Treaties of the European Union

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The Treaties are the bedrock of European cooperation and the foundations of integration in the EU, governing the course of EU integration and acting as milestones on the road to an integrated European continent. The Treaties establish the way the EU functions, including the functions and roles of its institutions and member states; their powers, structure etc. Furthermore, they symbolise the European virtue of the rule of law – “A treaty is a binding agreement between EU member countries. It sets out EU objectives, rules for EU institutions, how decisions are made and the relationship between the EU and its member countries”. All the Treaties have been approved voluntarily and democratically by all 28 member-states of the EU. 

The steps towards European Unification were first begun by the founding fathers of European integration, setting our great continent on the road to peace and prosperity:

  • Konrad Adenauer (German Chancellor)
  • Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister)
  • Alcide de Gasperi (Italian Prime Minister)
  • Joseph Bech (Luxembourger Politician)
  • Johan Willem Beyen (Dutch Businessman & Politician)
  • Walter Hallstein (First President of the European Commission)
  • Sicco Mansholt (Dutch Politician & European Commissioner for Agriculture)
  • Jean Monnet (French political & economic advisor)
  • Robert Schuman (Lawyer & French Foreign Minister)
  • Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgian Politician & International Statesman)
  • Altiero Spinelli (European Federalist & Italian political advisor)

Major Treaties

The Treaty of Paris – this treaty was the first treaty signed by the European powers after the Second World War and established the Coal & Steel Community (ECSC). It was signed by the 6 original European powers who embarked on the project of integration (France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in April 1951. The treaty was designed to ease the distrust and tension felt by these western powers after the war by making their key industries of coal and steel interdependent, eliminating the possibility of one mobilising its armed forces without the others knowing. The was the first expression of an integrated and supranational Europe, acting as the basis for the future EU.

The Treaties of Rome – establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), the Treaties of Rome were the first major step towards an integrated Europe; whilst the Paris treaty was designed to prevent war and preserve peace, Rome was meant to begin the process of integration. It was signed by the original 6, who signed the Treaty of Paris, in March 1957. The Treaties extended European economic cooperation to beyond Coal and Steel to a more general level.

The Treaty of Brussels – The Merger Treaty signed in Brussels in April 1965 paved the way for a unification of the different European associations that had been created since the early 50s. It created a single Commission and a single Council for the EEC, ECSC, and Euratom. The treaty thus brought together the multiple European communities under a single institutional structure, and thus acted as the first step towards a single European union. Again, the treaty was signed by the 6 initial integrationist collaborators.

The Single European Act – The Single European Act signed by the now 12-strong Union (Britain, Ireland & Denmark having joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain & Portugal in 1985) was the first major revision of the Treaty of Rome, preparing the Union for the accession of the 2 Iberian states Spain and Portugal. The Act, singed in February 1986, set the objective of establishing a Single Market by 1992, revised and streamlined the decision-making process in the European institutions (including qualified-majority voting in the Council and setting up cooperation & assent procedures ) and increased powers of Parliament. The Act focussed on the removal of barriers in the European system, in politics, trade and business.

The Treaty of Maastricht – The Treaty on European Union singed in February 1992 founded officially the modern European Union, and drove to integrate Europe further. Among other things, the Treaty set the objective of Monetary Union in the EU, established more forms of cooperation between governments on areas of defence, justice & internal affairs, set a common European foreign policy and established a common European citizenship. It was signed by the 12 nations that had signed the previous treaty in 1986. Maastricht is seen as a major milestone in European history, setting up many areas of common European laws and areas of cooperation – it was the largest step in integration since Rome in 1957.

The Treaty of Amsterdam – The Amsterdam Treaty provided many revisions of EU Law in order to prepare for the arrival of new member states, further stream-line the decision making process and improve the democratic legitimacy of EU institutions. Powers of the European Parliament were significantly increased, allowing it to legislate on Foreign Policy, Criminal & Civil Law and immigration, this achieved through the increased use of the ‘Ordinary Legislative Procedure‘ (where all 3 institutions, Parliament, Council and Commission are equal in the law-making process) and a revision of EU institutions to allow for new member states was also made. The Treaty was signed in October 1997, by the Union of now 15 members (Austria, Sweden and Finland having joined in 1995).

