The European Union is an economic and political partnership between 28 European nations (member states). It is the result of a series of treaties entered into with the objectives of a common market and harmonization of economic policies. Over the decades the role of the European Union has been gradually expanded to include cooperation in foreign, security, and criminal matters.

The most comprehensive sources of information on the EU are at Europa, the official EU website and Eur-Lex for cases and other legal materials.


The Institutions are bodies established by the treaties of the European Union for the purposes of enforcing the treaties and legislation of the European Union and conducting the business of the European Union.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is responsible for implementing the treaties and policies of the EU, and managing the programs & budget of the EU. As the primary initiator of legislative activity, the Commission drafts community decision-making proposals & legislation (directives or regulations) that are then submitted to the Council and Parliament.

The Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the Council of Europe) adopts legislation in conjunction with the European Parliament. Both institutions must agree on the text of legislation. The Council also implements the European Union’s common foreign & security policy and coordinates police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

The Parliament adopts legislation in conjunction with the Council. It also initiates proceedings before the Court of Justice in cases of treaty violations by another institution.

The Court of Justice adjudicates disputes arising under the treaties and all applicable legislation. Proceedings against institutions or member states can be initiated either by the Commission or by other member states. Member states may also initiate proceedings before the Court to compel Community institutions to annul or comply with Community law. The Court also hears cases involving Community law in cases where the court of last instance in a member state has ruled.  National courts may, and sometimes must, refer to the Court for clarification on issues concerning the interpretation of Community law. The Court also hears appeals of issues involving points of law from the General Court (Court of First Instance).      

The General Court (known as the Court of First Instance prior to 2009), was established in 1988 to alleviate the caseload burden of the Court of Justice. It has jurisdiction in actions for annulment of legislation or failure to act by the institutions, actions for damages brought against the institutions, and contract disputes involving the European Union. Rulings of the General Court on points of law may be appealed to the Court of Justice.

Additional Institutions include the Court of Auditors, Economic & Social Committee, European Council, Committee of Regions, European Investment Bank, and European Central Bank.


The European Union has both primary and secondary legislation. The primary legislation includes the founding treaties and subsequent amending treaties. Other primary legislation includes treaties between member states and treaties between the European Union and other parties, and accession treaties. Secondary legislation includes regulations, directives, decisions, opinions, and recommendations generated by the institutions.

Primary Legislation

Treaties Currently in Force

The Treaty of Lisbon, 2007/C 306/01 was signed on December 13, 2007 and entered into force on December 1, 2009. The Three Pillars were replaced with a new structure including an expanded role for the European Parliament and increased involvement of the parliaments of member states.

The Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union), February 7, 1992, 1992 O.J. (C 191)1, consolidated version at 2012 O.J. (C 326)1, replaced the European Economic Community with the European Union and created the so-called Three Pillars- the European Community, the Foreign & Security Policy Pillar, and the third pillar which is primarily concerned with criminal justice and judicial cooperation.

The Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, March 25, 1957, 298 U.N.T.S. 167, consolidated version at 2012/C 327/01, was created to foster cooperation in the development of atomic energy.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, entered into force January 12, 2009, 2012 O.J. (C 326)02, combined the various social, political, economic and other rights of the citizens of the European Union in a single document.

Founding treaties:

The Treaty of Paris (Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community), April 18, 1951,  261 U.N.T.S. 140, the basis for the current European Union, brought together former World War II adversaries for the cooperative production of coal & steel. The treaty expired on July 23, 2002.

The Treaty of Rome (Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community as amended through the Treaty of Amsterdam), March 25, 1957, 298 U.N.T.S. 3, consolidated version at 2012 O.J. (C 326)1, created the European Economic Community.

Other treaties:

The Single European Act, February 17, 1986, 1987 O.J. (L 169), the first major revision of the Treaty of Rome, created the “single market”.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, October 7, 1997, 1997 O.J. (C 340)1 made significant changes to the Maastricht treaty including expanded legislative powers for the European Parliament.

