Introduction to European law

In 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) was created by the Treaty of Rome. The goal was to establish a common market and customs union among its six founding members, fostering economic cooperation and integration.

In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was signed, transforming the EEC into the European Community (EC). This was part of the broader framework of the European Union, which incorporated political, economic, and social dimensions.

1. A Supranational Institution

There are three levels of union:

  • Coexistence: Countries live peacefully alongside each other without significant integration or cooperation.
  • Cooperation: Countries work together on specific projects and policies, sharing information and resources to achieve common goals.
  • Integration: Countries merge certain national functions, create joint institutions, and adopt common policies and regulations.

The EU operates within the scope of international law, which includes:

  • National law: The body of laws governing legal relationships within a specific country.
  • International law: Rules and norms that countries agree to follow in their interactions with each other, such as treaties and conventions.
  • Supranational law: Law that transcends national borders, with member states ceding some sovereignty to higher authorities, as seen in the EU’s legal framework, which takes precedence over national laws in certain areas.

In 1948, the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established to administer American and Canadian aid through the Marshall Plan. Its goal was to rebuild European economies after World War II and promote economic cooperation among European countries.

Two major ideas have shaped Europe:

Federalism: Advocated by Winston Churchill, this idea envisions a United States of Europe, where European countries form a federation similar to the United States, with a strong central government.
Functionalism: Promoted by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, this approach focuses on incremental integration through practical cooperation in specific sectors, leading to broader political integration over time.
There are four levels of economic integration:

  • Free trade: Countries remove tariffs and trade barriers on goods and services among themselves but maintain their own trade policies with non-members.
  • Customs Union: Member countries establish a common external tariff on imports from non-members while allowing free trade among themselves.
  • Common Market: Extends the customs union by allowing free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor among member states.
  • Monetary Union: Involves adopting a single currency and harmonizing monetary policy, as exemplified by the Eurozone.

In addition to these levels of integration, there are two key processes:

  • Widening: The expansion of the EU by admitting new countries as members.
  • Deepening: Enhancing the degree of integration by expanding the range of policy areas and strengthening the authority of EU institutions.

The EU’s legal framework is defined by several key treaties:

  • The Treaty on European Union (TEU), also known as the Maastricht Treaty, outlines the general principles and framework of the EU, including its objectives, institutions, and the common foreign and security policy.
  • The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides detailed provisions on the functioning and governance of the EU, covering various policy areas and the functioning of the internal market.
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU enshrines the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals within the EU, reflecting the values of human dignity, freedom, equality, and solidarity.

2. Institutional architecture of the EU

The EU institutional triangle: General framework:

  • Commission: The European Commission proposes legislation, implements decisions, upholds the EU treaties, and manages the day-to-day business of the EU.
  • Council: The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, represents the governments of the member states and works with the European Parliament to adopt legislation and coordinate policies.
  • Parliament: The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the EU that represents EU citizens and, along with the Council, exercises legislative and budgetary functions.

Division of powers among EU institutions:

  • Executive power: Council of Minister + Commission: The executive powers are shared between the Council of Ministers, which adopts EU policies and laws, and the European Commission, which implements and enforces these policies and laws.
  • Legislative power: Council of Minister also + European Parliament: Legislative power is held jointly by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, meaning both must agree for most EU laws to pass.
  • Judicial power: European Court of Justice: The European Court of Justice ensures that EU law is interpreted and applied consistently across all member states and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.

Legislative procedure: 2 different ways:

  • Ordinary (60%): The ordinary legislative procedure, formerly known as the co-decision procedure, is the most common method where the European Parliament and the Council jointly adopt legislation.
  • Special (40%): Special legislative procedures are used for specific cases where the European Parliament has a consultative role and the Council adopts the legislation.

Some criticize a democratic and legitimacy deficit:

  • Unelected technocrats?: There is criticism that the European Commission, which has significant executive power, consists of appointed rather than elected officials.
  • Lack of accountability?: Concerns exist over the perceived lack of accountability of EU institutions to the citizens they serve.
  • Lack of transparency?: The complexity and opacity of the EU’s decision-making processes contribute to perceptions of a democratic deficit.

3. EU treaties and institutions

EU treaties

TEU: General principles defining the EU:

  • Principles of Conferral: The EU can only act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the treaties.
  • Principle of subsidiarity: Decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen, meaning the EU does not take action unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional, or local levels.
  • Principle of proportionality: The content and form of EU action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaties.
  • Representative democracy: The functioning of the EU is based on representative democracy, where citizens are directly represented at the Union level in the European Parliament.


  • Article 1: Establishment of the Union: Establishes the EU, outlines its structure, and the commitment to further integration.
  • Article 2: Values of the EU: Sets out the fundamental values of the EU, including respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights.
  • Article 3: Aims of the EU: Defines the aims of the EU, such as promoting peace, its values, and the well-being of its peoples.
  • Article 4: EU and the MS: Describes the relationship between the EU and the member states, emphasizing respect for national identities.
  • Article 5: Competences of the EU: Specifies the division of competences between the EU and its member states.
  • Article 9: Equality and EU citizenship: Establishes the principle of equality before the law and defines EU citizenship.
  • Article 10: Representative democracy: Confirms that the functioning of the EU is based on representative democracy.
  • Article 11: Participatory democracy: Promotes participatory democracy by encouraging citizen involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Article 12: Role of National Parliament: Recognizes the role of national parliaments in the EU framework.
  • Article 13: EU institutions: Lists the EU institutions and their respective roles.
  • Article 14: European Parliament: Outlines the composition, powers, and functions of the European Parliament.
  • Article 15: European Council: Defines the composition and role of the European Council.
  • Article 16: Council: Details the formation and powers of the Council of the European Union.
  • Article 17: European Commission: Describes the composition, appointment, and role of the European Commission.
  • Article 18: High Representative: Establishes the role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  • Article 19: Court of Justice: Defines the role and composition of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

4. EU Institutions

  1. The Council of Minister:

3 levels of decision-making process in the Council of Minister:

  • Work parties: Preparatory bodies composed of national officials and experts who discuss details of legislative proposals.
  • Permanent Representatives Committee: Known as COREPER, it consists of the member states’ ambassadors to the EU and prepares the agenda for Council meetings.
  • Council configuration: The Council meets in different configurations depending on the policy area being discussed (e.g., agriculture, finance, foreign affairs).
  1. The Council system of the EU:

4 institutions:

  • European Council: Comprises the heads of state or government of the member states, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission, setting the EU’s overall political direction.
  • European Commission: The executive body responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, and upholding EU treaties.
  • Court of Justice of the EU: Ensures the uniform application and interpretation of EU law.
  • Council of Europe: Note that the Council of Europe is not an EU institution but a separate international organization focused on promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe.
  1. The Council of Europe:

The Council of Europe is a separate entity from the EU, comprising 47 member states, focused on promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law across Europe.

a) Function:

  • Coordinate EU policies and adopt EU laws: Ensures consistency in policy implementation and legal harmonization across member states.
  • Coordinate MS policies on specific fields (Economic/Cultural/Education): Facilitates cooperation in areas like economic policy, cultural initiatives, and educational programs.
  • Develop EU’s common foreign and security policies and adopt annual EU budget and International agreements: Shapes the EU’s external actions and financial planning.

b) Voting system:

  • Qualified or simple majority: Most decisions require a qualified majority, where votes are weighted based on member states’ populations, but some decisions need unanimous approval.

c) Internal structure:

  • 3 levels at the Council:
    • Working parties: Prepare detailed discussions and proposals.
    • Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER in French): Prepares the agenda for Council meetings and ensures coordination.
    • Council Configuration with Item A and B: Item A points are adopted without debate, while Item B points are discussed.
  • What about the “Eurogroup”?:
    • Tasks: Promote conditions for stronger economic growth.
    • Meetings: Held once a month to discuss eurozone policies.
    • President: Mario Centeno.
  1. The European Council:

a) Composition:

  • Heads of States + President of the Council + President of the European Commission: The European Council is composed of the top leaders of the member states, its own President, and the President of the European Commission.
  • Current President: Donald Tusk.
  • Article 15: Establishes the role and functions of the European Council.

b) Role:

  • General political direction and priorities: Sets the EU’s overarching strategies and priorities.
  • Nominates and appoints candidates to certain high-profile EU roles: Plays a key role in EU leadership appointments.
  • Requests proposals from the Commission and passes issues to the Council of the EU: Directs legislative and policy initiatives.

c) Voting system:

  • Unanimity: Decisions are typically made by consensus among all member states.
  1. EU crisis and Council system:
  • 2007-2008: Crisis touched Europe: The global financial crisis had severe impacts on European economies, necessitating coordinated responses.
  • Intergovernmental method to solve the problem: Solutions were primarily sought through cooperation among national governments.
  • The European Council suggests to its president Van Rompuy establishing a Task force: Created a task force with representatives from member states, the Commission, and the European Central Bank to address the crisis.
  • End of 2010, measures to fight against economic problems: Implemented significant policy packages:
    • The “Six Pack”: A set of legislative measures to enhance fiscal discipline.
    • The “Two Pack”: Additional regulations to monitor and assess national budgets.
    • The Fiscal Compact (Stability) in 2013: An agreement to enforce stricter budgetary rules.
    • Created balanced budget provision: Ensured that national budgets remain balanced or in surplus.
    • More coordination and cooperation: Increased policy coordination among member states.
    • Creation of the European semester: An annual cycle of economic policy coordination.
    • Creation of the Banking Union: Aimed at ensuring the safety and soundness of the European banking system.
  • European Council led the crisis response with a program and instructions to the Commission: Directed the response efforts and provided guidance to the European Commission.

VI. C. The European Union since 1992

Chronology of the construction of the European Union