Book chapter

The Amsterdam Treaty (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The Treaty of Amsterdam was the result of the 1996–1997 Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) among the then 15 EU member states (March 1996–June 1998). Its three core objectives were making Europe more relevant to its citizens, enabling it to work better and preparing it for enlargement, and giving it greater capacity for external action. It was the first IGC since the enlargement with Austria, Finland, and Sweden, who had joined the European Union (EU) in 1995. The negotiations took place in the aftermath of the collapse of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, opening the prospect of an eastern enlargement. Shortly before the start of the IGC, the Madrid European Council (December 1995) had confirmed that the decisions on launching the accession negotiations would be taken within six months of the conclusion of the IGC.The Treaty was not the critical juncture in European-integration history, which the previous Maastricht Treaty had been. The 1996–1997 IGC tried to complete some of the unfinished work of its predecessor. This included the further extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) and codecision, the shaping of a European security policy and making further progress in dossiers such as energy, civil protection, and the hierarchy of norms. Still it would be erroneous simply to downplay the Treaty as a mere "leftover" text. Under the leadership of the successive Italian, Irish, and Dutch presidencies, the heads of state or government reached an agreement on an employment chapter, a strengthening of social policy, the creation of the position of a high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), a partial communitarization of cooperation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), provisions on flexible integration and the integration of Schengen into the Treaty. Highly sensitive issues such as the reweighting of the Council voting system and the size of the European Commission were postponed to the next IGC. After a relatively smooth ratification process, which raised little public attention, the Treaty of Amsterdam entered into force on May1, 1999.