Maastricht, the birthplace of the EU

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This article was written by Aydın Clara Orberk from our partner blog blue&yellow which is a platform created by students for students and is part of the European Careers Association Maastricht. Check out their page to see more.

The shaping of Europe as we know it was inaugurated 30 years ago in Maastricht. The Maastricht Treaty, or Treaty of the European Union (TEU), although inheriting from structures of the former European Communities (EC) as we shall see in a bit, essentially set out the transition from European undertakings to a fully-fledged European Union. It paved the path for a true union as well as the introduction of the euro, amongst other remarkable changes.

But let’s rewind in time a little.

After the 1950 Schuman declaration, which provided the impetus for the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the aftermath of World War II, hoping that close economic cooperation would make war between members ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’, the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC) were established in 1957 and 1958, respectively. 

The latter organization took the first steps towards a common market and common customs unions in Europe. The executive institutions of all three entities were unified with the Brussels Merger Treaty in 1961, such that albeit they remained independent, the ESCS, EEC and Euratom became referred to as the European Communities (EC).

In the next years, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ensuing rapid German reunification and the channel tunnel physically connecting the UK to the European continent, amongst other important events, a question arose: What was the future role of Europe in this changing world?

At the time, the European Community (EC) had 12 members: Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom joined the founding members, France, (West) Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Representatives of the 12 countries thus met to discuss the way forward. 

The treaty was finally adopted in Maastricht in late 1991 and signed in Maastricht’s Gouvernement Building on a little island in the Meuse on the 7th of February 1992, 30 years ago. 

To celebrate, Dutch Queen Beatrix invited the eleven heads of government and one president to dine at the Michelin-rated Château Nercanne just south from Maastricht. Their signatures can still be found in the wine cellar of the château. 

After the signature of the treaty, it also needed to be ratified in each country in order to become effective, i.e. the contents of the treaty also needed to be set into each national law. At the time, there was no doubt about the fact that European integration was the way to go; when the negotiators were criticized, it was mostly for an alleged lack of ambition as regards the European project. But once the treaty was signed, the magnitude of what had been achieved seemed to sink in, and three countries put the ratification up for a referendum as many citizens voiced doubts and concerns about the TEU. While the results were unequivocal in Ireland (69.05% in favour, with a voter turnout of about 57%), the referendum was met with an initial nej (no) vote in Denmark (50.7% against, with a voter turnout of about 83%) before adjustments were made (Danish opt-outs, notably from the Euro), and a ‘petit oui’, a very narrow yes in France (51% in favour, with a voter turnout of about 70%) .

An Ever closer Union

In the original version of the treaty, its first article read ‘By this Treaty, the High Contracting Parties establish among themselves a European Union, hereinafter called ‘the Union’. This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen. (…)’

The Maastricht treaty marked a new stage indeed. It amended the former European treaties and created a European Union, whose powers were based on three pillars: the European Communities, the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) to ‘safeguard the common values, fundamental interests and independence of the Union’, and cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs (JHI) to ensure the security of European citizens. You can find more on the pillars here

A single institutional structure, consisting of the An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council, the The EU’s directly elected legislative body comprised of 705 members. It is involved in policymaking but it does not have the power to propose new legislation. European Parliament, the The EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council. European Commission, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors was to exercise these specific powers in accordance with the Treaties. 

While the Maastricht Treaty is only 55 articles long, the functioning of the EU is elaborated on in the much longer Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the second founding treaty. European Institutions can only act when they are legally allowed to do so, in so far as (a) the European The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. member states have conferred upon them such competencies, (b) the treaties provide for a legal basis and (c) the legislative proposal respects the general principles on the use of Union competences found in article 5 TEU. 


The Maastricht Treaty up close: ‘One market, one currency’ and European citizenship

The Maastricht Treaty notably laid the foundations for the creation of the euro by setting out a three-stage transition process from 1990 to 1999 (find more on it here), starting with the free movement of capital in 1993, and created the European Central Bank (ECB), tasked with safeguarding the value of the euro. 

It also finalized freedom of movement for all nationals of The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States by introducing the concept of a common, European citizenship. In doing so, it paved the way for the Schengen area in 1995. 

All these advantages can be taken for granted when one has not lived through them. 

But Ms. Tanja Van der Meer, Teacher in Foundations and Methods of Law at Maastricht University, recalls, amongst other things, the struggles of crossing frontiers with passports and changing different currencies every time. 

‘I was born a year and a half into the EEC. Van Gend en Loos (the most decisive, and most famous EU law case) was decided when I was three years old. When the EEC was subsumed under the European Communities, I was seven, almost eight. We had just bought our first TV. As it was the first in our neighbourhood, our house was full with all of the kids from our street to watch the children’s afternoon broadcast on Wednesdays.

At that time, not many took trips abroad. So, when an adventurous aunt, the first person in our family to own a car, took her nieces and nephews on a trip to Spain when I was nine, I was happy to be included. It meant that I got a passport! I still have the document, though the administration rendered it unusable by punching some holes through the entire booklet after it expired.

