The meaning of Maastricht

On February 7th 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was signed. It was more properly called the Treaty on European Union, and was signed in Maastricht by the then members of the European Economic Community. Its purpose was to further European integration. As part of that project it renamed the EEC the European Community, dropping the word ‘economic’ to emphasize its move into social, foreign, judicial and security matters. It retained that name until 2009, when it officially became the European Union.

The Maastricht Treaty heralded moves to create a common European currency, the Euro. The UK and Denmark secured opt-outs from the European currency and its attendant convergence criteria. The UK also secured an opt-out from the Social Chapter, a concession rendered meaningless when the working time directive was imposed under health and safety rules instead. The first government of Tony Blair abandoned the Social Chapter opt-out, but the UK and Ireland retained the opt-outs they secured on the Schengen agreement on borderless travel.

The Maastricht Treaty probably marked the start of an increasingly fractious relationship between the UK and the EC/EU. Many people in the UK thought that European integration was completed with the establishment of a single market, and were opposed to the creation of a European state as a political entity. Some European leaders were quite open about wanting a political union to oppose the influence of the United States, and to have a European currency that could compete with the dollar for world eminence. Most UK people did not support such ambitions. Indeed, many saw more in common with the US than they did with the EU.

Edmund Burke had written of the American colonists’ attitude to British rule: “They augur misgovernment at a distance and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze,” and the same might be said of increasing misgivings many UK people felt about the rules being imposed on them from afar. It is an entirely plausible claim that it was on this day 27 years ago that a fuse was lit that would eventually burn its way to the heart of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and would explode into the vote in 2016 to change that relationship.