Understanding European Union Legal Materials

By Janet Kearney

Janet Kearney is the Foreign and International Law Librarian at the Maloney Library, Fordham University School of Law. She teaches advanced legal research in foreign and international law and serves as liaison to an active faculty and international law journal. A member of the Louisiana bar, she has a J.D. with a Certificate in Civil Law from Tulane Law School and received her M.L.I.S. and B.A. in International Studies from Louisiana State University.

Published July/August 2021

(Previously updated by Duncan E. Alford in October 2008 and January 2011; and by Alyson Drake in November/December 2016)

See the Archive Version!

This article is intended for the researcher who occasionally needs to research European Union (EU) law or related materials or to locate EU official documents. The expert or experienced researcher may find section 11 of this article more useful.

1. Overview

The EU has a population of approximately 508 million people comprising 27 European nations, and the EU gross domestic product has a value of nearly U.S. $19.5 trillion. The EU is a major trading bloc and increasingly takes a more prominent role in international trade and international affairs generally. Even the law library that does not consider international law a strength of its collection will occasionally have to meet the needs of patrons seeking to locate information on EU law.

The European Union is a supranational organization whose 27 members include most countries of Europe. Each member nation is referred to as a Member State. The current 27 Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden.[1]

The United Kingdom, a Member State since 1973, officially left the EU on January 31, 2020 after a 2016 referendum in which 51.9% of voters opted to leave the EU. The process for withdrawing from the EU is governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union but was never used before. As of December 2020, negotiations between the EU and the UK are still ongoing on matters related to trade, the customs union, and the single market. If a deal is not reached by December 31, 2020, the UK will automatically leave the customs union and the single market. To search for more information on this, use the popular key term “Brexit.”

The EU began as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1953 with an original purpose of regulating the capacity of large metal fabricating industries.[2] The six original Member States—Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands—signed the ECSC Treaty and began the process of European integration. Since then, the EU has evolved in stages with the creation of an economic community, development of a single market, the removal of many trade restrictions and border controls, and the issuance of a common currency. In recent years, the EU has made efforts to develop a common foreign affairs policy and to improve cooperation among Member States on justice and home affairs.

The 1992 Treaty on European Union, known popularly as the Maastricht Treaty or the TEU, introduced a three-pillar system on which the EU government was previously based: the European Communities policies, common foreign and security policies, and justice and home affairs policies. However, with the Lisbon treaty coming into force on December 1, 2009, the pillar system collapsed, and the EU became one entity with a legal personality. The new community is now based on two amended treaties: the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). For more on treaties governing the EU, see section 6 infra.

The principal offices of the EU are located in Brussels, Belgium, although other EU institutions have offices in Luxembourg; Frankfurt, Germany; and Strasbourg, France. The EU currently recognizes 24 official languages.

2. Official Websites

Europa.eu, the official website of the European Union, is the first place to look for EU information because it provides excellent access to official EU documents. Europa contains many databases on various topics, from press releases of the Council of Ministers to tariff quotas. Researchers should consult Europa’s list of resources to familiarize themselves with the sources on the site or use the Topics page to explore Europa by subject

EUR-Lex, the “portal to European law”, is a free legal database maintained by the European Commission that contains the full text of treaties, legislation, court decisions, and other official documents of the European Union. It is the best free source of official EU legal information. Researchers should use EUR-Lex to locate the most current EU legal information.

3. Principal Institutions of the EU

The following descriptions of the principal institutions of the EU focus on the legal activities and structure of each. The necessarily brief treatment makes this section so simplistic that the descriptions border on being misleading. Subsequent sections of this article contain more detailed instructions on legal research related to each institution.

To legal researchers who are familiar with the United States legal system, Table 1 compares the governmental institutions of the European Union and the United States. This analogy is flawed at the outset because the two legal systems are very different in their age, their legal traditions, and their history, among many other factors. Nevertheless, the table may help the U.S. reader begin to understand the relationships among these EU institutions.

