European Union - Introduction
The European Union (EU) has its origins in 1951 when Belgium, France, (West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which called for the free circulation of coal, iron, and steel and the related workers and capital.
Both the number of member states and the scope of the organization have expanded over the years. Today there are twenty-five member states in the EU: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973; Greece became a member in 1981; Portugal and Spain joined in 1986; Austria, Finland, and Sweden became members in 1995; and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta , Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia joined on May 1, 2004. The countries of the EU have agreed to cooperate in many areas of trade, social policy and foreign policy, and 12 out of the 25 share a common currency--the Euro.
The EU is different from other international organizations because the member states have delegated sovereignty to common institutions representing the interests of the EU as a whole. The EU Home Page includes information about current events, an overview of the organization, and selected documents. EU Press Room is a good source of up-to-the-minute information about EU activities.
The Main EU Bodies
The European Parliament is a directly elected body which has legislative, budgetary and supervisory power. The Parliament adopts legislation in conjunction with the Council of the European Union in a procedure known as “co-decision.” The Council of the European Union is made up of one representative at ministerial level from each Member State. Its responsibilities include legislation (in co-decision with the European Parliament), economic policy, budgetary authority (along with the Parliament), and common foreign and security policy. At least twice a year (generally in June and December)the heads of state of all the fifteen member states of the EU meet at summits called European Councils to define the general political guidelines of the EU (don't confuse this group with the Council of Europe, which is a separate organization!).
The European Commission is composed of 25 members. The Commission proposes legislation, has responsibility for implementing the treaties and oversees the EU budget.
The Court of Justice (ECJ), which sits in Luxembourg, is responsible for interpreting and applying EU law. It also issues advisory opinions interpreting the law of the EU to national courts. The 25 judges of the ECJ are assisted by eight Advocates-General who present impartial opinions on issues of law and procedure to help the Court come to a decision. The Court of First Instance (CFI) was established by in 1988 to lessen the ECJ's caseload by hearing certain types of cases (e.g. employment disputes). Its decisions are appealable to the ECJ on points of law only. The ECJ website includes texts of recent opinions (of both the ECJ and the CFI), press releases, and general information about the court. Numerical access to the case-law provides the texts of opinions of the ECJ from 1953 and the CFI from 1989.
Reports of Cases Before the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance (usually referred to as European Court Reports or ECR) is the official publication of the ECJ. It includes judgments, interim orders, submissions (opinions) of Advocates-General, etc., published in chronological order with yearly indexes.ECJ cases from1954 and Court of First Instance cases from1989 are available online in the subscription databases LexisNexis (EURCOM;CASES) and Westlaw (EU-CS). These databases also include Advocate-General opinions.
Established in 1977, the Court of Auditors, whose 25 members are experienced in the audit of public finances, is charged with making sure that the EU budget has been managed effectively, and reporting to the citizens of Europe on the use made of public funds.
The EU system includes other important bodies.The European Economic and Social Committee is a 222 member consultative body representing groups such as farmers, consumers, and environmentalists; it advises the European Parliament, Council and Commission on a variety of issues such as agriculture and industry.
The Committee of the Regions was created by the Maastricht Treaty of 1991 to give local and regional authorities a voice when proposals are made in areas which have repercussions at regional or local level (such as health, education, employment policy, and the environment).
The European Investment Bank makes long-term finance available for capital projects.The European Central Bank and the national central banks of the EU member states make up the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) (the “Eurosystem”) which works to maintain price stability, support the economic policies in the EU and act in accordance with the principles of an open market economy. One if its most important tasks is to implement the monetary policy of the Euro area.
The European Ombudsman investigates complaints by citizens of EU member states of administrative irregularities (such as discrimination, abuse of power or unnecessary delay) by bodies of the European Community.
Finding EU Documents
The documents produced by the EU include primary legislation (treaties), secondary legislation (regulations, directives and decisions), draft legislation and reports (e.g., COM documents) and ECJ judgments. The EU Official Documents website provides links to many of these documents. How to find information on EUROPA provides research advice along with links to documents on the EU website.EUR-Lex is the portal to EU law. Its contents include recent issues of the Official Journal of the European Unions ( OJ ), the legal journal of the EU , selected treaties, links to the full-text of legislation in preparation, preparatory acts, legislation in force, and to ECJ judgments.
EU legislative materials are also available in English in the subscription databases LexisNexis (EURCOM; ECLAW ) and Westlaw (EU-ALL). European Union Law: An Integrated Guide to Electronic and Print Research provides a detailed explanation of the complex EU legislative process with guidance on finding documents.
Research Tip: EUROPA , the main EU website, can be confusing to use since it contains so much material. The A-Z Index of EU Websites on the website of the Delegation of the European Commission to the U.S.A. provides an alphabetical list of links to specific pages on the EUROPA site, and makes finding information and documents easier. For more assistance with locating and understanding EU documentation, see Duncan Alford, “European Union Legal Materials: A Guide for Infrequent Users”, 97 Law Libr. J. 49 (2005).
EU decisions and procedures are derived from the basic treaties ratified by the member states. The founding treaties which created the constituent organizations of what we now call the EU were signed in the 1950's; (Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (the ECSC Treaty or the Treaty of Paris); the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community (EEC Treaty or the Treaty of Rome); the consolidated version, as amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (the EURATOM Treaty, also referred to as the Treaty of Rome) .
The European Union in its present form came into existence in November 1993 after the ratification of the Treaty on European Union (or Maastricht Treaty). The Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force on May 1, 1999, amended and renumbered the EU and EC Treaties. The Treaty of Nice amends the existing treaties to prepare for the expansion of the EU. In June 2004, EU leaders reached agreement on the controversial Constitutional Treaty for Europe.
Selected treaties are available on the EU web site in Treaties and the Law > and as part of EUR-Lex. Treaties from 1951- on are available the subscription databases LexisNexis (EUROPE; TREATY) and Westlaw (EU-TREATIES).
EU treaties are published in the Official Journal and in numerous other sources which are available in many college, university and law school libraries, including the Encyclopedia of European Union Law, the European Union Law Reporter and International Legal Materials.
For more information on EU treaty research, see the Treaties and Agreements section of this tutorial.
Research Tip: Treaties and the Law provides links to both the texts of selected treaties and to explanatory materials that discuss the purpose and objectives of the treaties.
For more in-depth information on researching the EU, see the following research guides: