from: - 13.4.2003

European Documentation

Europe in ten points
by Pascal Fontaine

The Treaty of Maastricht

The Treaty signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992 makes progress towards a single currency irreversible, by splitting the timetable of achievements into three stages.

The criteria for going on to the third stage have been set as follows:

Stage II of economic and monetary union began on 1&nbspJanuary&nbsp1994. It is a transitional stage during which a determined effort will be made to achieve economic convergence. A European Monetary Institute (EMI) was set up in Frankfurt to strengthen the coordination of Member States' monetary policies, promote the use of the ECU and prepare the ground for the creation of a European Central Bank in Stage III.

The Madrid European Council on 15 and 16 December 1995 christened the future European currency the "Euro" and adopted the technical procedure for creating it.

Stage III will begin on 1&nbspJanuary&nbsp1999. In May 1998 the Member States' Finance Ministers will decide, on the basis of reports from the Commission and the EMI, which Member States meet the conditions for adoption of a single currency. The Commission considers that as regards the economic forecasts of the future, a majority of Member States will be able to fulfil the conditions set for the Euro by 1&nbspJanuary&nbsp1999. The Heads of State and Government meeting within the Council will confirm by qualified majority, after consulting the European Parliament, which Member States fulfil the conditions necessary for the single currency to be adopted.

At the beginning of Stage III a European Central Bank will be set up and the exchange rates between the participating currencies will be fixed once and for all. The Bank will be independent of national governments and will manage the monetary policies of all the Member States joining the single currency. Member States outside the currency union will join as soon as their economic performance permits, or when they take the political decision.

The single currency, the ECU, must be introduced on 1 January 1999 for the administrations and the banks. On 1 January 2002 at the latest, the Euro coins and notes must be in circulation. The common faces of the coins were officially introduced at the Amsterdam European Council. Technical discussions considered the opinion of the partially sighted and consumers as to their shape and composition.

On 1 July 2002, the Euro will replace national currencies in the Member States joining the single currency. Between these two dates, prices will be displayed both in ECUs and in the national currency to help European consumers familiarise themselves gradually with the new currency.

Under protocols to the Treaty, the United Kingdom and Denmark reserve the right to opt out of Stage III even if they meet the economic performance criteria. Following a referendum Denmark stated that it did not intend to take part. Sweden also made clear its reservations.

In order to complete the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty, the European Council meeting on 17 June 1997 in Amsterdam adopted two important resolutions:

In the resolution on the "coordination of the economic policies during Stage III of the EMU", which the European Council adopted in Luxembourg on 13 December 1997, it took an important decision by stipulating that the "Ministers of the Member States joining the EMU may meet together informally to discuss questions arising from the specific responsibilities they share under the single currency". The Heads of Government of the Fifteen thus opened the door to a process of strengthening joint membership, which could bring those countries which adopted the Euro in their economic, budget, social and tax policies even closer together, beyond monetary union itself.

The introduction of a single currency by the end of the century is the European Union's most ambitious goal yet. There are bound to be setbacks along the way which will test the political will of the Member States involved. The crucial question of public opinion's acceptance of an innovation which directly affects the daily life of every citizen will also decide the success of the Euro.

The Timetable of the Euro

10 December 1991 :
Treaty on the European Union signed

  • decision made to set up a monetary union and adopt five convergence criteria

1er January 1994 : second stage of the EMU (transitional period)

  • EMI set up in Frankfurt;
  • procedures strengthened for coordinating European economic policies;
  • excessive deficits fought and policy for economic convergence of the Member States;
  • independence of national central banks.

16 December 1995 : Madrid European Council

  • the name "Euro" adopted;
  • the technical procedure for introducing the Euro and the timetable for going over to the single currency established.

14 December 1996 : Dublin European Council

  • pact on budget stability and growth adopted
  • the Euro acquires legal status.

16 June 1997 : Amsterdam European Council

  • treaty on stability and growth confirmed;
  • regulations adopted on the legal status of the Euro;
  • "EMS First Round" for countries not involved in the single currency resolved;
  • design of the coins chosen.

13 December 1997 : Luxembourg European Council:

  • coordination of economic policies during the third stage of the EMU (multilateral supervision) and Art. 109 and 109b of the Treaty resolved (exchange rate policy and the Community's representation at international level)

1 and 2 May 1998 : the European Council defines the list of countries joining the single currency based on the convergence criteria;

  • the European Parliament is consulted;
  • irreversible bilateral exchange rates set.

In 1998 : European Central Bank (ECB) established,

  • Its executive committee appointed;
  • Production of coins and notes started.

1 January 1999 :

  • third stage of the EMU; the Euro becomes a currency in its own right;
  • banks and businesses transfer to the Euro.

1 January 2002 : the Euro is introduced; coins and notes go into circulation.

1 July 2002 at the latest: the status of national coins and notes as legal currency is abolished.