The Amsterdam Treaty (in full: Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts) which was signed on October 2, 1997, and entered into force on May 1, 1999, made substantial changes to the Treaty on European Union which had been signed at Maastricht in 1992.
Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts
In a nutshell, the Amsterdam Treaty meant a greater emphasis on citizenship and the rights of individuals, more democracy in the shape of increased powers for the European Parliament, a new title on employment, a Community area of freedom, security and justice, the beginnings of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the reform of the institutions in the run-up to enlargement.
The Treaty was the result of very long negotiations, which began in Messina, Sicily, on June 2, 1995, forty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome and reached completion on the night of June 17-18, 1997, in Amsterdam. Since October 2, 1997, when the Treaty was formally signed, the Member States were engaged in an equally long and complex ratification process. The European Parliament endorsed the Treaty on November 19, 1997, and after two referenda and 13 decisions by national parliaments, the Member States finally concluded the procedure.
Amsterdam comprises 13 Protocols, 51 Declarations adopted by the Conference and 8 Declarations by Member States plus amendments to the existing Treaties set out in 15 Articles. Article 1 (containing 16 paragraphs) amends the general provisions of the Treaty on European Union and covers the CFSP and cooperation in criminal and police matters. The next four Articles (70 paragraphs) amend the EC Treaty, the ECSC Treaty (which expired in 2002), the Euratom Treaty and the Act concerning the election of the European Parliament. The final provisions contain four Articles. The new Treaty also set out to simplify the Community Treaties, deleting more than 56 obsolete articles and renumbering the rest in order to make the whole more legible. By way of example, Article 189b on the codecision procedure became Article 251.
Four key chapters were affected: citizenship and fundamental rights, the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice, the CFSP and the reform of the institutions.
The Treaty opened the way for dialogue between the EU and its citizens by safeguarding fundamental rights (for the first time Member States failing to respect such rights may face penalties), tackling discrimination of all kinds, providing for equal opportunities for men and women, focusing on social issues and assets such as voluntary work, sport, public-service television broadcasting, disability, churches and non-confessional organisations, public credit institutions operating in certain countries and a rejection of the death penalty. But the Treaty also dealt with the major issues facing our society such as employment, the environment, public health and open government.
The most pressing concerns of ordinary Europeans, such as their legal and personal security, immigration and fraud prevention, were all dealt with in other chapters of the Treaty. In particular, the EU will now be able to legislate on immigration, civil law or civil procedure, insofar as this is necessary for the free movement of persons within the EU. At the same time, intergovernmental cooperation was intensified in the police and criminal justice field so that Member States will be able to coordinate their activities more effectively. The Union aims to establish an area of freedom, security and justice for its citizens. The Schengen Agreements have now been incorporated into the legal system of the EU.
The Treaty lays down new principles and responsibilities in the field of the common foreign and security policy, with the emphasis on projecting the EU's values to the outside world, protecting its interests and reforming its modes of action. The European Council will lay down common strategies, which will then be put into effect by the Council acting by a qualified majority, subject to certain conditions. In other cases, some States may choose to abstain "constructively", i.e. without actually preventing decisions being taken.
The treaty introduced a High Representative for EU Foreign Policy who, together with the Presidents of the Council and the European Commission, puts a "name and a face" on EU policy in the outside world. Although the Amsterdam Treaty did not provide for a common defence, it did increase the EU's responsibilities for peacekeeping and humanitarian work, in particular by forging closer links with Western European Union.
As for the institutions, there were two major reforms concerning the codecision procedure (the legislative procedure involving the European Parliament and the Council), affecting its scope - most legislation was adopted by the codecision procedure - and its detailed procedures, with Parliament playing a much stronger role. The President of the Commission will also have to earn the personal trust of Parliament, which will give him the authority to lay down the Commission's policy guidelines and play an active part in choosing the Members of the Commission by deciding on their appointment by common accord with the national governments. These provisions make the Commission more politically accountable, particularly vis-à-vis the European Parliament. Finally, the new Treaty opens the door, under very strict conditions, to closer cooperation between Member States which so wish. Closer cooperation may be established, on a proposal from the Commission, in cases where it is not possible to take joint action, provided that such steps do not undermine the coherence of the EU or the rights and equality of its citizens.
The Amsterdam Treaty did not settle all institutional questions once and for all. Work is still in progress on reforming the institutions to make them capable of operating effectively and democratically in a much enlarged EU. The most pressing issues here are the composition of the Commission, the weighting of Member States' votes, and qualified majority voting. These questions are addressed in the drafting of the European constitution.
- The Amsterdam Treaty - official site (http://europa.eu.int/abc/obj/amst/en/)
- The History of the European Union - The Treaty of Amsterdam (http://www.historiasiglo20.org/europe/amsterdam.htm)
- European Disability Forum (http://www.edf-feph.org/): Guide to the Amsterdam Treaty (http://www.ebuindigo.org/gat-en.htm) (Single page (http://www.independentliving.org/docs3/edf98.html))
- The Amsterdam Summit in retrospect: Maastricht II and corporate lobby successes (http://www.corporateeurope.org/observer0/maastricht.html) (UNICE)
- The Amsterdam Treaty - How Industry Got Its Way (http://www.pmckenna.com/agenda/treaty/amsterdam/social3.html) (ERT)