On 7 February 1992, European heads of state and government signed the Treaty on European Union in the Dutch town of Maastricht. For Germany, Federal Finance Minister Theo Waigel and Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher were the ones to sign this historic document.
The treaty marks a historic moment in the process of European integration. Hitherto economic interests had predominated, but with the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the European Community became a political union. Member states undertook to cooperate closely at political level as well as on economic matters.
Specifically they decided:
- to introduce EU citzenship
- on common foreign and security policy
- to cooperate in the fields of justice and home affairs.
Moreover, the EU member states laid the foundations for the common currency, the euro. The euro was introduced in 2002 and has since facilitated trade between EU states. Fees for currency conversion no longer apply and prices can be compared directly throughout the euro zone. 19 of the 28 EU member states have already introduced the common currency.
The Maastricht Treaty also lays down what are known as the "Maastricht criteria". The criteria stipulate limits on the level of public debt, deficit, inflation, exchange rates and interest rates countries must meet.
All states which have already adopted the euro or wish to adopt the euro must meet these criteria. For instance, the annual rate of new public borrowing may not exceed 3% of a country's gross national product (GNP) and the total level of public debt may not exceed 60% of GNP. An excessive deficit procedure (EDP) is triggered if a member state fails to comply with these criteria. This can lead to fines being imposed.
- Freedom to travel to, and live and work in other EU member states: The Maastricht Treaty introduced EU citizenship. Since then, all EU citizens have enjoyed freedom of movement within the EU - there are no internal borders, and travel has become uncomplicated. Today EU ciitizens can live, work or study in any other EU state without difficulty, and can also vote in local and European elections there, without having to relinquish their own citizenship. Previously only EU citizens who could provide evidence that they had work in another member state were entitled to a residence permit in that state.
- Prosperity and jobs: Free trade throughout the EU means there are no trade barriers, customs duties or border controls any longer. Germany, traditionally an exporting nation, benefits hugely from this. Almost 30% of German jobs depend directly or indirectly on exports; in manufacturing industry this is true of more than one job in two.
- Uniform minimum standards: Consumers can rely on the same minimum quality, safety and health standards throughout the EU thanks to EU-wide consumer protection regulations. For instance, the ingredients and components of all food products sold in the EU must be listed, which is a great help to people who suffer from allergies.
- Peace: Germany has never enjoyed such a long period of peace. The institutions of the European Union have been largely instrumental in this. When nations work together at economic level, they cannot fight one another with military means.