Editorial of May 2023

By Pedro Madeira Froufe (Editor) 

30 years after “Maastricht”: the past and the future of integration (marking Europe’s Day)

1. November 2023 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Treaty on European Union – the Maastricht Treaty. “Maastricht” marks the beginning of a then new era in the integration process which, in a sense, may now be coming to an end. The “post-Maastricht era”, its assumptions and political meaning (guiding European integration), will most likely be different after the war in Ukraine. From this perspective, we can say that European integration has so far had two major phases: an initial phase, a path traced and, at the same time, built, from 1951 (Treaty of Paris, ECSC) to the birth of the European Union (Maastricht Treaty, 1992); and, on the other hand, an era already marked by the existence of the Union, i.e. from 1992/1993 to the present day (a “post-Maastricht” phase). The war in Ukraine heralds the inevitability of a third stage in the integration process which may to some extent redefine (widen?) the very understanding of integration – at least in a political and geostrategic sense. We will most likely be at the dawn of a third phase of “post-war” European integration in Ukraine.

2. To put into perspective what may happen to European integration in the post-war period in Ukraine, it is important to trace the historical-political path of European integration over the past 72 years. Following the terms of the analysis presented by Kahn, we can say that there is a recurrent set of crises that has guided European integration. Crises of a political and democratic nature, crises of an economic and social nature, and also geopolitical crises.[1] On the other hand, the history of integration is also marked by the overcoming of these recurrent crises. The very idea of an integrated Europe arose to address, as far as possible, the major global crisis of the Second World War (1939-45). In fact, Europe and European integration succeeded in burying the rubble of that world war and in rebuilding an order of peace and democracy. With remarkable success, insofar as – independently of wars that have always succeeded one after another in a regional and ad hoc manner – a kind of “end-of-war illusion” was created through integration. A new war that called into question principles of international law, such as the principle of the stability and finality of state borders and the inviolability of their territories, did not seem conceivable. In fact, with the war in Ukraine and the invasion by the Russian Federation, which started on 24 February 2022, that illusion that, to a large extent, resulted from the (re)construction of Europe and the success of integration eventually faded away, giving rise to a new reality whose features are still unclear. The post-Ukrainian War will probably see the construction of a different European order, perhaps changing the direction hitherto followed by the process of integration that began in 1951. A third “post-Ukrainian War” phase (after the previous pre-Maastricht and post-Maastricht phases).

3. As mentioned, the history of European integration has been permanently marked by crises and their respective resolution. For example, as early as the mid-1960s, France stopped taking part in Council meetings and was absent from all political actions of the Communities. It wanted to prevent the advance of supranational decision-making by qualified majority in the Council of Ministers – although qualified majority voting was already provided for in the 1957 EEC Treaty of Rome in many areas. The Luxembourg Compromise of January 1966 put an end to this crisis and ended up as a kind of informal or tacit agreement between the six Member States: politically and de facto, the right of veto of a single Member State was maintained – and decision-making by qualified majority was only put into practice at the beginning of the 1980s. However, the reaction to this political crisis eventually led, a few years later (1969), at the Hague Conference, to the adoption of a first draft of Economic and Monetary Union, which started in 1980 – and also to the integration of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, and Norway. But other crises followed. The 1970s are, in a sense, a decade in permanent crisis. This crisis was mainly of an economic and monetary nature – and inevitably a social one. End of the “gold standard”, end of the then international monetary system, oil shocks – all this caused a state of crisis and lethargy in integration. Then, in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall introduced a new “post-Cold War” world. Consequently, integration was faced with a geopolitical challenge, arising from the end of the bipolar world of two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union.

4. “Maastricht” embodied the political will of the Member States to deepen and qualitatively change the dynamics of European integration, namely the will to establish a true Union (Economic and Monetary Union). In effect, he Treaty on European Union definitively takes up what was underlying the process launched in 1951 by the “Founding Fathers” – but which had not been expressly and politically taken up until 1992. The theory of economic integration, adopted as a fundamental instrument of European political integration itself, is based on a process of rapprochement, cooperation and, finally, integration of the economies of the States involved in that process. Economic integration which will eventually trigger, irreversibly, the need for supranational political decisions – in other words, an integration of economies and markets which will tend to extend, due to the need to optimise its economic effects, to the normality of political decision-making then necessarily supranational. The succession of various phases of economic integration – starting with the implementation of free trade areas and customs unions, then moving on to the creation of common markets (the European Internal Market) and culminating in the institutionalisation of an Economic and Monetary Union – points in an “evolutionary” direction which leads to the necessary creation of a supranationally integrated political logic. In other words, economic integration leads to the benchmark aim sought by the “Founding Fathers” of the European integration process.

5. With the period that was initiated with “Maastricht”, the focus of integration turned to clearly political objectives – and, naturally, to the strengthening of the legitimacy recognised throughout the process by the citizen. Thus, with the Internal Market practically concluded (despite some delay regarding the free movement of capital and current means of payment), progress was made towards establishing the bases of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as well as the consecration of “European citizenship”. Such a shift of emphasis towards a deepening that is increasingly political (or guided by political objectives and by the guarantee of building an effective “Union based on the rule of law”), bears witness to the active attention that has since been given to the issue of fundamental rights (even leading to the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). Therefore, since 1993 (when the Treaty on European Union came into force) we have entered a new phase of integration: the post-Maastricht phase, topped by the political dynamic of an effective Union.

6.  This post-Maastricht phase, by and large, managed to tackle and overcome – with success, for many, unexpected – some of the biggest crises Europe has faced: the sovereign debt crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the political crisis of Brexit. The legacy of “Maastricht” reinforces the conviction that the best possible historical path was indeed the one we took in Europe: the strengthening (deepening and territorial widening) of integration. Economic and therefore, inevitably, also political. However, there are new conditions and new challenges facing Europe – especially the green and digital transition that is intended to be fair and inclusive. And there is the emergence of authoritarianisms that reject a post-Enlightenment worldview and, in general, the “European way of life”. There are also economic and monetary conditions that inevitably facilitate the emergence and strengthening of real social crises. We would even say, psychosocial crises, affecting societies and citizens.

7.  How will European integration respond to the challenges of a third post-war phase in Ukraine that lie ahead? How will the Union position itself in the face of existential crises of a global – and not only European – nature? Perhaps we should also rethink the operational and conceptual frameworks of integration. In an increasingly interconnected or digitalised world of mass techno-industrial societies, political unity, and the adoption of a common ‘European way of life’ will be based, above all, on a shared democratic cosmovision and common values. The way forward could probably be the one launched by President Emmanuel Macron: a ‘networked Europe’, an integration that is not exclusive to the European Union. A European network of various organisations, with different levels of integration, but all sharing the same values. The launch of the new “European Political Community” (still taking its very first steps) could be a step along the road to “networked” integration.

[1] Sylvain Kahn, “Les crises dans l’histoire de la construction européenne, de 1950 à nos jours: comparer pour comprendre”, in L’Europe à l’épreuve des crises, ed. Vincent Bassani and Laurence Burgorgue-Larsen, Conférence de l’IREDIES / IREDIES Conference Paper, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2019, 7-18, available in Hal Open Science archive, at: https://hal.science/hal-03366715.

Picture credits: Photo by Anthony Beck on Pexels.com

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