Table 1: Comparison of EU and U.S. Governmental Institutions

European Union

United States

Executive Branch

European Commission and its Directorates General

U.S. President and the Cabinet

European Council

European Central Bank

Federal Reserve System

Legislative Branch

Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers)

U.S. Senate

European Parliament

U.S. House of Representatives

Committee of the Regions

Congressional committee system

Economic and Social Committee

Congressional committee system

Court of Auditors

General Accountability Office, inspectors general

Judicial Branch

European Court of Justice

Supreme Court of the United States

Court of First Instance (General Court)

U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal

3.1. Executive Branch

3.1.1. European Commission

The European Commission is the primary generator of new legislation in the EU. The Commission proposes new legislation and launches new policy initiatives. The Commission also serves as the executive branch of the EU and enters into international agreements on behalf of the EU. As the guardian of EU policy, the Commission can initiate legal proceedings to ensure compliance with EU policy and legislation.

The Commission currently consists of 27 commissioners who are selected by the Member States. Each Member State may have a national on the commission. Each commissioner has a separate portfolio—an area of policy concern. The staff of the commission is organized into 33 directorates-general (DG) or departments, which have distinct areas of policy responsibility.[3] DG’s are roughly equivalent to the executive branch departments in the United States government, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For instance, the Competition DG deals with the approval of mergers and acquisitions of business enterprises. Each directorate-general maintains a website that contains information on the policy area for which it is responsible, and the site usually contains working papers and preliminary reports prepared by the DG. Europa provides links to the sites of the various commission DGs.

A new group of 27 commissioners is appointed every five years. The European Council nominates a President of the Commission, and the European Parliament votes on his election. Following the President’s election by a majority vote, the President-Elect appoints the other 26 members of the Commission based on recommendations by each Member State and with the consent of the European Council and European Parliament.

3.1.2. European Council

Although the European Council gained a formal status in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty, in 2007, the Lisbon Treaty designated it formally as an institution within the European Union. Consisting of the heads of state (presidents and prime ministers) of EU members, its President, and the President of the Commission, the European Council meet at least twice every six months. This body is distinct and separate from the Council of the European Union described below. Its principal tasks include defining the European Union’s political direction and priorities, usually by adopting conclusions that identify concerning issues and actions to take.

The Lisbon treaty introduced another new position: President of the European Council. The President is responsible for convening the Council and helping achieve consensus and cohesion in the European Council’s summits and decisions. The European Council, using qualified majority voting, elects the President to a term of two and a half years, renewable once. The President is restricted to persons not currently holding political office. He is assisted in his work by a cabinet of advisors.

3.1.3. European Central Bank

The European Central Bank makes and implements monetary policy and is responsible for the issuance of the EU’s common currency—the euro. While 19 countries have adopted the euro as their national currency, nine others—including Sweden and Denmark—have not. The European Central Bank is roughly analogous to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in the United States.

3.2. Legislative Branch

3.2.1. Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, is a separate and distinct body from the European Council described above. Composed of selected ministers from each Member State, the council exercises legislative power along with the European Parliament. It also works to coordinate member states’ policies in areas such as economic policy and to implement European Union foreign policy. The Council of Ministers is roughly analogous to the United States Senate.

The President is a minister of a Member State chosen on a pre-determined rotational basis every six months. The Presidency chairs meetings at every level in the Council and represents the Council in relations with other EU bodies. Every 18 months, the three presidents who will be presiding during that term, known as a trio, convene to set long-term goals and prepare a common program, determining the major issues to be addressed by the Council over that 18-month period.

References to “the Council” are typically to the Council of the European Union, but a researcher should always confirm the context before determining which Council is being referenced. This article uses “the Council” to refer to the Council of the EU.

3.2.2. European Parliament

The European Parliament originally had little political power or authority. As the EU developed, the Parliament gained more power in the legislative process, but it still does not yet have the legislative power typically associated with a national parliament or legislative body. The Lisbon treaty broadened the areas on which Parliament can vote via the ordinary legislative procedure, formerly called the codecision procedure. The expanded agendas include areas in border controls, judicial and criminal matters, agriculture, and trade.

