Maastricht Treaty: Definition, Purpose, History, and Significance

What Is the Maastricht Treaty?

The term Maastricht Treaty refers to the international agreement that was responsible for the creation of the European Union (EU). The agreement was signed in 1992 in the Dutch city of Maastricht and became effective in 1993. It led to greater cooperation between the 12 member nations that signed the treaty by promoting unified citizenship, along with economic, social, and progress. The treaty also laid down the foundation for a single currency, the euro. It was amended several times since it was signed. As of October 2021, 27 member states were part of the European Union.

Key Takeaways

  • The Maastricht Treaty laid down the foundation for the European Union.
  • The treaty was signed by 12 countries in the Dutch city of Maastricht in 1992 and went into effect in 1993.
  • The agreement established greater cooperation between member states through economic, social, and legal channels.
  • The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union's single currency system for the euro.
  • The treaty was amended a number of times between 1997 and 2009.

Understanding the Maastricht Treaty

The Maastricht Treaty was signed in the Dutch city of Maastricht on Feb. 7, 1992, by representatives of 12 member nations that made up the European Community (EC). Discussions for the agreement began in December 1991. The concept of the EU was a topic of debate and required the approval of voters in each country, which included:

  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom and Northern Ireland

Formally as the Treaty on European Union, the treaty went into effect on Nov. 1, 1993.

The goal of the treaty was to increase cooperation by establishing common European citizenship to allow residents to move, live, and work freely between member states. It also created a shared economic, foreign policy, and security policy system. Member nations also agreed to cooperate on security and legal affairs.

The treaty established a timeline for the creation and implementation of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The EMU was to include a common economic and monetary union, a central banking system, and a common currency. The European Central Bank (ECB) was in 1998 once the end of the year conversion rates between member states' currencies was fixed, a prelude to the creation of the euro, which began circulation in 2002.

It also introduced the criteria that countries must meet if they want to join the euro. This was a measure to ensure that countries joining the euro were stable in inflation, levels of public debt, interest rates, and exchange rates.

Nineteen of the countries use the euro as their official currency.

Special Considerations

The treaty was amended a number of times since it was first ratified:

  • In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam added to some of the social protection points in the original treaty, including those referring to asylum seekers and immigration, sex discrimination, and living and working conditions.
  • The Treaty of Nice, which went into effect in February 2003, reformed the Treaty of Maastricht in preparation for new member states. This agreement gave the Commission's president more autonomy from member state governments. It also provided member states with more power to integrate policies in some areas, despite the need for national vetoes.
  • The Treaty of Lisbon amended existing treaties rather than replacing them. It established an EU presidency, strengthened the union's foreign policy representation, and transferred greater power to the union's judiciary, parliament, and commission. It went into effect in December 2009 after two years of votes in member countries.

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union following a referendum referred to as Brexit. Its withdrawal formally took place on Jan. 31, 2020.

Effects of the Maastricht Treaty

The treaty granted EU citizenship to every citizen of a member state, allowing people to run for local office and for European Parliament elections in the EU country where they lived, regardless of nationality.  

By creating a common economic and monetary union, the agreement established the current central banking system. The ECB's main objective is to maintain price stability, which ultimately means to safeguard the value of the euro. This started with the free movement of capital between the member states, which led to increased cooperation between national central banks and the increased alignment of economic policy among member states. The final step was the introduction of the euro.

A major goal was greater policy cooperation and coordination more generally. The environment, policing, and social policy were just some of a number of areas in which the countries aimed to increase cooperation and coordination. 

Article Sources
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  1. European Central Bank. "Five things you need to know about the Maastricht Treaty." Accessed Oct. 27, 2021.

  2. Britannica. "The Treaty of Maastricht." Accessed Oct. 27, 2021.

  3. United Nations Treaty Collection. "Treaty on European Union." Accessed Oct. 27, 2021.

  4. European Union. "Using The Euro." Accessed Oct, 27, 2021.

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