Opinion: Amsterdam should not treat its European heritage lightly
Amsterdam threatens to forget Europe. The last policy documents written in City Hall about Amsterdam’s role in Europe date from 2012 and 2014, while the fact that the Treaty of Amsterdam was concluded in 1997 appears to have gone unnoticed 25 years later. This is particularly unfortunate because the topics discussed in Amsterdam a quarter of a century ago are now at the heart of the European agenda. Then in Amsterdam and now in the European Union it was about democracy and the rule of law. The city must defend this with heroism, determination and compassion.
At the end of his great book in Europe Since 2004, Amsterdam historian Gert Mack has raised the question of what the European Union actually is. He pointed out that the Federation is not an empire, nor is it a federation of confederate states. His conclusion was that it was impossible to know what the European Union was and that you could only say that the Union was unique. Twenty-five years after the conclusion of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, it seems that “Amsterdam” provided the beginning of the answer to this long-standing question.
The 1992 Maastricht Treaty is best known for establishing the European Union and introducing union citizenship, but “Amsterdam” gave a directive to the European Union. In Amsterdam, union values were included in treaties for the first time, including the values of democracy and the rule of law. Although it took years to implement these values in legislation and jurisprudence, the Treaty of Amsterdam laid the foundation for the functioning of the European Union as a European democracy.
Organization of Democratic States
The reason the European Union took so long to be described as a European democracy is that politicians and scholars have all assumed that the concept of democracy can only flourish within the borders of a sovereign state. However, the plan to turn the European Union into a federal state was shattered by the rejection of the so-called constitution for Europe in 2005. Then the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas raised the question whether the European Union could function democratically without forming a state.
In her thesis, for which she was awarded a PhD from the UvA in 2016, Kathalijne Buitenweg showed that the European Parliament has gained “representative autonomy” over the years. Her view was confirmed three years later by the Court of Justice of the European Union by concluding that the EU had an independent democracy under the Treaty of Lisbon. Thus, the European Union is an organization of democratic states that themselves operate democratically. In short, the European Union is a “democratic union of democratic states”.
Rule of law under pressure
When viewed from the global perspective of the United Nations, the importance of the Amsterdam Treaty increases. Then it turns out that the European Union is the only organization in the world that wants to function democratically. But twenty-five years later, the rule of law and democracy in the European Union is under greater pressure than ever. Britain has left the EU and a growing number of other member states question the authority of the EU and the European Court of Justice over the union’s values.
So Amsterdam should not ignore its European heritage. The city should be aware of the essential role it played in the development of the European Union into a European democracy. The 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Amsterdam provides a unique opportunity to celebrate Amsterdam’s role in Europe and to stand up for the rule of law and democracy in the European Union.
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