The Parliament is composed of 705 members and is directly elected by the citizens of the EU Member States every five years. Representation is roughly proportional to the population of the EU Member States. The make-up of the parliament will be roughly proportional with each state receiving a minimum of six seats and a maximum of 96. Members of the European Parliament are sometimes referred to as MEPs.

The Parliament has no authority to propose legislation directly but may request the European Commission to propose legislation. The Parliament must approve most legislation, in particular the annual EU budget, and in the past has withheld its approval in order to influence legislation proposed by the European Commission. The Parliament also elects the Commission President and approves of the Commission as a body, examines EU citizen petitions, and has other supervisory responsibilities. Most of the Parliament’s work takes place in committees as the MEPs examine proposed legislation and put forward amendments to or proposals for rejection of a bill; there are 20 committees and three subcommittees, each dealing with a different policy area. To pass legislation, the Parliament meets in plenary sessions to give a final vote on proposed legislation and amendments.

The European Parliament is roughly analogous to the United States House of Representatives. However, in the U.S., the House of Representatives and the Senate have equivalent power in enacting most legislations. In the EU, the Council of Ministers generally has greater legislative power than the European Parliament.

3.2.3. Committee of the Regions

Created in 1994 under the Treaty of Maastricht, the Committee of the Regions (COR) is an advisory body composed of 350 members who serve renewable five-year terms. Membership is roughly proportional to the populations of the Member States. The Council of Ministers appoints members proposed by member states who are generally local, municipal, or regional officials.

The COR must be consulted during the legislative process regarding laws affecting trans-European infrastructure, education, culture, environment, employment, or those having a particular local or regional effect. The COR’s role in the EU was strengthened with the Lisbon treaty, which adds civil protection, climate change, energy and services of general interest to areas designated to the COR, extending the COR’s term from four to five years, and giving the Committee the right to bring actions before the Court of Justice under certain circumstances. The COR issues opinions on legislation at the request of other EU institutions or can issue opinions on its own initiative.

3.2.4. European Economic and Social Committee

The European Economic and Social Committee is an advisory body created by the Treaty of Rome that issues opinions on legislation dealing with labor, transport, consumer protection, public health, and education. Its 329 members are appointed by the Council for renewable five-year terms and the membership is roughly proportional to the populations of the member states. The membership is divided into three groups—employers, workers, and various interest groups.

3.2.5. European Court of Auditors

Although named a court, the European Court of Auditors more appropriately belongs to the legislative branch as a functional institution rather than a “true” court. Consisting of one representative from each of the 27 Member States, the European Court of Auditors audits the accounts and implements the budget of the EU. It issues an annual report, special reports, and opinions. Court members are appointed by the Council for renewable six-year terms.

3.3. Judicial Branch

The European Union’s judicial branch is the Court of Justice of the European Union. It is composed of the Court of Justice and the General Court.

3.3.1. Court of Justice

The Court of Justice, consisting of one judge from each Member State and eleven advocates-general, interprets and adjudicates disputes over EU law, a separate body of law distinct from and supreme over the law of the Member States.[4] The judges are elected by common accord among the Member States and serve staggered terms of six years. The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a new panel of seven persons whose task is to assess each candidate for the Court of Justice, the General Court, and Advocates-General before the Member States are allowed to appoint them. Under the terms of the Treaty of Nice, each Member State will have a national serve on the court. The eleven advocates-general are appointed by common accord and serve six-year terms. The Court of Justice is roughly analogous to the Supreme Court of the United States.

