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Centre for Democratic FuturesCentre Blog

Who Needs EU? The Maastricht Treaty at 30

Published: 9 March 2022

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty (the Treaty on European Union), the Centre for Democratic Futures welcomed four international expert speakers to address this milestone. Collectively they addressed the three pillars of the treaty and the additional area of social policy that featured prominently in EU discourse at the time of its signing and adoption.

The session was moderated by Dr. Brian Moss, a member of the Centre’s Steering Group and lecturer at the University of Southampton. Brian has previously published on EU matters.


Prof. Philippe Pochet observed that Maastricht provided the impetus for three major developments around the highly contested idea of a “social” Europe. The Treaty provided national level social dialogue with a legal standing. It also set the parameters of what constituted EU level competencies in the area, explicitly excluding some domains (wages, strikes). Finally, the Treaty gave a voice to some social issues beyond monetary integration. Philippe argues that these represented innovations in actors, competencies and, what constituted the “social”. Importantly, Philippe also addressed what had transpired since the Treaty’s adoption. He highlighted that the interim period could be characterised as one of setbacks, with the use of soft law approaches disabling further social policy developments. The ongoing challenge, he noted, is applying a framework for minimum wages that underpins EU-wide solidarity. Such action does not reflect early monetarist and political concerns of the EU project but its realisation is essential to the EU’s ongoing stability.


Prof. Eleanor Spaventa addressed how citizenship’s inclusion in the Treaty reflected a political acknowledgement that the benefits of a European “market” by themselves were not sufficient to underpin public support. Yet, EU citizenship has proven problematic, it remains an uncertain quality, and poses a potential challenge to national citizenship. The Treaty, for instance, interfered with the rights of political participation for the first time, in terms of local elections and in EU Parliament elections. Further, the Treaty codified an EU citizen’s right to move and reside across the EU. Eleanor pointed out that the gains this conferred have since been overshadowed by a fear around benefit tourism, behind which lurk debates about “belonging” within member states. Closing, Eleanor highlighted what she felt was the most important issue, namely clarification of the link between citizenship and someone’s state of origin. Here the ECJ has increasingly moved to decouple both, and in doing so it removes EU citizenship.


Dr. Saskia Maria Hufnagel noted the intentionally provocative title of the event while acknowledging that it might fairly reflect developments to date in the EU justice and home affairs arena. Before Maastricht and since then, most engagement in this policy area has been intergovernmental. Saskia argued that those EU agencies that have emerged (e.g. Europol and Frontex), have corrected certain institutional weaknesses, even if those agencies themselves continue to attract criticism. Moving on, she maintained that the Treaty secured change in some of the most conservative areas of domestic policy, often against police reservations. Closer member state co-ordination and politicisation of migration have since given rise to unwelcome developments like the UK exit from the EU and re-introduction of border controls. Yet, Saskia maintained, co-operation has also brought mutual recognitions in such matters as criminal trials and arrest warrants, reflecting the EU’s ambition for genuine political union and values, ones not in existence outside the EU.


Dr. Xuechen Chen examined the EU’s nascent ambition to be a prominent security actor and provider in its relations with Asia. She highlighted how, since 2012, the EU has sought to mitigate perceptions of a gap between expectations of it and what it can deliver in global security matters. In doing so, Chen pointed to the EU’s use of “soft”, non-security interventions, e.g. health, advice and co-operation with Asian states. This has paid dividends in terms of institutional networks and dialogue with Asian partners in a relatively short period of time. While the EU’s introduction of internal roles/services to manage this work has further augmented its progress. Yet, Chen maintained that the EU position has been confused and fragmented, a reflection of differing EU member state and institution priorities. This uncertainty leaves the EU’s ambitions about being a global security provider imbalanced in relation to Asian countries’ expectations of what it can achieve as a security provider.


Overall, the Maastricht Treaty has had a visible impact on European and domestic matters. While the recent UK exit from EU membership has been one example, it is only one among wider claims of displacement, crisis, lost identity, disequilibrium, dissensus, and under-development cited in research. Combined, these varying assessments highlight the continued importance of the EU and its treaties for the European demos and challenges that remain.



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