European Union Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series

by John McCormick

Chapter 7: To Lisbon and Beyond

Return to full list of chapter notes.

Maastricht had brought a change of name, the European Community becoming part of the new European Union, but it was not clear what ‘union’ meant in this context. And much pressing business remained unfinished: the single market had been given a boost, and preparations had been made for a single European currency, but there had been less progress on foreign policy, and the EU institutions were being stretched by the prospects of eastern enlargement.

Two more treaties – Amsterdam in 1997 and Nice in 2001 – did little more than amend some institutional rules and confirm new policy responsibilities, the real focus of political attention at the time being the single currency, by now named the euro. Exchange rates in participating member states were locked in place in 1999, and three years later euro banknotes and coins began circulating.World events impinged again when several EU governments, led by Germany and France, publicly fell out with the United States over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Once again the failures of these governments to agree on a critical policy issue were brought into the harsh light of day.

An attempt was made in 2002–03 to agree a draft constitutional treaty for the EU, but while it was approved by 17 member states, the treaty was turned down by French and Dutch voters in 2005. This happened as the EU was again moving ahead with enlargement, bringing 12 new mainly eastern European states into the fold in 2005–07, and thereby comprehensively bringing an end to the Cold War division of Europe. The failed constitution was reinvented as the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, its advent capping more than 25 years of active and sometimes controversial treaty-building by EU states.
  • Unfinished organizational business from Maastricht was addressed in the treaties of Amsterdam (1999) and Nice (2003), but only limited changes were agreed.
  • The new single currency was named the euro in 1995, it was launched as an electronic currency in January 1999, and the final switch was made in 12 EU countries in early 2002 when national currencies were abolished.
  • The 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were condemned by all EU governments, but when the US made plans to attack Iraq on what were widely regarded as spurious grounds, a split emerged among EU leaders; public opinion in the EU, however, was overwhelmingly opposed to the invasion.
  • In May 2004, eight eastern European states, together with Cyprus and Malta, joined the EU. They were followed in January 2007 by Bulgaria and Romania. The new round of enlargement confirmed the end of the Cold War, and the EU was now truly European rather than a club of western states.
  • The Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002–03 resulted in the drafting of a constitutional treaty for the EU. But its passage required ratification by all EU member states, and when French and Dutch voters rejected the treaty in 2005, plans for the constitution died.
  • The constitution was reinvented as the Treaty of Lisbon, which – following a delay after a negative vote in Ireland, followed by a second positive vote – came into force in 2009.
  • Following hard on the heels of the global economic downturn that began in 2007, a more localized crisis broke in 2010 in Greece, and the EU was given insight into the consequences of not respecting its own rules. Some spoke of the possible collapse of the euro.
  • In spite of the EU’s economic and political problems, the line of states hoping to join remained long.