The Treaty of Nice – the Amsterdam Treaty not sufficiently preparing the EU for eastward expansion, the Nice Treaty signed in February 2001 further revised the composition of the Commission and the functioning of the Council to allow the Union to reach its intended 25-strong composition. Voting weights of the different nations had to be significantly adjusted, the ‘double-majority’ voting system was drawn up as a result of the problems with EU Council voting weight, as a result of disagreements stemming from both German Reunification and Eastward Expansion. The then 15 member-states all signed the Treaty.

The Treaty of Lisbon – The Lisbon Treaty is the final major revision of the governing EU treaties, and made substantial pushes towards a further integration of the European Union. Signed by the now 27 members of the Union (with the two phases of eastward expansion in 2004 – Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta & Cyprus – and in 2007 – Bulgaria & Romania) in December 2007. The Treaty made major adjustments to the functioning of the EU to make it a genuine unified actor on the word stage, as well as more democratic internally and more clear in how it would function. Among other things it implemented the ‘Double Majority’ voting system to the Council of the EU, set up the EU Diplomatic service and a permanent High Representative for Foreign Affairs, accredited more powers to the European Parliament allowing it to become a body on equal footing with the Council and established a permanent President of the European Council. It also filled in for the failed treaty meant to establish a European Constitution, by also enshrining the Charter of Fundamental Rights (signed December 2000) in European Law. The Charter guaranteed certain social, economic and political rights to European Citizens. The Lisbon Treaty also clearly defined the separation of powers between supranational bodies, member states, and shared powers. Lisbon is the first major move towards a democratic and unified European political structure.

Minor

The Accession Treaties – Accession treaties were signed with every European expansion, and took place in 4 major stages (First EFTA, Mediterranean, Second EFTA & Eastern expansions). With each expansion the number of seats in the Parliament and weight of votes in the Council of the EU had to be changed to account for the arrival of new member-states (although with the implementation of the double majority voting system, this is no longer necessary in the Council).

  • The Treaty of Accession of Denmark, Ireland & the United Kingdom (signed 1972)
  • The Treaty of Accession of Greece (signed 1979)
  • The Treaty of Accession of Spain & Portugal (signed 1985)
  • The Treaty of Accession of Austria, Finland & Sweden (signed 1994)
  • The Treaty of Accession of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia (signed 2003)
  • The Treaty of Accession of Bulgaria & Romania (signed 2005)
  • The Treaty of Accession of Croatia (signed 2012)

Norway was intended to be brought into the EU in the Accession Treaties in 1972 and 1994, with the other members of EFTA (European Free Trade Association), however on both occasions the treaty failed ratification by the Norwegian people. Today, EFTA still includes Norway, as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland as its members and participates in the European Single Market.

The Schengen Convention – the borderless Schengen area of Europe was initially conceived with the signing of the Schengen Agreement in June 1985, initially by 5 of the original 6 founders of the European project (Ireland, Italy and Britain did not come to an agreement with the other nations). Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg had already abolished their external borders with each other since the formation of the Benelux Economic Union in 1944. The Schengen Convention drawn up in 1990 led to the total abolition of border controls, allowing the free movement of people, without hindrance, across the nations of Europe. It was agreed upon independently of the European project, due mostly to the lack of agreement between member-states, but was incorporated into the main body of European Law in the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland all later voluntarily joined the Convention in order to better integrate with the European Union. Meanwhile, Ireland and Britain have had their own Common Travel Area (CTA), resulting in an open border since 1952.

European Economic Treaties – The European Union (not in its 28-member entirety however) has many established treaties governing the economic management of member-states. The members of the Eurozone adheres to all of them however. The treaties limit the size of adherents’ budget deficits, national debts and are designed to bring all members into line economically, so they can run together smoothly as a single economy. In practice this means bringing them all up to the German standard by implementing German supply-side economics.

