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1992: Maastricht treaties make EU official
Ministers from the 12 countries in the European Community (EC) have taken another step towards political and economic union in Maastricht.

The foreign and finance ministers of the EC member states have signed the Treaty on European Union and the Maastricht Final Act, agreed in the southern Dutch town last December after years of debate.

Officially the EC will now be known as the European Union (EU) and a definite timetable and framework for economic and monetary union has been laid down.

The EU will take on new responsibilities for a common foreign and security policy and for home and judicial affairs - such as asylum, immigration, drugs and terrorism.

Many European governments regard the treaties as a compromise between those who want to move rapidly towards full union and those - especially Britain - who want a looser arrangement.

Britain has opted out of the new social chapter - concerning workers' rights and pay, but people in all 12 countries are now European citizens with rights to live and work in any other EU state.

'Ambitious journey'

Founding father of the European project Max Konstamm said: "Judged by the European Community's own slow historical development, what was agreed in Maastricht was a giant step towards a more united Europe."

"But measured against the awesome challenges now facing the Community, both in Europe and the outside world, it may seem as but a further modest step on a much more ambitious journey," he continued.

The Brussels Commission has already begun a study of the consequences of enlargement, well in advance of the 1996 review date for the treaties.

EU ministers are concerned about the strain on existing institutions - designed for a group of six - when the organisation grows to the 20 members anticipated.

The first enlargement negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (Efta) will begin in the second half of this year, under Britain's presidency.

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European leaders with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
The treaty was agreed at last year's Maastricht summit

In Context
The treaties were initially rejected by the Danes in a referendum.

The French referendum produced only a marginal victory for the treaties.

In Germany the treaties were referred to the constitutional courts, but were eventually voted in.

The treaties scraped through the British Parliament and finally came into force in November 1993.

Austria, Finland and Sweden were admitted to the EU in 1995, taking the membership to 15.

EU heads of government met in Amsterdam in 1997 to update the Maastrict treaties.

In Amsterdam the social chapter officially became EU law and the idea of a two-speed Europe began - allowing either closer co-operation or flexibility.

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