European Union Law Information Resources

A Guide to Research by Charlotte Bynum

I. History and Introduction

Based upon a proposal of Robert Shuman, France's foreign minister, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands entered into the Treaty of Paris in 1951, creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).* The coal and steel industries had been critical in fighting the two world wars which were then all-too-recent history. By placing these two industries in collective hands, perhaps a future war might be avoided.

Two additional communities, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Community (EURATOM) were established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. The Treaty of Rome built upon the earlier Treaty of Paris by expressing the goals of a common market for goods and labor and the husbanding atomic resources.

From these three founding treaties has grown the present-day European Union, which now plays a major role on the larger world stage.

A list of the major treaties establishing the communities, its institutions, and its goals is available on the EU website, Europa.

II. Institutions


The Commission administers the Union and engages in policy-making. It proposes laws to the Council of the European Union (known before the Maastricht treaty as the "Council of Ministers") and ensures their later implementation (if enacted.)

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union enacts laws from those proposed by the Commission. This council is not to be confused with the European Council which, while not an official EU institution, plays a major role in the union. In the European Council, heads of states and governments meet every six months. See


The Parliament, contrary to our expectations from the name, originally was consultative and had no authority to pass legislation. Gradually, through changes in recent treaties, it has come to have an increased role in law-making with the Council of the European Union. The most recent mechanism it has gained to increase its input is the co-decision procedure. If the Council and the Parliament cannot agree, a Conciliation Committee is formed to hammer out a compromise. Even if the Conciliation Committee agrees on the wording of the text, the Parliament may still reject the proposed at by absolute majority of its members.

European Court of Justice (ECJ)

The European Union's "Supreme Court", the ECJ is entrusted with the reponsibility of ensuring the correct interpretation of the EU's treaties by the member states and by other EU institutions. Due to the volume of caseload, in 1988 a lower court, the Court of First Instance was created. Under Article 234, national tribunals are allowed to request "preliminary rulings" of the ECJ on questions of European Union law.

Court of Auditors

The Court of Auditors is concerned with ensuring the proper administration of the EU budget.

European Central Bank

The European Central Bank, together with its European System of Central Banks, is responsible for monetary policy and the Euro.

For more information on these and other EU bodies, see Eu Institutions and Other Bodies

III. Sources of EU Law

Treaties are considered the foundational documents of EU Law, and are as such the primary law of the EU.

The major sources of secondary legislation are directives, regulations, and decisions.

  • Directives are binding as to the result achieved, but specific implementation is left to the member states.
  • Regulations have general application and are binding on the member states.
  • Decisions are addressed to specific individuals, institutions or countries.

Directives, Regulations and Decisions are published in their official form in the European Union Official Journal, available on microfilm. The enacted versions are in the L series, while commission proposals for legislation (drafts) are available in the C series. A good (but unofficial) print collection is available in the Encyclopedia of European Community Law (Secondary Legislation) KJE916 .E56. They are also available in electronic form, as discussed below.

Online Information Resources


Europa, the EU's website, has a special section devoted to law called Eur-lex. Eur-lex is a valuable starting place for legal research. It includes: (a) Treaties;(b) International Agreements; (c)Legislation in Force; (d) Preparatory Acts;  (e) Case Law; and (f) Parliamentary Questions.

EU on Westlaw

Westlaw has a comprehensive European Union database: EU-ALL. It also has a Substantial number of specialized databases that provide access tp EU treaties; Court of Justive and Court of First Instance decisions and advocate-gneral opinions, court orders and judgments; Legislation (legislative acts of the Council, Parliament and Commission reported in Series L of the Official Journal, including international agreements; regulations, decisions, directives and recommendations, and supplementary legislation); preparatory acts (draft legislation from 1984); parliamentary legislative and budgetary initiatives and resolutions from 1974; Court of Auditors opnions from 1977; opinions of the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions from 1975; and other documents from the C series of the Official Journal.

Westlaw also has a European News database, EURONEWS.

EU on Lexis

At first glance it appears that Lexis has a substantial collection of EU materials. Further examination reveals that much of the content in the five libraries is from EUR-Lex.

Treaties and International Agreements dating from 1951 are drawn from EUR-Lex.The second selection Basic Documents of International Economic Law is archival and no longer updated.

Case Law includes EUR-Lex, Butterworth's compilation of Court of Justice and European court cases. EC Decisions ends in 1997 and Human Rights cases run from 1960 though today.

Legislation and Regulations are all drawn from EUR-Lex except "Business Guides to EU Initiatives" which was not updated in 2007.

Commentaries and Treatises offer several treatises which, like their print counterparts, are a year or so behind until updated. This section also includes the EU Oberver, a daily new source of information.

News offers two additional sources of daily news: EU News and Tender's Electronic Daily. The other news choices are not current.

IV. Recommended Research Guides

Footnote : * By the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the European Coal and Steel Community ended in 2002.