  • The Stability & Growth Pact – the pact is designed to bring European economies more into line, through the pursuit of sound public finances and a coordination of fiscal policy. This was required in order to support the EMU (European Economic & Monetary Union). All 28 member states have agreed to adhere to the pact, however it is more important in the Eurozone monetary union. It came into force in two stages; firstly in July 1998, the ‘preventive arm’ of the pact, which guarantees the Commission and Council of the EU the powers over surveillance of budgetary policies and coordinated economic policies. Secondly in January 1999, the ‘corrective arm’ came into force, allowing the Commission to pull up member-states governments on excessive deficits, and help them move towards a smaller budget deficit or surplus. These were meant to ensure fiscal discipline in all EU countries (taken from the German model), with the key focusses being budget deficit (cannot exceed 3% of GDP) and national debt (cannot exceed 60% of GDP). The pact requires all member states to submit reports to the EU on their fiscal plans for the year, and are then given objectives (MTOs) in order to meet them. Those who do not comply receive a set of more detailed instructions and a deadline to meet the objectives. Further non-compliance can result in fines.
  • The Euro Plus Pact – the pact was to ensure a general increase in competitiveness, employment, financial stability and fiscal strength in the aftermath of the 2008 and Euro Crises. It was signed in March 2011 by all EU member-states except the UK, Sweden, Hungary, Croatia & the Czech Republic, and came into force through intergovernmental agreement and cooperation. The pact was designed to target structural factors which had not been addressed in the EU response to the crisis, such as unit labour costs and unemployment rates. It was put forward by the French and German governments, and is thus not part of general EU law as of yet. The pact incentivises structural reforms through intergovernmental discussion to discover policies which work from other member-states, and a list of potential policies which are then included in a states National Reform Programme. It also had members adopt the Stability & Growth Pact into national legislation, making it legally binding at the national level. Since 2011, the pact has lost traction, though it is has recently been accepted to become an official part of EU Law.
  • The European Stability Mechanism- the ESM was created through intergovernmental treaty by the 19 member-states of the Eurozone in February 2012, in order to deal with the Euro-Sovereign debt crisis. In effect, this independent organisation provides a permanent source of financial assistance to member-states in financial difficulty, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. It thus is the Eurozone’s answer to getting round the regulation in the EU preventing bailouts across member-states, which would have meant countries like Greece would have had to default on their payments, causing a fall in confidence in the euro as a currency across the Eurozone. To act as a ‘lender of last resort‘ and ultimately back up all loans in the Eurozone, it fulfils the function that a central bank would at the national level, which the ECB is prohibited from doing (though it works with the ECB). All Eurozone bailouts come from the ESM, with the limit per state being €500bn total. The stability mechanism has been recommended to be introduced into the main body of official EU Law, as it is currently just an intergovernmental treaty.
  • The Fiscal Compact – the Fiscal Compact is an intergovernmental treaty and a stricter version of the Stability & Growth Pact, designed to more tightly coordinate the economies of the EU. All member-states of the EU except for Britain, Croatia and the Czech Republic are part of the Compact, which was signed in March 2012. Despite this, only the 19 members of the Eurozone are bound to all the declarations in the Compact, including the most important Titles III (tight fiscal policy regulation) and IV (enhanced economic coordination). Romania and Denmark have opted to adhere to all the areas of the Compact, and Bulgaria has opted out of only Title IV. Treaty adherents must implement an ‘implementation law’ which establishes a ‘self-correcting mechanism’, which is monitored by an independent body from the government, and guarantees primarily the debt and budget laws of the 1998/99 Pact. Failure to adhere to these regulations results in annual fines. There are also rules on the size of structural deficits (which exist even in times of economic boom), which depend on whether the country has exceeded the 60% of GDP limit for national debt or not. MTOs are set for the adhering states every three years, and are monitored more strictly in some country-specific cases. Coordination includes jointly agreed policies which improve competitiveness, employment, fiscal strength and financial stability, as well as transparency between states on economic reform plans. The compact also includes summits twice a year, with both Eurozone and non-Eurozone members taking part in order to better coordinate governance of the Eurozone. The Sixpack is a further area of legislation by the Commission and European Council designed to further ensure the economic coordination and tight fiscal control of member-states, in particular those of the Eurozone.
  • The Single Supervisory Mechanism – this is the first step by the EU towards a unified banking union in the Eurozone, by making the ECB a supervisory authority, monitoring the financial stability of all banks in participating states. Those states include only the 19 members of the Eurozone, who were obliged to join, however some non-Eurozone states have expressed interest in joining, according to the ECB. The mechanism was founded in October 2013.

Sources: europa.eu

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