Maastricht ensures closer co-operation
FROM Sicily to the Shetland Islands, people now enjoy common citizenship of the European Union and by 2000 it is hoped most of them will be buying goods with the same money, too.
These steps towards integration in western Europe are the results of the Treaty on European Union, effective since last November.
However, it is not envisaged that member states will cease to exist and be replaced by the union.
Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, was quoted as saying: ''We cannot build Europe, in economic, regional and social terms, from the top down; we have to build from the bottom up . . . the trend, then, is away from centralisation towards a wider sharing of responsibilities.'' Signed at Maastricht in 1992, the Treaty on European Union is intended to build on the single European market introduced last year.
A common currency is expected to be introduced no later than 1999.
Other measures are coming into effect: the introduction of common citizens' rights for all European Union nationals; more powers for the European Parliament; the introduction of a common foreign and security policy; and new powers for European Community institutions.
The community's citizens now have the freedom to live and work in any member state.
A citizen residing in a country other than his or her own can now also vote and stand as candidates in municipal elections.
The treaty also guarantees the right to petition the European Parliament and the right to refer to an ombudsman appointed by the parliament.
Union citizens can seek diplomatic protection from another member state where their own country does not have an embassy or consulate outside the community.
Only Denmark is not taking part fully in developing union citizenship.
Barring technical difficulties, the exchange rates of member states' currencies will be fixed in 1999, paving the way for the European Currency Unit, the ECU, to replace national coins and bank notes.
Britain and Denmark will not take part in the move towards monetary union.
More matters directly affecting everyday life are now influenced at the community level since the Maastricht treaty was signed.
These matters range from education to transport to public health and industrial policy.
There is also now a common visa policy for the union to help control the rising immigration from abroad.
The community also has greater powers to enforce a common social policy across the union.
These powers are an important part of the treaty known as the Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers.
Only Britain is exempt from the provisions of the treaty's social chapter, which seek to harmonise working conditions and wages across the community.
Significantly, the treaty takes the union one step closer to becoming an important international power politically, building on its position as the world's biggest trading bloc.
The member states have agreed to develop a common foreign and defence policy. This will make the Western European Union the defence arm of the community.