Introduction: From Paris via Rome to Maastricht and Amsterdam

AuthorDr. Klaus-Dieter Borchardt

Page 5

Until shortly after the end of the Second World War our concept of the State and our political life had developed almost entirely on the basis of national constitutions and laws. It was on this basis in our democratic States that the rules of conduct binding not only on citizens and parties but also on the State and its organs were created. It took the complete collapse of Europe and its political and economic decline to create the conditions for and give a new impetus to the idea of a new European order.

In overall terms, moves towards unification in Europe since the Second World War have created a confusing mixture of numerous and complex organisations that are difficult to keep track of. For example, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), WEU (Western European Union), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), the Council of Europe, the European Union (which started life as the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Community) coexist without any real links between them. The number of member countries in these various organisations ranges from 19 (WEU) to 40 (Council of Europe).

This variety of institutions only acquires a logical structure if we look at the specific aims of these organisations; these can be divided into three main groups:

The Euro-Atlantic organisations

The Euro-Atlantic organisations came into being as a result of the alliance between the United States of America and Europe after the Second World War. It was no coincidence that the first European organisation of the post-war period, the OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Cooperation), founded in 1948, was created at the initiative of the United States. The US Secretary of State at the time, George Marshall, called on the countries of Europe in 1947 to join forces in rebuilding their economies and promised American help. This came in the form of the Marshall Plan, which provided the foundation for the rapid reconstruction of western Europe. At first, the main aim of the OEEC was to liberalise trade between countries. In 1960, when the United States and Canada became members, a further objective was added, namely to promote economic progress in the Third World through development aid. The OEEC then became the OECD.

In 1949, NATO was founded as a military alliance with the United States and Canada. In 1954, the Western European Union (WEU) was created to strengthen security cooperation between the countries of Europe. It brought together the Page 6 countries that had concluded the Brussels Treaty (United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) with the addition of the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy. Portugal, Spain and Greece are now also members of the WEU. The organisation offers its members a platform for close cooperation on security and defence, and thus serves both to strengthen Europe`s political weight in the Atlantic alliance and to establish a European identity in security and defence policy.

The Council of Europe and the OSCE

The feature common to the second group of European organisations is that they are structured to enable as many countries as possible to participate. At the same time, there was an awareness that these organisations would not go beyond customary international cooperation.

These organisations include the Council of Europe, which was founded as a political institution on 5 May 1949. Its Statute does not make any reference to moves towards Page 7 a federation or union, nor does it provide for the transfer or merging of sovereign rights. Decisions on all important questions require unanimity, which means that every country has a power of veto; the same set-up is to be found in the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The Council of Europe is therefore designed only with international cooperation in mind. Numerous conventions have been concluded by the Council in the fields of economics, culture, social policy and law. The most important - and best known - of these is the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) of 4 November 1950. The Convention not only enabled a minimum standard for the safeguarding of human rights to be laid down for the member countries; it also established a system of legal protection which enables the bodies established in Strasbourg under the Convention (the European Commission on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights) to condemn violations of human rights in the member countries.

This group of organisations also includes the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), founded in 1994 at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE is bound by the principles and aims set out in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Charter of Paris. Alongside measures to build up trust between the countries of Europe, these aims also include the creation of a "safety net" to enable disputes to be settled by peaceful means. As events of the recent past have shown, Europe still has a long way to go in this respect.

The European Union

The third group of European organisations comprises the European Union, which itself has grown out of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Community.

The feature that is completely new in the EU and distinguishes it from the usual type of international association of States is that the Member States have ceded some of their sovereign rights to the EC at the centre and have conferred on it powers to act independently. In exercising these powers, the EC is able to issue sovereign acts which have the same force as laws in individual States.

The foundation stone of a European Community was laid by the then French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, in his declaration of 9 May 1950, in which he put forward the plan he had worked out with Jean Monnet to pool Europe`s coal and steel industries. This would, he declared, constitute a historic initiative for an "organised and vital Europe", which was "indispensable for civilisation" and without which the "peace of the world could not be maintained". The "Schumann Plan" finally became a reality with the conclusion of the founding Treaty of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by the six founding States (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) on 18 April 1951 in Paris (Treaty of Paris) and its entry into force on 23 July 1952. A further development came some years later with Page 8 the Treaties of Rome of 25 March 1957, which created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom); these began their work when the Treaties entered into force on 1 January 1958.

