Treaty of Amsterdam

Treaty of Amsterdam in Europe

Description of Treaty of Amsterdam

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes treaty of amsterdam in the following terms: [1] The Treaty of Amsterdam, agreed in 1997 and ratified in 1998, was intended as a sequel to the Maastricht Treaty, with the emphasis on institutional reform to facilitate enlargement and address the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’. The concept was that a Community designed originally for six rich nations needed a new structure to accommodate up to 25 countries, some of them relatively poor (see more in this European encyclopedia). Much of the Treaty takes the form of amendments to and renumbering of the Treaties of Rome and Maastricht, making it hard to follow. The Europhileverdict is that it achieved little, partly because of Germany’s unwontedly negative attitude, apparently arising from Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s desire to avoid any action that might derail EMu (see more in this European encyclopedia). By contrast, others see the Treaty as significantly shifting responsibilities from the member states to the Community.

The Treaty’s principal purpose was to create ‘an area of freedom, security and justice’ and to give the EU a say in ‘fundamental rights’. The Schengen Agreement was incorporated into the acquis communautaire, partly through intergovernmental arrangements to abolish internal frontier controls and partly through transferring to the EU responsibility for immigration, external borders, visas and asylum (the UK and Ireland have certain opt-outs of limited effectiveness). New anti-discrimination rights were introduced and the Social Chapter, a protocol of the Maastricht Treaty, was relocated in the main body of the text of the Treaty of Rome (see more in this European encyclopedia). The Maastricht Treaty was amended to permit Community-level action against organised crime and EU fraud. To that end the role of Europol was strengthened, perhaps foreshadowing its emergence as a European FBI, and there was wording suggestive of an incipient harmonisationof criminal law, a matter of particular concern to the UK with its unique common law safeguards. As a result of these changes, the Justice and Home Affairspillar of the Maastricht Treaty was renamed Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters.

The Treaty dealt somewhat disjointedly with defence and foreign affairs, declaring the WEU to be an ‘integral part’ of the ‘Common Foreign and Security Policy’ while stating that NATO obligations were to be ‘respected’. Majority voting in the Council of Ministers was extended in the field of foreign policy, but not defence (see more in this European encyclopedia). Glossing over the member states’ divergent views on neutrality,NATO membership and the US military presence in Europe (not to mention specific issues such as the Balkan and Iraqi conflicts), the Treaty stipulated that policy questions should be resolved by the six-monthly presidency of the Union. The Commission was to be ‘fully associated’ with any ‘common measures’ in this area.

In the field of institutional reform, the Treaty attempted little beyond foreseeing a future reweighting of Council votes in favour of the more populous countries (in exchange for their giving up the right to two Commissioners each). The role of subsidiarity was codified, showing it as essentially strengthening the superiority of Community law over domestic law and precluding any return of powers to the nation state (see more in this European encyclopedia). The principle of ‘respecting the national identities of member states’ slipped down the list of priorities and the right of veto was reduced by the introduction of qualified majority voting into 16 new areas. The Treaty removed from national governments, after an interim period, their right of initiative to make proposals to the Council, which thereafter would accept proposals only from the Commission. The main beneficiary of the Treaty was the European Parliament, which gained extensive further powers of co-decision.

By permitting the flexible use of Community institutions, or ‘closer co-operation’, on the part of individual groups of states wishing to accelerate their own mutual integration, the Treaty for the first time condoned a two-speed Europe, albeit as a last resort. Nevertheless, there was no concession to the idea of a ‘Europe of Nations’. Indeed, one remarkable clause would permit the European Council to suspend the voting rights of a member state considered to be guilty of contravention of the Treaty’s ‘fundamental principles of liberty’. Briefings indicated that this was intended as an emergency measure in the event of, for example, a coup d’état, but however impeccable the intention the clause appeared to challenge the essence of national sovereignty. (See also Common Foreign and Security Policy, Enlargement, Schengen Agreement and Variable geometry.)

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Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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