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A brief history of the EU Treaties

The European Economic Community (EEC) was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The purpose behind the EEC was to create a union of sovereign European states which had common economic goals. By joining together in this way, the Member States sought to achieve:

1. the development of economic activities
2. economic expansion
3. a rise the standard of living

Whilst the " Common Market" or EEC is often portrayed as being an economic club with no political agenda, this is in fact incorrect. One of the primary motivations behind both the EEC and the European Coal and Steel Community, was to bind together the Member States through trade, so that the carnage that had occurred from 1939-1945 could not be repeated. At that time, many countries were struggling to recover economically from 6 years of war, and this is reflected in the objectives of the original Treaty.

However, by 1986, all of the countries that had suffered economically in the 2nd World War had recovered, and the next Treaty, the Single European Act (SEA), marked a shift away from dealing with the effects of the past, to driving "Europe" in a particular direction. The SEA was signed in 1986, and its primary purpose was the creation of the Single Market, an area without frontiers, in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital could occur. This was radical, and a major policy shift away from the crisis management objectives of the Treaty of Rome.

Treaty On European Union, Maastricht Treaty 

The next big Treaty change was the Treaty on European Union (TEU) commonly known as the Maastricht Treaty. This was signed in February 1992, and came into force on the 1st November 1993. It was this Treaty that marked the changeover from the European Economic Community (EEC) to the European Union. It introduced a number of significant changes including:

a) it established economic and monetary union
b) it established the implementation of a common foreign and security policy
c) it started to give the European Parliament teeth, by introducing the co decision procedure
d) it enshrined the principle of proportionality and subsidiarity.
e) It provided a mechanism for developing cooperation between Member States on justice and home affairs issues.
f) It introduced the concept of being a "citizen of the Union"

To view the Treaty on the European Union ["Maastricht Treaty"] click here

The Maastricht Treaty was only ever intended to be a stop-gap Treaty, as it was clear that a number of changes were likely to occur in the very near future. One fundamental change that had to be planned for was the potential accession to the EU of up to 12 countries, and the Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed in 1997, started the reform process which was needed to take account of the changes that enlargement would bring.

Amsterdam Treaty, Nice and the Constitution for Europe

The Amsterdam Treaty amended and updated the other Treaties, and made a number of politically significant changes, particularly in the areas of fundamental rights, employment, and the free movement of persons.

A month after the Treaty of Amsterdam had come into force the Treaty of Nice was being negotiated. The pure purpose of the Nice Treaty was to prepare for enlargement, and to deal with the "Amsterdam leftovers". This was primarily concerned with changing the structure and decision making processes, to allow for the fact that the EU was now going to be an EU of 25 rather than 6, and it was no longer practical to carry on using the same systems that had been in place since the Treaty of Rome.

The Amsterdam Treaty introduced a consolidated version of the Community Treaties. The consolidated versions are linked below, and include the changes introduced by the Treaty of Nice.

The next proposed EU Treaty was the Constitution for Europe. The version put forward suggested one model for the future of Europe, which was rejected by the French and Dutch voters.

Lisbon Treaty

Europe has always swung between the trade model, where the EU is an economic and trading club, and a social model, where the EU involvement is deeper into everyday affairs.

Following on from the No votes by the Dutch and the French in relation to the Constitutional Treaty, a new Treaty was proposed, commonly known as the Lisbon Treaty or Reform Treaty. This Treaty amended both the Treaty on the European Union, and also created the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union.

Despite being initially rejected by Irish voters in a referendum, the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2010, and is the current Treaty governing the relationship between the EU institutions and the 27 Member States. 

On 31/01/2020 the UK ceased to be a Member State, following the result of the EU referendum on the 23 June 2016. After that, the UK was in a transition period where EU law still applied. EU law ceased to apply to the UK, in the manner of a Member State on the 31/12/2020 at 11pm UK time. Since then, the relationship between the UK and the EU is governed by the provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and also the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, rather than the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

Consolidated texts of the Treaties may be found here: EU Treaties