3.3.2. General Court (formerly known as the Court of First Instance)

Consisting of two judges from each Member State, this intermediate court also decides disputes regarding EU law. This court was created in 1989 to alleviate delays in deciding cases by the Court of Justice because of its increased caseload. The court’s jurisdiction originally focused on competition cases and staff cases, and it did not hear actions brought by Member States. (From 2005 to 2016, employment disputes between staff of the EU and the EU were heard in a specialized court called the EU Civil Service Tribunal; that jurisdiction reverted back to the General Court in 2016.) The jurisdiction has expanded over the years and includes some actions against the EU institutions and actions between the Member States and the Commission.

Historically, there was an additional specialized tribunal called the Civil Services Tribunal, which ruled on disputes between the EU and its staff. The jurisdiction of this tribunal was transferred to the General Court in September 2016. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament and the Council have power to create specialized courts by the ordinary legislative procedure.

4. Introductory Treatises and Texts

While there are numerous books on European Union law, the following is a very selective list of the better introductions to the topic.

  • Ralph H. Folsom. European Union Law in a Nutshell. 9th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Academic Publishing, 2017. This concise treatment, which is part of the West Nutshell series, provides an overview of EU law and institutions.
  • Trevor C. Hartley. The Foundations of European Union Law. 8th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. This book is a good introduction to the law of the European Union. Chapter 1 describes the legal basis for and the function of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament. Chapter 2 describes the structure and function of the EU’s judicial system—the European Court of Justice and the General Court.
  • P.S.R.F. Mathijsen. A Guide to European Union Law. 11th ed. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2013. A good introduction to EU institutions and EU law.
  • Doing Business in Europe: An Explanatory Commentary on the Principal Aspects of Doing Business in Certain European Countries. Chicago: CCH Editions. Formerly known as the European Union Law Reporter and as the Common Market Law Reporter, this multi-volume loose-leaf service provides commentary on EU law by topic and includes the texts of treaties and digests of relevant EU laws. It is updated on a monthly basis.
  • Klaus-Dieter Borchardt. The ABC of EU Law. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2016. A brief, readable summary of EU institutions and the sources of European Union law that incorporates changes resulting from the Treaty of Lisbon. Also available on Europa.

5. Dictionaries and Directories

The EU is noted for its heavy use of jargon, sometimes called Eurospeak. The following books will help in deciphering unfamiliar terms.

  • Anne Ramsay. Eurojargon: A Dictionary of the European Union. 6th ed. New York: Routledge, 2001. This book provides an exhaustive list of acronyms used by EU agencies and officials.
  • Glossary: Institutions, Policies and Enlargement of the European Union. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2000. This source offers a selective list of terms and concepts related to the EU. Download a free version of the glossary from the EU Bookshop.
  • EU Whoiswho, The Official Directory of the European Union. This database provides contact information for senior personnel of the European Union. Searchable by name, entity, or hierarchical structure. Access it online or download an e-book version for free from the website.

6. Treaties

The European Union has developed over the past five decades from the six-member European Coal and Steel Community to the current 27-member supranational organization through the adoption and ratification of treaties.

6.1. Founding Treaties

The texts of the treaties are published in the Official Journal of the European Union, the official gazette of the EU. Other treaty series and commercial publications described below are also sources for the text of the EU treaties. The founding treaties are frequently referred to as “primary legislation”. In contrast, “secondary legislation” refers to directives, regulations, and other forms of law described later in the section on Legislation.

Following is a list of the founding treaties currently in force that provide the legal basis for the EU; full-text links for all are available from EUR-Lex:

  • Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, Apr. 18, 1951, 261 U.N.T.S. 140 (ECSC Treaty or Treaty of Paris). This treaty expired by its own terms on July 23, 2002.
  • Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, Mar. 25, 1957, 298 U.N.T.S. 3, 4 Eur. Y.B. 412 (EEC Treaty or Treaty of Rome or Treaty Establishing the European Community; this name was amended to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, with the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon.).).
  • Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, Mar. 25, 1957, 298 U.N.T.S. 259, 5 Eur. Y.B. 454 (Euratom Treaty).
  • Treaty on European Union, Feb. 7, 1992, 1992 O.J. (C 191) 1, 31 I.L.M. 253 (Union Treaty or Maastricht Treaty; now frequently referred to as TEU).

