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Strengthening The Union: The Maastricht Treaty

December 14, 2011

The Maastricht Treaty, which came into effect in 1993, left several lasting legacies for the future of European integration. Maastricht is also referred to as the Treaty on European Union, because the name European Union officially came into effect with the treaty. The precursors to the EU consisted of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the European Economic Community (EEC). The Maastricht Treaty placed all three of these communities under a single pillar in a three-pillar structure, about which more below.

(The One State, One World segment on the European Coal and Steel Community is available here.) 

Signing of the Maastricht Treaty

The Maastricht Treaty furthered European integration in several ways. First, it deepened the authority of the EU in several existing policy areas, and extended the EU’s authority in several new policy areas. Several factors contributed to the desire among European policymakers to create a stronger union. First, the collapse of communist regimes in 1989 created a sense of optimism about the future of European unification. Second, key leaders made passionate appeals in favor of further integration, among them European Commission President Jacques Delors. One of the Delors Commission’s main goals was speeding up the process of building a single market.

As mentioned above, the Maastricht Treaty created a pillar structure. The first pillar consisted of the three European Communities: the ECSC, Euratom, and the EEC. This pillar dealt with most of the economic, monetary, and trade policies that the EU dealt with on a daily basis. Under the treaty, the Council of Ministers would vote by qualified majority, rather than unanimity, on issues falling under the first pillar. This strengthened the EU at the expense of member states because it eliminated a single state’s ability to veto policy proposals. The European Parliament also gained co-equal status with the Council of Ministers on first pillar policies.

The three pillars created by Maastricht

The second and third pillars were Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs, respectively. Voting in these pillars took place by unanimity, reflecting the fact that states were more reluctant to cede their sovereignty in these policy realms. Although the Lisbon Treaty later altered this pillar structure, Maastricht for the first time formally extended the EU’s competence to foreign policy and police and judicial cooperation, reflecting the longstanding desire among pro-integrationists to create a political, and not merely, economic union.

The Maastricht Treaty also, to the dismay of some, created differentiation among member states. It did so by containing clauses that allowed the UK, Denmark, and Sweden to opt out of the Euro currency zone. Critics of these clauses argued that they created a multi-tiered EU that subtracted from the sense of unity that the organization had cultivated. Despite these concerns, many of the changes made by Maastricht (strengthening the European Parliament, extending the EU’s authority to new policy areas, creating a unified EU foreign policy, etc.) have been furthered by subsequent treaties.

For more information on the One State, One World series, please visit  This episode of One State One World is produced in partnership of WFIU Public Radio and the EU Center at Indiana University through a grant from the European Union.

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