European Community Law

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European Community law is the first and only example of a supranational legal framework. Sovereign nation states have pooled together their authority through a system of courts and institutions. While the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht) 1992 established the European Union, which broadens the objectives of the European Community, EC law specifically covers the establishment of a common European market and an economic and monetary union.

The landmark case of Costa v. ENEL defined EC law as an autonomous legal system that limits the sovereignty of member states, and imposes obligations and rights on member states and individuals.[1]

European Community law consists of treaties, secondary legislation, international agreements, preparatory acts, case law and parliamentary questions.



Article 2 EC covers the objectives of the European Community, which are: to creat and maintain the internal market, an economic and monetary union, and a common European commercial policy regarding non-EC countries, to preserve competition and to work in parallel with national governments in social policy and development.

The EC is limited by the principle that its actions must have a legal basis in the Treaty or in secondary legilation, which must be clearly stated in the Preamble to any EC legislation. Article 230 EC states that if an EC action does not have a clear legal basis, it may be annulled for lack of competence.

Where new legislation is proposed by the EC, it must follow the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.


Treaties are the primary legislation of the European Union and are comparable to constitutional law at the national level.[2]

1951 - ECSC Treaty - Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (Treaty of Rome)

The original countries in the European Coal and Steel Community were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The ECSC Treaty created a common market for the sourcing, supply and movement of coal and steel for these six founding states. A common authority supervised the movement of these goods to ensure price transparency and fairness in competition.

1957 - EEC Treaty - Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (Treaty of Maastricht)

The Treaty of Maastrict aimed further to integrate these countries beyond the economic domain. It established a common market, a customs union and common policies.

1957 - Euratom Treaty - Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community

The EURATOM treaty initially aimed to combine the resources of member states for peaceful use and development of nuclear energy. It legislated the central monitoring of nuclear power generation and supply.

1965 - Merger Treaty

The Merger Treaty established a Single Council and Single Commission of the three existing communities.

1986 - Single European Act (SEA)

The SEA gave new powers to the European Parliament and set a deadline by which the Community should have established an internal market.

1992 - Treaty of the European Union - The Maastricht Treaty

The Treaty of the European Union (TEU, also known as the Maastricht Treaty), ratified in 1992, established the creation of the European Union, which included the European Economic Community and renamed it to the Economic Community. The TEU also covers new areas of cooperative activities, particularly in common foreign and security policy and police and judicial coopation in criminal matters. These three areas are considered to be the 'three pillars' of the European Union.

1997 - Treaty of Amsterdam

The Treaty of Amsterdam aimed to extend the principle of free movement of goods and persons within Europe by abolishing border controls. This only applies to continental Europe, as the United Kingdom chose to retain its border controls. Justice and home affairs were transferred to the EC pillar.

The Treaty of Amsterdam also renumbered all of the articles of the original EC Treaty. Thus, when works refer to EC Articles, they may be noted as "Article 234 EC (formerly Article 177)".

2000 - Treaty of Nice

The Treaty of Nice changed the composition of the Commission and the European Parliament. With regard to the expansion of EU membership, the system of vote allocation and qualified majority voting was extended.

For more information, see: European Union.

Amendments and Enlargements

The EU Constitution / The EU Treaty

The intent of the Constitution for the European Union was to rationalise the structure of all treaties in the development of the EC and EU so far. After the EU constitution was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005, representatives of all 27 member states renegotiated[3] and agreed upon the Treaty of Lisbon on October 18, 2007. It is yet to be ratified by all member states.

For more information, see: Treaties.

Secondary Legislation

Interpretations of the treaties under Article 249 TEC constitute secondary EU legislation.

There are different types of secondary EU legislation: directives, decisions, regulations, and recommendations and opinions.

For more information, see: EU Legislation.

Judicial Interpretation

For more information, see: Judicial Interpretation.

International Law

Principles of international law may be incorporated into the development of EU law by the European Court of Justice. As these principles are embodied in specific legislative acts, these may be seen as a dimension of international law or as a part of EU legislation.

For more information, see: International Law.


The European Council

The European Council does not have the status of a European institution, however has strong symbolic importance and is viewed as the highest decision maker in the EU. It heads the EU, and, informally, the EC.

For more information, see: European Council.

The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers provides a legislative and higher executive function within the institutions of the EC. It authorises the Commission to implement EC legislation under Article 202 EC.

For more information, see: Council of Ministers.

The European Commission

The European Commission, previously called the High Authority, deals with all aspects of Community decision making under the authority of the Council of Ministers.

For more information, see: European Commission.

The European Parliament

The European Parliament, previously known as the Assembly, serves a legislative and consultative role. The TEU 1992 extended the Parliament's involvement in legislation by introducing co-decision, where Parliament and the Council of Ministers must jointly approve new legislation in some areas.

For more information, see: European Parliament.

The EC Courts

The judiciary of the EC is made up of two courts in Luxembourg: the Court of First Instance (CFI) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The role of the ECJ is to observe the laws as given in the EC Treaty, as stated in Article 220 (formerly Article 164). It is highly significant in ensuring the uniform implementation of EC laws across all member states. The European Court of Justice is the highest court within the Community and its decisions are final. The Court of First Instance was established to distribute the workload of the ECJ and to handle the less controversial cases.

Each court is made up of 27 judges appointed by the governments of the member states and chosen for their independence. Presiding over the courses is a President who remains in office for a three year term. Six Advocates-General assist the judges, who provide their non-binding opinions as counsel.

The ECJ may hear appeals against decisions from the CFI, rule on matters brought by the Commission regarding alleged breach of Treaties by a member state, hear cases under which one member state may bring another member state to court, and provide authoritative rulings for national legislation if an ambiguity between national law and EC law cannot be resolved (Article 234, previously Article 177).

The European Court of Justice, however, is not an appeal court for disputes against national law. It works in partnership with national courts to resolve ambiguities with EC laws. Should the ECJ accept jurisdiction for a case and give a ruling, the case is then returned to the domestic court for implementation.

The Court of Auditors

The Court of Auditors was established in 1975 by amendments to the Treaty of the European Union and audits the accounts and implementation of the European Community budget. It is independent of the EC institutions.

For more information, see: Court of Auditors.

The European Central Bank

The European Central Bank (ECB) deals with matters regarding the monetary policy of the Eurozone, effecting the common monetary policy of the European Union member states, the single currency, and adoption of the euro in new member states. The legal basis of the ECB is in Article 107(1) of the TEU.

For more information, see: European Central Bank.


  1. Costa v. ENEL Costa v ENEL
  2. Process and Players of EC Law, Process and Players of EC Law
  3. The Brussels European Council 21-22 June 2007 The Brussels European Council 21-22 June 2007

External Links

EUR-LEX, the portal to European Union Law

European University Insititute - Historical Archives of the European Union

The Legislative Observatory