There are other important treaties that have affected the EU over the years. For example, researchers will likely encounter most frequently the Lisbon Treaty, mentioned several times already, which made significant changes to the institutional structure and is discussed more fully below. Though these are classified as “other” treaties, they are still important. Full-text links for all are available from EUR-Lex:

  • Treaty Establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities, Apr. 8, 1965, 1967 J.O. 152/1 (Merger Treaty).
  • Single European Act, Feb. 17, 1986, 1987 O.J. (L 169) 1, 25 I.L.M. 506.
  • Treaty of Amsterdam Amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties Establishing the European Communities and Certain Related Acts, Oct. 2, 1997, 1997 O.J. (C 340) 1, 37 I.L.M. 56 (Treaty of Amsterdam).
  • Treaty of Nice Amending the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties Establishing the European Communities and Certain Related Acts, Feb. 26, 2001, 2001 O.J. (C 80) 1 (Treaty of Nice).
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2012 O.J. (C 326) 391.
  • Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, Dec. 13, 2007, 2007 O.J. (C 306) 1 (Lisbon Treaty).

The founding treaties are frequently referred to as “primary legislation.” The TEU and TFEU are now considered the major governing treaties of the EU. In contrast, “secondary legislation” refers to directives, regulations, and other forms of law described later in the section on Legislation. These treaties have been amended and renumbered multiple times so a researcher may often need to compare the article numbering schemes.

The Treaty of Amsterdam renumbered the articles of the founding treaties. Citations to specific articles of the founding treaties prior to the ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 will be to the old numbering scheme of the treaty articles. For example, the article on the creation of the internal market is cited as Article 14 (example Art. 7a). The ex-number refers to the numerical sequence of the treaty articles prior to the Treaty of Amsterdam. A table of equivalences showing the correspondence between the old and new numbering scheme is annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam, available on EUR-Lex (1997 O.J. (C 340) 85)

The Treaty of Lisbon also extensively renumbered the articles in the treaties it amended: The Treaty on the European Union (TEU; Maastricht Treaty) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU; Rome Treaty). A table of equivalences for both treaties is annexed to the Lisbon Treaty and is available on EUR-Lex (2007 O.J. (C306) 202). Consolidated versions of the TEU and TFEU are published occasionally in the Official Journal and available on EUR-Lex. Because of the addition of new articles into the treaties, the Table of Equivalences at the end of the Consolidated Treaty will be particularly helpful to researchers.

6.2. Accession Treaties

The EU has grown since its founding by admitting additional nations. New members of the EU must sign and ratify an accession treaty in order to join the EU. The six accession treaties (thus far) and their citations are listed below; full-text links for all are available from EUR-Lex:

  • Accession to the European Communities of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Jan. 22, 1972, 1972 O.J. (L 73) 5 (First Accession Treaty).
  • Accession to the European Communities of the Hellenic Republic, May 28, 1979, 1973 O.J. (L 291) 9 (Second Accession Treaty).
  • Accession to the European Economic Communities of the Kingdom of Spain and the Portuguese Republic, June 12, 1985, 1985 O.J. (L 302) 9 (Third Accession Treaty).
  • Accession to the European Union of the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Finland, and the Kingdom of Sweden, June 24, 1994, 1994 O.J. (C 241) 9 (Fourth Accession Treaty).
  • Treaty concerning the Accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and the Slovak Republic to the European Union, April 16, 2003, 2003 O.J. (L 236) 17.
  • Treaty concerning the Accession of the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union, April 25, 2005, 2005 O.J. (L 157) 11.
  • Treaty concerning the Accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, April 24, 2012, 2012 O.J. (L 112) 10.

6.3. Print Versions

The Publications Office of the European Union publishes several versions of treaties, which are periodically updated:

  • European Union: Consolidated Versions of the Treaty on European Union and of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2019. Download as an e-book for free from the EU Bookshop.
  • European Union: Selected Instruments Taken from the Treaties. Luxembourg: Office for the Official Publications of the European Communities, 1999. Download as an e-book for free from the EU Bookshop.

