Introduction to EU Law

The EU is currently made up of 28 Member States, soon to decrease to 27 once the UK leave on the 29th March 2019. It was originally set up to promote trade throughout western Europe, but as more and more states joined, theory objects widened, and have developed to who we understand as the EU today. When studying the EU, it is important to understand the brief history to the Union, Institutions of the Union, and the types of Laws that the EU makes.

Article 3(1) of the TEU states that the role of the EU is to promote peace, its values and their wellbeing to all its citizens. Its values are defined under section 2 TEU ass Freedom, Democracy, Respect for Human Dignity, Equality, the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights including the rights of Minorities. Therefore, as we can see the EU has developed into something much more than a trade Bloc as it was originally intended.


History of the EU

The EU originally bound 6 countries; Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherland’s in 1957 at the Treaty of Rome. This is known as the start of the EU, which was called the European economic community (EEC). There was a joining of these countries previously in the European Coal and Steal Community, which is in the list below. This was made so that if any of the member states Mobilised their Armed forces, the others would know about it. This was a reaction and a safety precaution in reaction from World War 2.


The EEC grew over time. The List of the EU member states and the date they joint is listed below.

  • 1973 (Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom)
  • 1981 (Greece)
  • 1986 (Spain, Portugal)
  • 1995 (Austria, Finland, Sweden)
  • 2004 (Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia)
  • 2007 (Bulgaria, Romania)
  • 2013 (Croatia).

The EEC was only changed names to the European Union in 1993 at the Treaty of Maastricht. This is a minor point but was significant in showing that the EU was more than merely an economic community, and that Citizens of the EU had rights under the EU, that was granted to them by the EU.

Below is a list- pulled directly off of the Europa website ( regarding the main treaties that the EU have gone through, and some of the changed that have occurred. This gives a better idea of how the European Union has developed over the years.

Treaty of Lisbon

Signed: 13 December 2007
Entered into force: 1 December 2009

Purpose: to make the EU more democratic, more efficient and better able to address global problems, such as climate change, with one voice.

Main changes: more power for the European Parliament, change of voting procedures in the Council, citizens’ initiative, a permanent president of the European Council, a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a new EU diplomatic service.

The Lisbon treaty clarifies which powers:
– belong to the EU
– belong to EU member countries
– are shared.


Treaty of Niece

Signed: 26 February 2001
Entered into force: 1 February 2003

Purpose: to reform the institutions so that the EU could function efficiently after reaching 25 member countries.

Main changes: methods for changing the composition of the Commission and redefining the voting system in the Council.


Treaty of Amsterdam

Signed: 2 October 1997
Entered into force: 1 May 1999

Purpose: To reform the EU institutions in preparation for the arrival of future member countries.

Main changes: amendment, renumbering and consolidation of EU and EEC treaties. More transparent decision-making (increased use of the ordinary legislative procedure).


Treaty on European Union – Maastricht Treaty

Signed: 7 February 1992
Entered into force: 1 November 1993

Purpose: to prepare for European Monetary Union and introduce elements of a political union (citizenship, common foreign and internal affairs policy).

Main changes: establishment of the European Union and introduction of the co-decision procedure, giving Parliament more say in decision-making. New forms of cooperation between EU governments – for example on defence and justice and home affairs.


Single European Act

Signed: 17 February 1986 (Luxembourg) / 28 February 1986 (The Hague)

Entered into force: 1 July 1987

Purpose: to reform the institutions in preparation for Portugal and Spain’s membership and speed up decision-making in preparation for the single market.

Main changes: extension of qualified majority voting in the Council (making it harder for a single country to veto proposed legislation), creation of the cooperation and assent procedures, giving Parliament more influence.


Merger Treaty – Brussels Treaty

Signed: 8 April 1965
Entered into force: 1 July 1967

Purpose: to streamline the European institutions.

Main changes: creation of a single Commission and a single Council to serve the then three European Communities (EEC, Euratom, ECSC). Repealed by the Treaty of Amsterdam.


Treaties of Rome: EEC and EURATOM treaties

Signed: 25 March 1957
Entered into force: 1 January 1958

Purpose: to set up the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

Main changes: extension of European integration to include general economic cooperation.


Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community

Signed: 18 April 1951

Entered into force: 23 July 1952

Expired: 23 July 2002

Purpose: to create interdependence in coal and steel so that one country could no longer mobilise its armed forces without others knowing. This eased distrust and tensions after WWII. The ECSC treaty expired in 2002.


Institutions of the EU

 It is also important to understand the different institutions of the European Union, and their role. Each play a key role in the functioning of the EU and is subject for much criticism in some areas. Below is a brief summary of each branch of the European Union.