Accession Treaties

In order to join the European Union, member states must sign and ratify an accession treaty.

The text of treaties can be found in the Official Journal of the European Communities (C Series) (KJE908 .I54) and on EUR-Lex. The Encyclopedia of European Union Law: Constitutional Texts (KJE916 .E52) includes the text of treaties with annotations. The European Union Law Reporter (HC241 .2 .C68) provides commentary on the treaties, cases, annotations, and selected secondary legislation. Smit & Herzog on the Law of the European Union (KJE947 .S632) (Lexis Advance), provides section by section commentary on the Maastricht & Rome treaties. The European Union Law Guide (KJE947 .E97) reproduces selected treaties and secondary legislation with an emphasis on business. Bloomberg law has founding treaties, accession treaties and other European Union treaties and international agreements databases. On Westlaw, there is the EU-TREATIES database. On LexisNexis, find treaties in EUROPE;TREATY or EUROPE;BDIEL.

Determine the status of treaties by consulting the Directory of Community Legislation in Force and Other Acts of the Community Institutions (KJE908 .D57). The Directory is also available for free download at the EU Bookshop.

Secondary Legislation

Regulations are generally applicable to and binding on member states. They are cited by number, then year.

Example: Commission Regulation (EC) No 1320/2006 of 5 September 2006 laying down rules for the transition to the rural development support provided for in Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005,  2006 O.J. (L 243) 16.

Directives are framework statutes and are binding upon enactment by member states. The form of national implementation is left to the member states. Directives are cited by year, then number.

Example: Regulation (EC) No 294/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2008 establishing the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, 2008 O.J. (L 97) 1.

Decisions are binding in their entirety on the specific member states, organizations or individuals to whom they are addressed. Decisions are cited by year, number, and treaty. Example: 2005/754/EC: Commission Decision of 19 October 2005 on the appointment of the members of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies for its third mandate, 2005 O.J. (L 284) 6–7.

There are also non-binding resolutions, recommendations, and opinions as well as the implementing legislation of the member states.

All three types of binding legislation are found in the Official Journal (L Series) (KJE908 .L43). Non-binding legislation can be found in the Official Journal (C Series). The Official Journal is available on Eur-Lex. Additionally, the Encyclopedia of European Union Law and European Union Law Reporter publish secondary legislation. Bloomberg Law has regulations, directives and decisions as well as the C Series. On Westlaw, search EU-LEG.

Draft Legislation (Also known as preparatory acts and published as COM documents. White Papers, Green Papers, and other reports may also appear as COM documents.)

Most are published in Official Journal C Series, however the OJ does not include explanatory memoranda. Draft legislation can also be found in European Union Law Reporter and OEIL- Legislative Observatory.,

Track the progress of draft legislation with Pre-Lex, Bloomberg Law and Westlaw- EU-ACTS.

To determine the status of secondary legislation, consult SCADPLUS (summaries of legislation),  Directory of Community Legislation in Force and Other Acts of the Community Institutions (KJE908 .D57) or European Communities Legislation:Current Status (KJE908.2 .L43 E87).

Useful indexes for locating legislation include the Directory of Community Legislation in Force and Other Acts of the Community Institutions (KJE908 .D57) and the Bulletin of the European Union (K2 .U442)(print last updated 2009). The annual General Report provides information on recent major initiatives and achievements.

Legislation enacted by member states implementing the Directives may be found using Reynolds and Flores, Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Code and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Reference K38 .R49 1989, electronic access available through BEN) and Butterworth’s EC Legislation Implementator (KJE908 .2 .L43 B87).  On Bloomberg Law, there is a National Measures Implementing Directives database.


Opinions of the Advocate-General are non-binding preliminary recommendations to the full Court. Judgments of the Court are binding and are issued unanimously by the panel. There are no dissenting opinions issued. European Court Reports is the official reporter of European court cases. Citations to Court of Justice opinions are cited like this:

Case C-209/04, Commission v Republic of Austria, 2006 E.C.R. I-02755.