Copies of the treaties are also available in several commercial publications:

  • European Union Law Reporter. : Sweet & Maxwell, 1962–. The texts of the treaties are contained in the last volume of this four-volume loose-leaf service.
  • Neville March Hunnings, ed. Encyclopedia of European Union Law. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1996–. This seven-volume loose-leaf service contains the following types of EU materials: Founding Treaties; Accession Treaties; Amending Treaties; Other International Agreements; EU Institutions; and the Three Pillars. It is updated on a quarterly basis.
  • Philip Raworth, ed. European Union Law Guide. Eagan, MN: Thomson Reuters, 1994–. This loose-leaf service contains the text of the treaties and the text of principal legislation organized by subject. Also available on Westlaw Edge.
  • Hans Smit, ed. Smit & Herzog on the Law of the European Union. New York: LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 1976–. This annually updated loose-leaf service, updated twice a year, analyzes the treaties article by article. It includes tables relating to the renumbering of treaty articles. Also available on Lexis+.

6.4. Convention on the Future of Europe

The European Constitutional Convention met in Brussels beginning in 2002. In June 2003, it completed its task of drafting a constitutional treaty that was presented to an intergovernmental conference held in fall 2003. The heads of state of the EU signed this treaty on October 29, 2004 in Rome. The signed version of the treaty is available in full-text on Europa. This treaty was never ratified but portions of the text were incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon.

6.5. The Treaty of Lisbon

After the failure to ratify the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Member States signed a revised treaty–the Treaty of Lisbon–that further amended the two founding treaties on December 13, 2007.

It was ratified and entered into force on December 1, 2009. The Treaty of Lisbon amends both the Treaty on the European Union (TEU; Maastricht Treaty) and the Treaty Establishing the European Community (Treaty of Rome), the latter becoming the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Some of the more important changes resulting from the Treaty of Lisbon are creating the office of President of the European Council with a two-and-a-half year renewable term, creating a High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, setting the maximum number of members of the European Parliament at seven hundred fifty, changing the qualified majority voting procedure of the Council of the European Union, and introducing a negotiated procedure by which a Member State may leave the European Union. The intent of all of these changes is to improve the functioning of the European Union.

The treaty also makes important changes in the way Europeans can interact with the Union. Namely, it introduces citizens’ initiatives, increases national parliamentary powers, and bolsters individual rights by incorporating the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights into EU law. The European Citizens’ Initiative allows for a petition signed by one million citizens of a significant number of Member States to propose to the European Commission legislation on any matter that is within the competency of the European Union.

National parliaments now can review European legislative acts to evaluate the legislation for breaches of the subsidiarity principle. They can also require review of legislation and delay implementation of proposals. The Treaty of Lisbon incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the European Union law. The treaty legally binds all European Union Member States to the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, with the exception of Poland, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom, all of which negotiated an exempting protocol to the Treaty of Lisbon. The Lisbon treaty also incorporates the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “ECHR”) into EU law. As such, the provisions of the ECHR are binding on EU institutions and EU law will be interpreted in light of the ECHR.

7. Legislation

7.1. Legislative Process

Five institutions are involved in the EU legislative process: the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, and the Economic and Social Committee. The Commission, the Council, and the Parliament are primarily involved in enacting legislation. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions serve a consultative role.

There are currently three primary methods for enacting legislation in the EU:

1. Ordinary Legislative Procedure (formerly called codecision)

2. Consent (formerly called assent)

3. Consultation

The procedure used depends on the substance of the proposed legislation. The ordinary legislative procedure, the most recently created legislative process (created under the Maastricht Treaty and later amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam and Treaty of Lisbon) is by far the most important of the three processes, because a wide range of policy areas fall under its scope. Of the three methods, it provides the most power to the European Parliament, reflecting its growing influence in EU law-making.

