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The Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts, commonly known as the Amsterdam Treaty, was signed on 2 October 1997, and entered into force on 1 May 1999; it made substantial changes to the Treaty on European Union, which had been signed at Maastrichtmarker in 1992.

The Amsterdam Treaty meant a greater emphasis on citizenship and the rights of individuals, an attempt to achieve more democracy in the shape of increased powers for the European Parliamentmarker, a new title on employment, a Community area of freedom, security and justice, the beginnings of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the reform of the institutions in the run-up to enlargement.

Background

The treaty was the result of very long negotiations which began in Messinamarker, Sicily on 2 June 1995, nearly forty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, and reached completion in Amsterdammarker on 18 June 1997. Following the formal signing of the Treaty on 2 October 1997, the Member States engaged in an equally long and complex ratification process. The European Parliament endorsed the Treaty on 19 November 1997, and after two referenda and 13 decisions by national parliaments, the Member States finally concluded the procedure.

Contents

Amsterdam comprises 13 Protocols, 51 Declarations adopted by the Conference and 8 Declarations by Member States plus amendments to the existing Treaties set out in 15 Articles. Article 1 (containing 16 paragraphs) amends the general provisions of the Treaty on European Union and covers the CFSP and cooperation in criminal and police matters. The next four Articles (70 paragraphs) amend the EC Treaty, the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty (which expired in 2002), the Euratom Treaty and the Act concerning the election of the European Parliament. The final provisions contain four Articles. The new Treaty also set out to simplify the Community Treaties, deleting more than 56 obsolete articles and renumbering the rest in order to make the whole more legible. By way of example, Article 189b on the codecision procedure became Article 251.

The most pressing concerns of ordinary Europeans, such as their legal and personal security, immigration and fraud prevention, were all dealt with in other chapters of the Treaty. In particular, the EU will now be able to legislate on immigration, civil law or civil procedure, in so far as this is necessary for the free movement of persons within the EU. At the same time, intergovernmental cooperation was intensified in the police and criminal justice field so that Member States will be able to coordinate their activities more effectively. The Union aims to establish an area of freedom, security and justice for its citizens. The Schengen Agreements have now been incorporated into the legal system of the EU. (Ireland and the UK remained outside the Schengen agreement, see Common Travel Area for details)

The Treaty lays down new principles and responsibilities in the field of the common foreign and security policy, with the emphasis on projecting the EU's values to the outside world, protecting its interests and reforming its modes of action. The European Council will lay down common strategies, which will then be put into effect by the Council acting by a qualified majority, subject to certain conditions. In other cases, some States may choose to abstain "constructively", i.e. without actually preventing decisions being taken.

The treaty introduced a High Representative for EU Foreign Policy who, together with the Presidents of the Council and the European Commissionmarker, puts a "name and a face" on EU policy in the outside world. Although the Amsterdam Treaty did not provide for a common defence, it did increase the EU's responsibilities for peacekeeping and humanitarian work, in particular by forging closer links with Western European Union.

As for the institutions, there were two major reforms concerning the codecision procedure (the legislative procedure involving the European Parliament and the Council), affecting its scope - most legislation was adopted by the codecision procedure - and its detailed procedures, with Parliament playing a much stronger role. The President of the Commission will also have to earn the personal trust of Parliament, which will give him the authority to lay down the Commission's policy guidelines and play an active part in choosing the Members of the Commission by deciding on their appointment by common accord with the national governments. These provisions make the Commission more politically accountable, particularly vis-à-vis the European Parliament. Finally, the new Treaty opens the door, under very strict conditions, to closer cooperation between Member States which so wish. Closer cooperation may be established, on a proposal from the Commission, in cases where it is not possible to take joint action, provided that such steps do not undermine the coherence of the EU or the rights and equality of its citizens.

Challenges

The Amsterdam Treaty did not settle all institutional questions once and for all. Work is still in progress on reforming the institutions to make them capable of operating effectively and democratically in a much enlarged EU. The most pressing issues here are the composition of the Commission, the weighting of Member States' votes, and qualified majority voting. These questions are addressed in the Treaty of Lisbon.

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