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The Treaty of Amsterdam — 25 years later

Twenty-five years after the conclusion of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, the European Union is on the point of closing its famous “democratic deficit”.

The EU is the first international organization to move towards transnational democracy. The characteristic of the EU is that it applies the constitutional principles of democracy and the rule of law to an association of states.

As a consequence of the desire to create an “ever closer union between the peoples of Europe”, the EU appears as a new subject of international law, which can be described as a union of States and citizens functioning as a European democracy.

Maastricht’s “market approach”

When it was founded in 1992, the new “European Union” (formerly the EEC, or European Economic Community) was denounced by academics and politicians for its democratic deficit.

Critics argued that the newly created EU did not meet the criteria for joining the Union. Their suspicions were far from unfounded.

The primary objective of the European Council was to complete the long-awaited internal market and crown it with a single currency.

Even the institution of Union citizenship was seen as part of the internal market. Article B of the Maastricht Treaty states in no uncertain terms that the purpose of introducing EU citizenship was to “strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of nationals of its Member States”.

The Heads of State and Government simply wanted to protect the rights of nationals who take advantage of the freedoms of the internal market by accepting employment and/or residence in another Member State.

For the overwhelming majority of citizens living at home, however, the new status had no consequences. They had to “activate” their rights as EU citizens by crossing the border with another member state.

Dual Democracy

The decision of the European Council to dissociate the notions of citizenship and politics has highlighted the democratic deficit of the Union. It created a stark contrast between the constitutional concept of citizenship as applied by Member States and the functional approach of the EU.

Thus, the citizens of the Member States reacted with indignation to the fact that they were treated as a “market” by the EU.

Although the EU could hardly have given its relations with its citizens a worse start, the Council tried to right its initial mistake through the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam.

‘Amsterdam’ introduced the values ​​of the EU and prepared the ground for overcoming the democratic deficit. By aligning European citizenship with the national status of EU citizens, the Treaty of Amsterdam forged the concept of dual citizenship and paved the way for the EU to function as a dual democracy.

The emancipation of citizens

The next step for the European Council was to invite a convention to draft an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter was proclaimed in December 2000 and is considered the “Magna Carta” of EU citizens.

The concept of EU citizenship took an unexpected second turn due to the rejection of the so-called Constitution for Europe in 2005. Although supporters of the “constitution” feared that its rejection would entail a serious setback for European democracy, the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 accelerated the development of the EU towards a dual democracy.

Its trademark is that it interprets the EU as a democracy without making it a state. “Lisbon” embodies the evolution of the EU from a union of democratic states to a union of democratic states which is also a democracy in its own right.

A democratic union of democratic states

Although the will to create an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe is clear, the path towards this objective has proven to be unpredictable.

The entry into force of the hard-fought Lisbon Treaty was followed by a series of existential crises and democratic backsliding in a number of member states.

The Court of Justice of the EU should be credited for the convincing way in which it elaborated the concept of EU democracy as it appears in the Treaties.

In its verdicts on the conditionality mechanism cases, which had been initiated by the backward states of Poland and Hungary, the Court underlined that Article 2 TEU “cannot be considered as a mere statement of political guidelines”. to be interpreted according to the whims of the government of the day.

Instead, the duty to respect these principles constitutes “an obligation of result to be achieved on the part of the Member States, which derives directly from the commitments they have entered into towards each other and towards the Union European.”

European democracy is not a system dictated from the top down by anonymous Brussels bureaucrats, but is the result of agreements and commitments of member states to each other and to the EU.

While Member States undertake to ensure respect for common values ​​at national level, they assign the comparable obligation to the EU at Union level.

By signing the Lisbon Treaty or joining the Union, they further entrust the EU with the task of monitoring and controlling how they implement their obligations.

This project guarantees the permanent respect of EU values ​​both at the national level of the Member States and at the transnational level of the Union.

Obviously, conceptions should not be equated with reality, but the draft treaties can guide EU politicians and institutions to finally overcome the democratic deficit as a European democracy of states and citizens.


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