Maastricht, a picturesque Dutch city of cobblestone streets and medieval arches, on Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the European treaty bearing its name, showing rare optimism and hope amid rising euro-scepticism.
Sandwiched just a few kilometres between Liège in Belgium and Aachen in Germany, this southern provincial capital bore witness more than two decades ago to the birth of an audacious plan to integrate Europe’s countries into one union.
On February 7, 1992, the whole town was swept up in the euphoria of the moment, recalled Limburg provincial governor Theo Bovens. “You could feel the pro-Europe atmosphere,” he told AFP. “Every shopping street was linked to one country,” he said — one for Belgium, another for Germany and yet another for Britain. Shopkeepers decorated their street with goods and flags.”
On that day, in a new provincial building on the banks of the River Maas, the 12 nations of the then European Economic Community signed the Maastricht Treaty, which paved the way for the foundation of today’s European Union and the single currency, the euro.
Twenty-five years on, after a series of crises — a plummeting euro, Greece’s political and economic woes, a wave of immigration unprecedented since World War II and Brexit — Maastricht and its 120,000 inhabitants feel the city still has an essential, even existential, role to play.
“I think we should try to light the candle again, this little spark that still is there, to make sure that this European dream that we had 25 years ago is going to be a dream again and not the nightmare that we are fearing now,” said Maastricht mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake.
“Because this is the Maastricht treaty we feel indebted and have to pay attention to the fact that we are living in an era in which Europe … has a lot of problems, a lot of scepticism, and a lot of anger.”