The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997)

The Treaty of Amsterdam was approved by the European Council held in Amsterdam on16-17 June 1997 and signed on 2 October 1997 by the Foreign Ministers of the fifteen member countries of the European Union. On 1 May 1999, it came into force having been ratified by all the member States, following their own constitutional rules.

The Treaty of Amsterdam (1992)

As a legal document, the Treaty of Amsterdam has as main objective to modify certain regulations of the Treaty of the European Union, the constituent treaties of the European Communities (Paris and Rome) and of some acts related to them. It does not substitute the previous treaties, but rather it is added.

The Treaty of Amsterdam attracted widespread criticism. These are some of the main critical remarks:

  • It did not solve one of the greatest pending problems of the Union: the adaptation of the institutions to a increasingly wider Community. Some institutions were thought for an inferior number of member States and are not efficient for the Europe of the Fifteen, not to mention for the future Union that will arise from the future accession of Central and Eastern Europe countries.

  • For the more pro-Europe point of view, the Treaty was not a step courageous enough towards political Union. Community competences in spheres as common foreign and security policy (CFSP) or police and judicial cooperation were not enhanced.

  • No advance was done to work out the so known democratic deficit of the Union. The negotiations that precede the Treaty continued being based on give and take between governments and States, with neither public participation, nor transparent and sufficient information. The European Parliament, the sole community elected institution, role has not been sufficiently boosted. The text of the treaty went on being quite complicated -it consists of three parts, one annex and thirteen protocols- and is not easily intelligible neither to citizens, nor, even, to legal, economic and political agents that should act according to its regulations.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg

In spite of all those insufficiencies, the Treaty of Amsterdam meant an advancement in the road towards the European Union. Let's have a glance at four main aspects of the Treaty.

Freedom, security and justice

The Treaty  states unequivocally that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the member States. In 1998, the European Council held in Cologne, decided to begin drafting a Charter of Fundamental Rights. The treaty considered that the fundamental rights applicable at Union level should be strengthened in a Charter in order to raise awareness of them among citizens. The Charter was to be based on the Community Treaties, international conventions such as the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and the 1989 European Social Charter, constitutional traditions common to the member States and various European Parliament declarations.

The Article 6 of the treaty affirms:

"1.The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.

2.The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law (...)"

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

Regarding to social rights, the great change is the signing of the new British government, presided over by Tony Blair, of the Social Charter annexed to the Treaty of Maastricht. This Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, commonly known as the Social Charter, was included in the Treaty of Amsterdam. It is a political instrument that contains moral obligations to guarantee the respect of certain social rights. They are related to labour market, vocational training, equal opportunities and the working environment.

It was adopted that the Council, after complying with different conditions, might determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach of principles included in Article 6 by a member State. In that case, the Council, by a qualified majority, might agree to suspend certain of the rights derived from the Amsterdam Treaty to that member State, including the voting rights of the representative of that government in the Council.
The sanctions adopted by the EU against Austria in February 2000 because of the access of Jrg Haider's far right party to Vienna government, shows a general attitude of defence of fundamental rights and of prevention against political views that attempt against these rights.

Under the Treaty of Amsterdam a new Article 13 has been written into the EC Treaty to reinforce the guarantee of non-discrimination laid down in the Treaties and extend it to the other cases cited above.   

The Union committed to establish a common area of freedom, security and justice.

All affairs related to free movement of persons; controls on external borders; asylum, immigration and safeguarding of the rights of third-country nationals; and judicial cooperation in civil matters were "communitised" by the Treaty of Amsterdam, that is to say, they were brought under the legal framework of the first pillar. To this effect, the Schengen Agreement and Convention were included in the Treaty. United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark voluntarily stayed out and, therefore, kept the right of exercising controls on people in their frontiers. Denmark joined Schengen in 1996.

As the free movement of persons makes necessary to create information systems in an European scale, the guarantees of protection of personal data were reinforced as well. 

Schengen Agreement

On 28 July 2000, four important EU countries, Spain, Italy, Germany and France, agreed to eliminate the obligation of obtaining a residence permission to the  rest of UE citizens. 

Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (fight against racism and xenophobia, terrorism, drugs traffic , fraud, and international organised crime and money-laundering) continued included in the third pillar and, accordingly,  are matters of intergovernmental cooperation. The objectives of making easier the judicial collaboration, facilitating the extradition procedures among member States and fomenting police collaboration, were settled on. In this way, a gradual program of development of the Europol (European Police Office) activities was agreed.

Fighting racism

The Union and the citizen

As well as developing the concept of Citizenship of the Union, the Treaty included different measures trying to set the common citizen in the centre of the Union concerns:

  • Measures to foster the EU intervention to fight against unemployment; to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment; and to improve consumer protection.

  • European citizens have the right to access all documents of EU institutions and to communicate with them using  in whatever official language of the Union (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, English, Irish Gaelic, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Greek).

Common foreign policy

The dramatic break-up of Yugoslavia and the coming back of the war to our continent evidenced how badly was needed an Union able to act and prevent, and not only to react after events come up. The former Yugoslavia crisis made again evident the weakness of the European States when reacting by their own in the presence of an international crisis.  

A major problem of the EU common foreign and security policy from its start with the  Treaty of Maastricht has been  the conspicuous imbalance between its ambitious objectives and the meagre means the Union counts on to accomplish them.

Javier Solana

The main change introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam is the establishment of a new post, labelled by the journalists  as Mr. CFSP. Javier Solana, former Spanish cabinet minister and secretary general of NATO, was appointed in October 1999, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and High representative for the Common foreign and security policy. This same year was elected Secretary General of  Western European Union (WEU). The Treaty also provides the Union with a common security policy that covers all matters relating to its security, including the gradual formulation of a common defence policy. The main role of Mr. Solana is personifying the still weak and new common European foreign and security policy. The CFSP should elaborate a progressive framing of a common defence policy , which might lead to common defence. 

The reform of the EU institutions

Taking into account the future enlargement and in the perspective of a necessary overhaul of the EU institutions, the treaty of Amsterdam introduced some reforms in the functions and competences of the main institutions. The competences of the European Parliament were enhanced, as well as the functions of the Court of Auditors, Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions. Some reforms were also established in the functioning of the Commission and the Council of the European Union.

After the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, the concept of closer cooperation was introduced in the Treaty of the European Union. The aim of such cooperation is to enable a limited number of Member States that are willing and able to advance further, to deepen European integration within the single institutional framework of the Union. This closer cooperation will prevent the most eurosceptics countries from setting a slow pace to the integration process. Journalists have used different ways to convey the idea of an Europe " la carte", "Multi-speed" Europe, or an "Variable-geometry" Europe

The Treaties: Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam...

General awareness of the insufficiency of the agreed institutional reforms caused that the very treaty had a clause calling an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to overhaul the Union institutions before a new enlargement took place.