February 7th, 2012
03:52 PM GMT
London (CNN) – In December 1991, I was a 27-year old journalist covering the creation of a European treaty in Maastricht. Negotiations took some weeks, but exactly twenty years ago on Tuesday the city, sandwiched between Belgium and Germany, witnessed the signing of "The Treaty on European Union." The European Union had been created.
I recall forgetting my pass (yes, that one pictured above) and having to get a taxi back to our hotel in Germany to get it. And I remember the story being a bit confusing. I had moved from the U.S. to Europe only a year earlier and was trying to figure how things differed across the Atlantic.
I wondered if the so-called Maastricht Treaty really was creating a "United States of Europe" as some called it? And why did Britain say it had an "opt in" to the treaty, when everyone else called it an "opt-out"? Would the French, Italians and Dutch really be happy to scrap their centuries-old currencies for a new one, yet unnamed?
Two decades on, it seems those questions are being asked not by a rookie reporter, but by the politicians trying to hold the union together.
Before the Maastricht Treaty, we had the European Economic Community or EEC (not to be confused with the other EC or European Commission which still exists). But from 7 February 1992 we started to call the 12 countries which had been bound together the "EU."
Maastricht refers to the three pillars created in that treaty: The union itself, the foreign policy of the union, and the judicial/police role of the union.
From this came the wonderful common currency – the euro. It was born 20 years ago and minted 11 years ago. Ten of the 12 countries that signed Maastricht that February day eventually adopted it.
And we had the Maastricht Criteria. These are the five rules, still firmly in place, that included no country could allow its public debt exceed 60% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and no annual budget deficit could rise above 3% of GDP.
Needless to say, most countries that signed then, and those which joined later, massively violated the rules.
Yes, some with good reason: Stimulus in 2008 and 2009 may very well have saved the world economy from imploding after a host of banks went under. But now austerity is the word of the day and countries are pledging to slash the debt and deficit.
Another of the five Maastricht criteria stated inflation was to remain firmly under control. Looking back, it’s debatable that Greek inflation came within the criteria. It was still able to join monetary union, albeit very late in the game, in 2001 and issued coins in January 2002 like other 11 euro countries.
What could go wrong?
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