The creation of the European Union (EU) by means of the Treaty of Maastricht marked a further step along the path to the political unification of Europe. Although the Treaty was signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992, a number of obstacles in the ratification process (approval by the people of Denmark only after a second referendum; legal action in Germany to have Parliament``s approval of the Treaty declared unconstitutional) meant that it did not enter into force until 1 November 1993. The Treaty refers to itself as "a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". As well as making a number of changes to the E(E)C Treaty and the Euratom Treaty, it contains the instrument establishing the European Union - although it does not bring this process to completion. Like the creation of the EC, it is a first step on the path leading ultimately to a European constitutional system which will embrace the EC as such. The EU saw a further development in the form of the Treaty of Amsterdam which was signed on 2 October 1997 and entered into force on 1 May 1999 after completion of the ratification process in the Member States. One innovation which deserves special mention here is the new provisions of the EU Treaty concerning flexibility, whereby Member States which intend to establish closer cooperation may make use of the institutions, procedures and mechanisms laid down in the Treaties, subject to the provisos specified. This ultimately opens the way for a multi-speed Europe, albeit with restrictions. The resultant European Union does not, contrary to some accounts in the media, replace the European Communities but instead places it under the same umbrella as the new "policies and forms of cooperation" (Article 47 EU). Hence the "three pillars" upon which the European Union is built: the European Communities; common foreign and security policy; and justice and home affairs. These will be considered in some detail in a separate chapter on the constitution of the EU.

The Member States of the EU comprise first of all the six founder members of the EC, namely Belgium, Germany (including the territory of the former GDR following the reunification of the two Germanys on 3 October 1990), France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. On 1 January 1973, the United Kingdom, Denmark (now excluding Greenland, which in a referendum in February 1982 voted by a narrow majority not to remain in the EC) and Ireland joined the Community; Norway`s planned accession was rejected in a referendum in October 1972 (53.5 % against EC membership). In 1976 and 1977, Greece, Portugal and Spain applied for membership. This "enlargement to the south" was completed on 1 January 1986 with the accession of Portugal and Spain; Greece had already been a member of the Community since 1 January 1981. The next enlargement took place on 1 January 1995 when Austria, Finland and Sweden Page 9 joined what had by then become the European Union (EU), thanks to the Treaty of Maastricht that had entered into force on 1 November 1993. In Norway, a referendum led to a repeat of the outcome 22 years before, with a small majority (52.4 %) against Norwegian membership of the EU. The EU has therefore comprised 15 Member States since 1 January 1995. Applications for membership have also been received from Turkey (1987), Cyprus (1990), Switzerland (1992 - the application is not being processed at the moment), Hungary (1994), Poland (1994), Romania (1995), Latvia (1995), Slovakia (1995), Estonia (1995), Lithuania (1995), Bulgaria (1995), the Czech Republic (1996), Slovenia (1996) and Malta (application renewed in 1998). In its "Agenda 2000" document, the Commission in July 1997 set out for the Council of the EU its position regarding the applications. The European Council met in Luxembourg in December 1997 and laid down the overall framework for the enlargement process, which encompassed all applicant countries (except Switzerland). This process consists of three stages:

* The European Conference, which met for the first time on 12 March 1998 in London, provides a multilateral framework encompassing the 10 central and east European countries (CEECs), Cyprus and now also Malta. It will offer a forum for political consultations on questions of common foreign and security policy (CFSP), justice and home affairs, economic cooperation and collaboration between regions.

* The accession process has been launched with the 10 CEECs, Cyprus and Malta. The idea is that these countries should become members of the EU on the basis of the same criteria, and should be subject to the same conditions for participation in the accession process. A special "pre-accession strategy" is to be used to enable all applicants to bring themselves, as far as possible, into line with EU law prior to their accession. As part of a review procedure, the Commission provides the Council with regular reports (the first of which was submitted at the end of 1998) on the progress being made by the CEECs on their way towards membership, where appropriate with recommendations on the start of accession negotiations.

* Accession negotiations began on 31 March 1998 with the six countries recommended by the Commission (Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia). Negotiations are being conducted bilaterally with the individual applicant countries and may be concluded at different times.

The legal order created by the European Community has already become an established component of our political life. Each year, on the basis of the Community Treaties, thousands of decisions are taken that crucially affect the Member States and lives of their citizens. The individual has long since ceased to be merely a citizen of his country, town or district; he is also a Community citizen. For this reason alone it is of crucial importance that the Community citizen should be informed Page 10 about the legal order that affects his daily life. Yet the complexities of the Community and its legal order are not easy to grasp. This is partly due to the wording of the Treaties themselves, which is often somewhat obscure, with implications which are not easy to appreciate. An additional factor is the unfamiliarity of many concepts with which the Treaties sought to break new ground. The following pages are an attempt to clarify the structure of the Community and the supporting pillars of the European legal order, and thus help to lessen the incomprehension prevailing among the citizens of the EU 1.



[1] Following the Treaty of Amsterdam, the articles of the Treaty were renumbered. The new numbering has been used in this booklet. The table of equivalences in the appendix is intended to help locate familiar articles which are now numbered differently.

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