Cases from the General Court (Court of First Instance) are cited like this:

Case T-193/04, Tillack v Commission), 2005 E.C.R. I-3103.

Abstracts of cases from national courts of member states can be found on the ACA-Europe web site.

Cases of the Court of Justice and the General Court (Court of First Instance) can be found on the internet on Eur-Lex and on Curia.

Printed sources of case law include the official European Court Reports: Reports of

Cases before the Courts (ECR) (K3823 .A495 C68), the Official Journal of the European Communities (C Series) (Notices only) (KJE908 .I54) and unofficial sources such as European Community Cases (HC241 .2 .C68), Common Market Law Reports (KJE923 .7 .C65) and C.M.L.R. Antitrust Cases (KJE6456 .A7 .C65). On Westlaw use EU-CS or EU-OJCSERIES. On Bloomberg Law coverage includes the Official Journal C Series, Advocate-General opinions, General Court, Court of Justice cases as well as a court filings database.

Useful tools for finding cases include the indexes in European Community Cases or the European Current Law Yearbook (K3823 .A495 .E871), which also digests European Union cases, legislation & articles. Other useful case subject indexes include the European Law Digest (K3823 .A495 E87) and The Digest (KD296 .E52), which annotates British, Commonwealth & European cases.

Selected Materials on the European Union

The following treatises offer good introductions to European Union law:

Arnull, The European Union and Its Court of Justice (KJE5461 .A97 2006)

Folsom, European Union Law in a Nutshell (Reserve KJE949 .F55 2014)

Folsom, Principles of European Union Law (KJE949 .F553 2011)

Hartley, The Foundations of European Community Law: an Introduction to the Constitutional and Administrative Law of the European Community (KJE947 .H37 1994)

Lenaerts, Procedural Law of the European Union (KJE3802 .L465 2006)

Raworth, Introduction to the Legal System of the European Union (KJE947 .R39 2001)

Tridimas, The General Principles of European Union Law (KJE947 .T75 2006)

Additional treatises can be found either with a keyword search or by using the following subject headings in BEN:

Court of Justice of the European Communities

Law—European Economic Community countries

Law—European Union countries

Law Reports, Digests, etc—European Economic Community countries

There are several periodicals devoted to European Union law. They include the Common Market Law Review (K3 .O445), European Journal of International Law (Lexis, Lexis Advance), European Law Review (K5 .U765)(Westlaw- EURLR), European Yearbook (K64 .A55), European Foreign Affairs Review (K5 .U761), European Law Journal: Review of European Law in Context and Journal of Common Market Studies (K29 .E174 ).

Public International Law: A Current Bibliography of Books and Articles (Reference JX1225 .P83) is an outstanding resource for locating books and periodicals on European Union law.  General periodical indexes and databases useful for locating articles regarding the European Union include the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (Reference K33 .I29), (electronic access available through BEN), Index to Legal Periodicals (Reference K33 .I55, electronic access available through BEN) or Current Law Index (Reference K33 .C87, Lexis- LAWREV;ILP, Westlaw- LRI).

European Union specific internet sites are also useful for finding articles on European Union law. They include the European Commission Libraries Catalogue ,  the AEI Archive of European Integration, and the European Research Papers Archive (ERPA).

News / Current Awareness

The European Union issues daily press releases through the RAPID system. The Court of Justice also issues press releases.  Other useful current awareness sources include Europa EU News, or EU Focus (HC241 .2 C68). On Westlaw use the European Report (EUROREP) or European Update (Westlaw- EURUPDATE).

More detailed research guides include Eggermont & Smis, Research Guide to Instruments of European Regional Organizations (KC 76 .R47 2010), Alford, European Union Legal Materials, 97 L. Lib. J. 49 (2005), Carpenter & Hodgson, Legal Research and the Law of the European Communities (Reference KJE928 .J44 1997), or Raisch, European Union Law: An Integrated Guide to Electronic and Print Research.