Skip to main content

History of the European Union 1990-99

A Europe without frontiers

In 1993, the single market is launched with the '4 freedoms' of free movement for people, goods, services and money. The 1990s is also the decade of 2 treaties – the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) in 1993 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU in 1995, and a small village in Luxembourg gives its name to the Schengen agreement that will gradually allow people to travel to large parts of the EU without passport checks.

1991 – Break-up of Yugoslavia

In the Balkans, Yugoslavia begins to break apart. The ensuing wars cause tens of thousands of casualties and last for much of the following decade.

7 February 1992 – Maastricht Treaty

The Treaty on European Union is signed in Maastricht in the Netherlands. It is a major milestone, setting clear rules for the future single currency as well as for foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in justice and home affairs. The ‘European Union’ is officially created by the treaty, which enters into force on 1 November 1993.

1 January 1993 – Launch of the single market

The single market and its 4 freedoms are established – the free movement of people, goods, services and money. Hundreds of laws have been agreed since 1986 covering tax policy, business regulations, professional qualifications and other barriers to open frontiers. However, the free movement of some services is delayed.

1 January 1994 – European Economic Area is created

The agreement establishing the European Economic Area (EEA) enters into force, extending the single market to countries in EFTA. Today, people, goods, services and capital can move around the EEA’s 30 countries (EU-27 plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). Switzerland does not take part in the EEA but does have access to the single market.

1 January 1995 – The EU gains 3 new members: Austria, Finland and Sweden

Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU. The 15 members now cover almost the whole of Western Europe.

26 March 1995 – Border-free travel begins in 7 countries

The Schengen Agreement takes effect in 7 countries — Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Travellers can move between these countries with no passport controls at the frontiers. By 2021, 26 countries are part of the passport-free Schengen area, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

2 October 1997 – Treaty of Amsterdam

The Treaty of Amsterdam is signed. It builds on the achievements of the Maastricht Treaty, laying down plans to reform the EU institutions, give Europe a stronger voice in the world and devote more resources to employment and the rights of citizens. It enters into force on 1 May 1999.

1 January 1999 – The euro is born

The euro is introduced in 11 countries for commercial and financial transactions only. Notes and coins will come later. The first euro countries are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom decide to stay out for the time being.