The Treaty of Amsterdam

4 Colum. J. Eur. L. 1 (1998)

Philippe Manin. Professor of the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Jean Monnet Chair, Head of the International and European Department, Chair of an academic study group on the Intergovernmental Conference.

While the European Communities have been essentially stable for years, it seems that since the Single European Act of 1985, the pace of modification has increased. After a long period of “Eurosclerosis,” it is safe to say that the European integration process is, despite a certain number of failures, in better shape than before. As part of this integration process, representatives from the fifteen European Union States signed the Amsterdam Treaty on October 2, 1997. The Amsterdam Treaty revises the European Communities treaties, as well as the Treaty on European Union (the TEU or the Maastricht Treaty).

It is, at a first glance, somewhat surprising that a new revision process has been initiated so soon after Maastricht. However, a limited revision-which is what the Amsterdam Treaty originally was supposed to be-is contemplated in Article N(2) of the Maastricht Treaty itself. Article N(2) provides that “a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States will be convened in 1996 to examine those provisions of this Treaty for which revision has been provided, in accordance with the objectives set out in Articles A and B.”

However, the scope of the revision process has been progressively widened. Representatives from the Member States decided on a very important expansion of the mandate in Ioannina (Corfu) in March 1994. There, the Intergovernmental Conference contemplated in Article N(2) of the Maastricht Treaty was assigned the task of studying the institutional reform issue, including revision of the weighted vote and the qualified majority threshold, in order to prepare the European Union and the European Communities for the admission of a large number of central and eastern European countries.’ For the first time in its history, the Community seemed to take a firm stand on the principle that institutional reform was a prerequisite to further enlargement. From that moment, institutional reform became the most important issue on the conference agenda, at least to those not privy to the actual negotiations.

Thus, through the preparatory work of a reflection group composed of the personal representatives of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the various member countries, and by virtue of decisions made by several European Councils,’ the Conference agenda became virtually open-ended. The only significant exception was that the study could in no way include issues related to the Economic and Monetary Union. The Turin European Council of March 1994, which also was the opening session of the Intergovernmental Conference, decided that the Conference agenda should be centered around three broad topics: bringing the Union closer to its citizens, making its institutions more efficient and democratic, and strengthening the Union’s external action capabilities.

Given the broad mandate and the virtually unconstrained nature of the topics to be considered, the structure of the Union and the Communities could have been significantly altered. However, the Amsterdam Treaty failed to do so.

Because the Conference failed to adopt decisions on the enlargement adaptation issue, it is at times considered a complete failure and the Amsterdam Treaty viewed as being so unimportant as to make it a “non-event.” However, such strong assertions are unfounded. Both the Amsterdam Treaty and the conference leading up to it deserve to be considered more fairly.

Although it is very difficult to predict the practical importance of a revision treaty at this time,9 it is possible to assess the accomplishments and the setbacks of the negotiations leading up to the Amsterdam Treaty. This Article will not discuss all modifications introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty,10 but will focus on those which at the present time seem most substantial. Part I of this Article will examine the results in the “area of Freedom, Security and Justice,” which probably will prove to be the most important accomplishments of the Amsterdam Treaty. Part II will focus on the results in the area of Institutional Reform. In Part mI, the Foreign and Security Policy changes will be discussed. Part IV will examine the “variable geometry” emerging in the European Communities as a result of some states cooperating more closely than others, and some states having won derogation concessions from various treaty provisions. Finally, before concluding on the general importance of the Amsterdam Treaty, this Article will, in Part V, look at some miscellaneous provisions that do not change the structure of the European Union, but which do represent important efforts in difficult areas.