The ordinary legislative procedure, governed by Article 294 TFEU, has become the principal manner by which legislation is adopted in the EU. Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the European Commission, after consulting with national experts, submits a legislative proposal (frequently in the form of a COM document discussed below) to the Council of Ministers (a.k.a. the Council of the EU) and the European Parliament. The Parliament then considers the legislation by first referring it to a committee that will issue a report. If the Parliament agrees to the proposed text, the legislation is enacted. If the Council and the Parliament cannot agree on the legislation, the legislation potentially can go through further readings and a Conciliation Committee.

A unique feature of the EU legislative process is the methods of voting in the Council of Ministers: unanimity, simple majority, and qualified majority. As of November 1, 2014, qualified majority voting (QMV) is a double majority voting system, where at least 55% of members comprising at least 16 states and 65% of the population of the EU is necessary to pass a vote. This change was a result of the Lisbon Treaty. Previously under QMV, each Member State was assigned votes based roughly on its population. Legislation was enacted by qualified majority if a majority of the Member States approved the legislation and a minimum of 260 votes were cast in favor of the legislation. In addition, a Member State could ask for confirmation that the votes in favor of the legislation represent at least 62% of the EU’s population. The result of qualified majority voting is that a Member State may vote against legislation but must nevertheless abide by its provision—a true cession of sovereign power to the EU. A transitional period was in effect between 2014 and March 31, 2017, during which Member States were allowed to use the current rules if the subject being voted on was of particular sensitivity to that state.

The other two methods of enacting legislation are used much less frequently and are referred to as “special procedures.” Consultation and consent are used to enact legislation dealing with agriculture, trade agreements, and taxation. Because these two methods are infrequently used, I do not include a detailed discussion of the steps in these legislative procedures.

This complicated legislative process yields one of the four principal types of EU legislation. Regulations, like the General Data Protection Regulation, are directly applicable to Member States and require no further action to have legal effect. Directives, like the EU Consumer Rights Directive, are addressed to and are binding on Member States, but the Member State may choose the method by which to implement the directive. Generally, a Member State must enact national legislation to comply with a directive. Decisions are binding on those parties to whom they are addressed. Recommendations and opinions have no binding force. In the eyes of the U.S. legal researcher, regulations are the closest equivalent to federal statutes, while decisions could be analogized to administrative agency orders and recommendations and opinions as non-binding guidelines or policy statements. These four types of legislation are referred to as “secondary legislation,” as opposed to the treaties, which are referred to as “primary legislation.”

7.2. Official Journal of the European Union

The Official Journal of the European Union[5] is published daily in Luxembourg by the Publications Office of the European Union. It is the EU’s official gazette and publishes the text of legislation and other official acts of the European Union. It contains treaties, all four of the principal types of legislation, working papers, judgments of the European Court of Justice, proposals for legislation, and other official communications between EU institutions. Prior to 1973, when the United Kingdom and Ireland joined the EU, the Official Journal (or the O.J.) was not published in English. It is now published daily in each of the twenty-four official languages of the EU. To the U.S. researcher, the O.J. is a combination of the United States Statutes at Large, the U.S. Treaties and Other International Agreements (U.S.T.), the Federal Register, and the Congressional Record.

There are currently two major components to the Official Journal called series. The L series (legislation) contains regulations and directives adopted by the Commission or the Council alone or jointly with the European Parliament. The C series (communication) includes a wide variety of EU information and notices, such as summaries of judgment of the Court of Justice, written parliamentary questions, and annual reports of the Court of Auditors. There are three subseries: A, an annex to another OJ document; I, a one-off or isolated document (first used in 2016); and M, a special edition in Maltese or another backlogged language. These designations have changed over time, and the content assigned to each series can change; for example, prior to 1968, the Official Journal was not divided into the L and C series. The FAQs from EUR-Lex on this topic are useful for identifying current and historical series information and can assist with finding documents by citation as discussed in the section below.

