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The Amsterdam Treaty

The Amsterdam Treaty



The Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty on European Union



The treaty sets the EU the following aims:

  • promote economic and social progress, a high level of employment and balanced and sustainable development;
  • assert the EU’s identity on the international stage;
  • strengthen the rights and interests of EU nationals;
  • maintain and develop the EU as an area of freedom, security and justice;
  • maintain and develop the corpus of EU law (known as the acquis communautaire).

Common foreign and security policy (CFSP)

  • This is strengthened by:
    • allowing for common strategies, joint actions, common positions and more systematic cooperation between EU countries;
    • including all issues relating to the EU’s security, including the progressive development of a common defence policy, within the CFSP;
    • developing closer links with the defence organisation, the Western European Union;
    • requiring member countries to coordinate their positions in international organisations, notably the United Nations;
    • creating the post of High Representative for the common and security policy — a role given to the Council’s Secretary-General;
    • establishing a policy planning and early warning unit.

Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters

  • police cooperation includes:
    • preventing, detecting and investigating criminal offences;
    • collecting, storing, processing, analysing and exchanging relevant information;
    • organising joint training initiatives and officer exchanges;
    • evaluating investigative techniques, especially to detect organised crime;
    • using Europol’s resources in areas such as liaison between prosecutors and investigators and establishing a research, documentation and statistical network on intra-EU crime.
  • judicial cooperation includes:
    • facilitating extradition (the mechanism whereby states request the return of individuals from other states when they are either accused of criminal offences or are wanted to serve a sentence) between EU countries;
    • ensuring compatibility between national rules;
    • preventing conflicts of jurisdiction;
    • establishing minimum rules for criminal acts and penalties for organised crime, terrorism and illicit drug trafficking.

Closer cooperation

EU governments which wish to work more closely with each other in certain policy areas may do so, provided the cooperation:

  • furthers the EU’s aims and interests and respects its principles;
  • is used as a last resort;
  • involves at least a majority of EU countries;
  • does not affect the body of EU law;
  • respects the competences, rights, obligations and interests of non-participating countries.

Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons

  • These policies move from intergovernmental cooperation to become part of normal EU decision-making. EU governments must, within 5 years, adopt measures to:
    • prevent and tackle crime while safeguarding the rights of non-EU nationals;
    • strengthen judicial and administrative cooperation;
    • standards and procedures for checks at the EU’s external borders;
    • establish rules for visas;
    • determine the criteria and mechanisms for handling asylum applications.
  • The Schengen agreement on passport-free travel within the EU is incorporated into the EU legal system (although the UK (1) and Ireland do not participate in the arrangements).


  • The EU’s commitment to high employment is strengthened by:
    • taking this aim into consideration when drafting and implementing all EU policies and activities;
    • submitting an annual report for consideration by EU leaders;
    • requiring each government to provide information once a year on the action it has taken towards a high level of employment;
    • creating an advisory employment committee.

Institutional issues

  • Legislative procedure
    • the co-decision procedure, where EU governments, through qualified majority voting, and the European Parliament jointly adopt legislation, is extended to most policy areas and clear rules established for handling any disputes through a conciliation committee.
  • European Parliament
    • a maximum ceiling of 700 members exists;
    • draws up proposals for a uniform procedure for European elections;
    • establishes regulations and general conditions on the duties of its members;
    • votes to approve appointment of the European Commission’s President and of the Commission as a body.
  • European Commission
    • in an EU of up 20 members, each country would have a Commissioner, provided national weighting of votes in the Council has been agreed;
    • at least one year before the 21st member country joins, the EU’s institutional set-up would need to be comprehensively reviewed.


EU governments may remove a member country’s treaty rights, including the right to vote on draft legislation, if it is considered to have committed ‘a serious and persistent breach’ of the EU’s basic principles.


The treaty simplifies the various EU treaties by amending or deleting over 50 obsolete articles and renumbering the rest to make them more legible.


It was signed on 2 October 1997 and entered into force on 1 May 1999.


Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts (OJ C 340, 10.11.1997, pp. 1-144)

last update 04.04.2018

(1) The United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union and becomes a third country (non-EU country) as of 1 February 2020.