1992 proves that the debate regarding European integration was both political and social. But while some feared the TEU would lead to the creation of a federalist union (Della Salla, 2005), and thought deleterious effects would come with the process of political integration, history proved them wrong (McCormick, 2008: 64).

As a conclusion to this essay, we can put to the fore the fact that the TEU did mark a big step in creating a political union, since it gave the Members States the grounds and tools to develop a real intergovernmental construction. Yet, it must not be seen as the end of European integration process, but rather as a first 'big step' towards this aim.


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  • Della Salla, Vincent (1995) 'L'avenir fdraliste de l'Europe. La Communaut europenne, des origines au trait de Maastricht', Revue canadienne de science politique, 28/2: PP370-371.
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  • Europa (2007a) 'The Single European Act (10.07.2007)', _summaries/ institutional_affairs/treaties/treaties_singleact_en.htm, date acceded 13/03/2010.
  • Europa (2007b) 'Treaty of Maastricht on European Union', economic_and_monetary_affairs/institutional_and_economic_framework/treaties_maastricht_en.htm, date acceded 13/03/2010. (2006) 'L'acte unique europen', Le Monde Diplomatique.
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