Back in the day, there were no toll roads, not even motor highways. That all came later, subsidized by the EC/EU

Tanja Van der Meer

Nowadays, the drive from Maastricht to the Costa Blanca and its white beaches can be done in about 18 hours when you’re able to switch drivers, or with one stop overnight when you drive all the way by yourself. Back in the day, there were no toll roads, not even motor highways. That all came later, subsidized by the EC/EU. We trundled along over 80-kilometer roads, frequently passing through small villages. At most, we covered 350 kilometres a day, so to finally get to Castellón alone took us five days.

During that trip, we switched currency three times: from the gulden to the Belgian franc, then to the French franc, and finally the Spanish peseta. We had to make sure to have enough of each currency on us to be able to pay our way should disaster strike, if for instance our car would break down. After all, banks were the only place to get money, and they were only open from 9 to 4 on weekdays. Hole-in-the-walls (ATMs, which we called flappentappers) did not exist; they only appeared in the eighties.

The Dutch-Belgian border crossing went smoothly, but at the Belgian-French crossing my cousin wore his sunglasses. The customs officer demanded that he take them off for identification, but he was a bit slow in doing that: we were taken out of the line and had to unload all our luggage from the car, which was meticulously searched. We hid his glasses for the next crossing into Spain…

Spain at that time was not a member of the EC, and still was under the yoke of the Franco dictatorship. Even at nine years old, I was appalled at the poverty that I saw everywhere. I did not return to Spain until 1988, a year and a half after their accession to the EC, and the difference was already enormous. Construction was going on everywhere, business was booming; the real boost to Spain’s economical development, though, came with the introduction of the Euro. 

“We backtracked, and heaved a sigh of relief when we were back in the Netherlands without meeting a gendarme

Tanja Van der Meer

In 1973, we were vacationing with relatives in South-Limburg. While trying to follow the Mergellandroute, we inadvertently ended up in Belgium. My father became very nervous, as we did not bring our passports. We backtracked, and heaved a sigh of relief when we were back in the Netherlands without meeting a gendarme. Nowadays, of course, it is so much easier for the inhabitants of the EU region than it was back then. Although now we are used to always carrying our ID, even in the Netherlands.

In 1992, I was a PhD-candidate at the law faculty of the University of Amsterdam. I did all of my research through paper catalogues and sometimes had to wait a long time before the Library was able to fetch a book or periodical from some other library so that I could continue with my work. I did have a computer, though it was not much more than a glorified typewriter at that point. As a matter of fact, I was the first to have my master thesis typed out on a computer and printed with a matrix dot printer at my alma mater law faculty in Groningen.

In Amsterdam, we celebrated the signing of the Maastricht Treaty with a department outing: for us, legal historians, to see history made before our eyes was thrilling. Little did I know at that point that a year and a half later (yes, I see a pattern emerging …) I would move to Maastricht myself. 

In 2002, I witnessed how Gerrit Zalm, the Dutch minister of Finance, drew his first Euro banknote from an ATM on the Markt in Maastricht. The following day, I also drew my first Euros ever from that same cash machine!’

In conclusion, Maastricht is the birthplace of the EU. 

On the Avenue Céramique, the ‘Stars of Europe’ artwork comprises 12 big stars, one each for the Treaty of Maastricht Signatories and smaller ones for the new The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. member states.

It goes further than a mere symbolic link, however. Maastricht, already one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands due to its Roman heritage, gained European heritage. It grew to arguably become the Netherlands’ most European city, a city loved by its residents, but also by its students coming from all over Europe, and sometimes, all over the world.

The EU has thus fully replaced its predecessors, centralizing them in one fully-fledged political and economic union. Due to its unprecedented nature, the EU is said to be a legal order sui generis, which is Latin for ‘of its own kind’. 

Agustín Parise, who teaches Introduction to European Legal History at Maastricht University, adds that: “every year, we remind our students that history was shaped here in Maastricht. We speak to them about what happened, attending the where, when, and who. Students are then able to reconstruct that moment in time. Indeed, heads of state gathered in our city 30 years ago, paving the way for Europe as we know it today. They shaped a union that is built on a common heritage, while it looks straight ahead to the future!”

The community, as a human enterprise, ‘is and will always be about compromise’, but today, over 450 million European citizens from 26 The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States

enjoy advantages of European cooperation, and the Euro has become the world’s second most traded currency. Together, as a bloc, the European Union is a powerful global actor which can speak out in support of peace and justice worldwide, and guarantee rights for all European citizens.

While it remains to be seen how European Integration unfolds, many European The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States, notably Germany and France under their current governments, seem quite favourable to the furthering of the European project. 

The French Tour Eiffel, the Notre Dame de Paris, the Arc de Triomphe and the Elysée Palace have notably been lit up in Blue to celebrate the French An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council presidency, on which you can read more An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. council-of-the-european-union”>here.

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