The Commission

Runs the EU on a day to day basis

Drafts legislation that can be proposed to the European Parliament

The Council

Allows Government Ministers from Each Member State to meet and discuss important matters

Passes EU legislation working with the European Parliament

The European Council

Set the general position of the EU

Made up of the head of state of all of the Member States

The European Parliament

Represents the people of the Member states.

They vote on EU legislation

They ask questions to the commissioners orally and written in order to amend proposed legislation.

Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ)

Made up of the General court and the ECJ itself.

General court deals with smaller issues. ECJ deals with important questions of EU law.

ECK made up of 1 judge from every member state.

Impose sanctions for breaches of EU law.

Adjudicates over the meaning of EU law.

The European Central Bank

Creates Monetary policy for the eurozone

Tries to keep inflation rate at 2%

The European Court of Auditors

Check any person or organization that handles money

Checks the EU is using the funds legally and efficiently.


Others Noteworthy Institutions

There are other orgaisations that have an effect on the EU which include countries that are already in the EU as well as ones which operate around it. 

The EEA- European Economic Area

This is the area in which there is the agreement of freedom of movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the single market. This might seem strange to even be states as it is a general EU policy that all Member states must abide by. However, Croatia is an exception. They are the most recently joined in the EU and have not properly been incorporated into this part of EU law yet as they are in a transitional period.

 The EFTA- European Free Trade Association

Made up of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It is an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of trade with the EU and the promotion of Economic Integration. They benefit from trading with the Eu for free, however also get to benefit from trading partners around the world.

 The Schengen Agreement

This is a treaty which abolishes internal boarder checks on member states. Its aim is to abolish the Internal boarder checks between member states of the EU and allow freedom of movement within these countries. It has attempted to harmonies Visa policies.

 The Eurozone

These are the countries that operate with the Euro as their currency. It is not compulsory for any new members that join the EU to adopt the Euro, however, countries such as the UK and Denmark opted out and kept their own currency. It is a common currency and the sole legal tender in these countries. It is all regulated by the European Central Bank.


Candidate countries

Iceland was a candidate country for the EU until 2010 when the eruptions of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused the ash cloud and left many planes unable fly all over Europe. Iceland did not like the reaction of the EU because of this and therefore withdrew its application.

Albania and the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia are both candidate countries to join the EU.

Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are also all candidate countries and have started negotiations as to the terms of their joining the EU.

Turkey have been a candidate country for a long time, however due to political unrest and disputes with existing members of the EU, their joining has been severely pushed back.

Potential candidate countries include Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.


Sources of the EU

Some areas of the sources of the EU will be examines futher in later Blog Posts, however it is important to gather a general idea of where the EU law comes from.

Primary legislation of the EU are the Treaty Articles. For example the TFEU, the TEU, the Treaty of Niece. These are examples that are mentioned above. There are more less well known ones, but the ones in the list above are seen to be the important.

Secondary legislation which job is to fill in the gaps of the general principles set out in the Treaty Articles. The main sources of this are Directives and Regulations. However, there are other sources such as Recommendations, decisions and opinions.

Case law of the ECJ is also very important. Article 267 TFEU gives the National courts the right to approach the ECJ on matters of EU law. The ECJ will never take on a full case, they will only rule of the matter of EU law which will then be binding when the ruling in the national court is made.

International Law also influences the law that the EU creates. For example the Kyoto protocol was an agreement which operates all over the world, and the EU by default can only made legislation in line with these energy saving provisions.


Enforceability of EU Law

This will be examined in more depth in a later blog post, but a brief description of these principles will help understand how EU law is applied by the EU.

Direct Applicability is the principle that the Law created by the EU automatically becomes incorporated as part of National Law. These apply to Treaty Articles and Regulations.

Direct effect is more complicated and slightly different. Direct effect is the principle that individuals (legal Persons) are able to go to their national courts and rely on EU Law.

The case of Van Gend en Loos created the principle that direct effect will only apply when the article is Clear, Precise and Unconditional. This extends to regulations as well.

Direct effect will not apply in all situations to Directives. Directives that are attempting to be applied Vertically can potentially be relied on with Direct Effect. These are claims that an individual will make against their state.

Direct effect in horizontal claims (individual v Individual) will not apply in any circumstances.

Indirect effect, which was identified from the case of Vol Colson, may also be used to enforce EU rights. Article 4 TEU states that all national legislation must be interpreted in line with EU law so far is it is possible to do so. Therefore, if there is a national law that can be interpreted in line with EU law, it should be. However, this will not apply if the National Law is Directly conflicting with the EU provision.

State Liability may also be claimed in some instances. This is where an individual may make a claim against their state for any losses they have suffered as a result of the Member state’s failure to comply with EU Law. This is a claim purely for monetary compensation and will only apply if the Francovich Criteria can be satisfied.


By Woodrow Cox

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