February 7th 1992: Maastricht Treaty signed

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The signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992

On this day in 1992 the European Union was brought into being by the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. It was signed by the twelve members of the European Community – a precursor to the EU. The treaty was named for the city in the Netherlands where it was drafted and signed. Maastricht became effective on November 1st 1993, and on that day the EU was formally established. It also provided for common security and foreign policy and gave the people of the signatory states European citizenship. Most importantly, Maastricht provided a blueprint for the later monetary union seen in the establishment of the common currency: the Euro.

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Euro banknotes

Whilst the signing occurred without event, the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty was more contentious. The Danish failed to ratify it, but subsequent amendments made it more fit for the Danish people and thus it was ratified. The French referendum only narrowly voted for ratification. The United Kingdom also struggled, with opponents to the treaty on both sides; Prime Minister John Major narrowly won a vote of no confidence he called to challenge the rebels.

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The flag of the European Union

With the benefit of hindsight we can see how the contemporary controversy of the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty would foreshadow the continued contention over the role of the EU. Many countries have begun to object to what they see as increasing encroachment on national sovereignty as Brussels claims authority over more and more areas of policy. For example, the European Court of Human Rights can strike down the rulings of national courts. The economic struggles of the Euro have also questioned the validity of a common currency system. I am not able to expound on the attitudes to the EU in other European countries (of that I am woefully ignorant) but as a Brit I can see what is happening over here. The Conservative Party is faced with a growing challenge on its right – something it has never had to cope with before. Eurosceptic MPs in their own party have pushed for a referendum on Britain’s continued EU membership and they have watched with fear as the anti-Europe UK Independence Party steadily rises in the polls. Thus the Tories have promised to call a referendum should they be re-elected in the 2015. I personally favour continued membership of Europe and worry about the result of this referendum. It is often seen with referendums that only the people with extreme opinions on the matter come to vote. Many are apathetic about the EU, and so I can see the anti-Europe voters disproportionately dominating the polls. We have already seen this recently with the referendum on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote, and only those who fervently believed in keeping First Past the Post attended. The future of the EU looks troubled, but hopefully they will continue to use the communitarian spirit which gave us Maastricht to face these challenges head on.

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