top of page
AC5CYC peter jordan - Alamy P50.jpg

Revisiting the Maastricht Treaty:  Was it Really Federal Europe by the Back Door? 

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty is more correctly known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and together with the Rome Treaty - the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) - forms the EU’s constitutional basis. Now years down the line, it can be easier to see where earlier predictions tally with realities in the European Union. A hotly divisive topic, amalgamation of the European nations was nonetheless relatively quietly manifested, states Oliver Taylor.

Between the two treaties and a few additions thereafter, the EU has to rank as one of the softest sociopolitical bundlings ever. Although depicted as distinct from the federation of American states, to whatever extent those driving the union sought to emulate America, it isn’t working out quite as anticipated.

The USA has a different history, and different forces drove its formation, quite unlike imagining a similar outcome in expansive, extremely diverse Europe. If as Margaret Thatcher and other prominent politicians bemoaned at the time, the formation of the EU really was “federal Europe by the back door,” a few questions emerge. Firstly, who in the seats of the previous European Community were driving the union, and why? Moreover, was blunt federation their ultimate, unnamed aim? 

The present-day realities of the EU seem to illustrate that the marketing material surrounding union made several spurious claims that today present as rather glaring untruths. While legitimate consensus was derived within the European Community membership to satisfy protocols and ratify the treaty, a huge amount of politicking and chicanery accompanied the acceptance of union in many member nations.

More than merely teething problems, the historically recent global scare on the back of Greece’s inability to repurchase its debt is symptomatic of what some eurosceptics see as devastating clashes between political and monetary policies in the Eurozone. Portugal and Ireland also feature as shaky union members, capable of bringing others down around them if they fail economically. 

Critics point out that, accompanied by the diminishing of sovereignty explicit within the union’s formation, one member’s problems can unfairly prejudice another to an almost unlimited extent. The social ramifications in individual countries in terms of the cost of living and overall quality of life are now flowing from a vastly less accountable, distant entity.

The Irish in 2007 feared signing the tabled Common Defense Policy as it presented in the Lisbon Treaty, eventually effected by 2009. Indeed, Ireland had to subject the treaty twice to public opinion, a move known to elicit less enthusiasm the second time round. 

Although democratically “voted for,” many see the Lisbon Treaty as rather pushed on Ireland. Polished political masters in any country know that getting something approved by the electorate is easier the second time around. The EU thus today continues with its aspirations for a unified European Union Army. Here again, no matter what one might think of her politics, the wisdom of Margaret Thatcher gleams brightly with hindsight. It was Thatcher who, in the early 1990s, clearly laid out the plans that the EU bureaucrats had for Europe with startling accuracy, and the fallout from union military and monetary policies she anticipated has since become a reality.


Speaking of the currency implications of union, it was American political scientist Craig Parsons who said that European single-currency ambitions were “the greatest voluntary concession of sovereignty ever made to international institutions.” Indeed, only France, Ireland and Denmark were constitutionally obliged to put the matter of union to a public referendum. 

Many speculate that the reason only three nations were even allowed the opportunity to vote on the irrevocable concession of monetary sovereignty to an unaccountable supranational institution, is that pro-union bureaucrats knew that when fully informed on all the issues- the vote would be no. Historically, people have always voted to retain their own sovereignty and freedom, instead of submitting to a more authoritarian system of state-mandated control. In the annals of social engineering, when it comes to schemes that result in a loss of sovereignty, only well-disguised ones ever make it past the public vote.

Many years later, some critics vehemently opposed to Thatcher’s critique of the concept and especially implications of union, would possibly acknowledge today that politics obscured their appraisal of what she eloquently foretold. Fighting against a single currency and European Central Bank control was one of the fundamental pursuits of Thatcher at the time. 

Indeed, it was Margaret Thatcher who said that ‘’The point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy, taking powers away from every single parliament, and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us... it is about a Federal Europe by the back door.” 

At the time, Thatcher flatly rejected the European Commission president’s depiction of the European parliament as the community’s democratic body, with the commission as the executive and council ministers acting as a senate. The European Commission is the engine, the workroom of the European Union, and Thatcher baulked at their imagined union architecture.

In 2018, it seems her erstwhile wards have finally agreed with her. In 2016, the UK voted for Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the union. The UK is an interesting case study, as having been a member, with far greater public debate and awareness having been enabled over the last few years, the public have now voted no. It does appear that when a European nation’s citizens have enough time to boil it down to how it affects them personally, union gets a no vote. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Thatcher was right, and union was all about federating Europe by hook or by crook- even by the back door.

While the marketing surrounding union focused almost exclusively on the benefits, strongly punted by politicians in favour, negative ramifications of union now seem either poorly thought-out or wilfully obfuscated at the time. Now that the EU has rolled forward in time, comparisons between what was said and envisaged then and the sometimes brutal reality of the now, are becoming abundantly clear. What was initially supposed to be a European Economic Community has evolved through successive treaties, all of them bleeding power from its members to Brussels, removing innumerable essential checks and balances.

In September of 1992, a French referendum only narrowly voted in favour of ratifying union, noting some 50.8 percent in favour. In Denmark, when the first Danish Maastricht Treaty referendum was held in June 1992, similar slim margins prevailed, this time defeating the motion 50.7 - 49.3 percent. The Danes were also subject to a second referendum, now seen by many as an essential subversive ploy, before the treaty was adopted.


Although the implications of a nation binding its currency to the euro are myriad, for national citizens it immediately presents as a loss of control over the value of the currency with which they manage their lives. As for the euro implications for governments, many remain uncomfortably straddling union as well as the old way of doing things. 

Although now softened in some ways, largely on the back of persistent debate and resistance, the loss of sovereignty intrinsic to union essentially means a nation’s currency value, for one, is forever captured. Whether a single euro currency bodes well for Europe’s future is still being hotly debated. Although holding up well against the dollar at $1 : €0.76, there is a large body of investors and others who are wondering how long the euro will retain its tenacity, with such a fraught, diverse base supporting it.

The Maastricht Treaty created the European Union and the euro, and this has developed to take further powers away from national governments through a European Constitution, a European Parliament and a European Central Bank. Some have historically viewed and still continue to view union as nothing short of an Orwellian United States of Europe, which will spell the absolute end for the sovereignty of member states.

It does seem that nationhood is one of those things where a slim majority isn’t good enough. Even those in favour are typically highly qualified in their appraisal that, overall, is positive. Those who scoff at individual loss of sovereignty point out that sovereignty can be abdicated for a higher allegiance or European sovereignty, essentially pooling all members’ sovereignty. 

This comes apart under inspection, however, as sovereignty can by definition never be pooled. A nation is either sovereign or subject to the kind of collectivism made famous and infamous by the USSR. Many opposed to soviet-style social engineering, ironically today make the same argument against the existence of the European Union.   EG

bottom of page