The citation for a document in the Official Journal includes the year as the volume number, the abbreviation of the Journal as O.J., the series and issue number in parentheses, and then the page number on which the particular document starts. For example, in the citation 2020 O.J. (C 3) 1, the researcher can know this is from the year 2020, printed in the Official Journal in the third issue of the C series starting on page 1. To access the O.J., use EUR-Lex, which contains journals from 1952 to present. Beginning July 1, 2013, the electronic edition of the O.J. became the authentic version. (For prior years, the print is still the authentic version.)

7.3. How to Find a Document with a Citation (or a Partial Citation)

Many types of EU documents have their own numbering system, in addition to their Official Journal publication cite. Generally, it is the type of document, the year of publication, and a sequential number. (Researchers may see the governing entity called the domain in-between the document type and year of publication, i.e., Regulation (EU) or Decision (CFSP).) Though not required, the title of the document can be included.

Example: Regulation 2016/279 of 27 April 2016 on the Protection of Natural Persons with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data, 2016 O.J. (L 119) 1. – This regulation was enacted in 2016 as Regulation Number 278 and was published in the L Series of the Official Journal in the 2016 volume containing issue 119 for that year at page 1.

Example: Directive (EU) 2019/1937, 2019 O.J. (L 305) 17. – This directive was enacted in 2019 as Directive Number 1937 and was published in the L series of the Official Journal in the 2019 volume containing issue 305 for that year at page 17.

On EUR-Lex, a researcher can search either by the Official Journal citation or document number. There are several entry points for either, including an advanced search. For the Official Journal, the most efficient access point is the Access to the Official Journal search page, where a searcher can input each piece of the citation. Note that a subseries here is called a Class of the OJ; in a citation, one may see the subseries indicator attached to the series indicator (i.e., CA) or after the issue number (i.e., C 402A). To search by the number of a regulation, directive, or other similar document, the most efficient method is the “Find results by document number” box on the EUR-Lex homepage or use the document reference facet in the advanced search.

Prior to January 1, 2015, a regulation was generally cited by its number, followed by its year. In contrast, a directive was cited by its year first, then its number. Fortunately, the EUR-Lex search requires searchers to enter the year and document number in different fields so users can easily do this no matter what order these numbers are in.

Example: Regulation No. 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on Jurisdiction and the Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, 2001 O.J. (L 12) 1. — This regulation was enacted in 2000 as Regulation Number 44 and was published in the L Series of the Official Journal in the 2001 volume containing issue 12 for that year at page 1.

Example: Directive 77/780 on the Coordination of the Laws, Regulations and Administrative Provisions Relating to the Taking up and Pursuit of the Business of Credit Institutions, 1977 O.J. (L 322) 30. — This directive was enacted in 1977 as Directive Number 780 and was published in the L series of the Official Journal in the 1977 volume containing issue number 322 for that year at page 30.

EUR-Lex (and its precursor database CELEX) also include unique document identifier numbers for HTML documents called CELEX numbers (for example, 32020R1810). Although the use of these unique numbers in citations has fallen out of favor, it is likely researchers will encounter them; there is a search facet for this number in the advanced search and on the homepage.

7.4. How to Find EU Legislation by Subject

Frequently, you will want to find EU legislation on a particular legal topic. Unlike the federal statutes in the United States, there is no official codification of EU legislation. The Directory of Legal Acts can be a helpful source when looking for European Union legislation by subject. It is organized by twenty broad policy subjects based on the structure of the treaties. Each policy area is given a chapter number. Researchers can browse each of the subjects or narrow into specific sub-topics. For example, Chapter 4 Fisheries has four sub-topics with some additional sub-topics: 4.05 General; 4.07 Statistics; and 4.10 common fisheries policy with additional sub-topics like 4.10.10 structural measures. It was last updated in March 2020.

Summaries of EU Legislation (a successor to the SCADPlus database) is a useful website produced by the EU. It is organized by subject area and provides summaries of EU activity in those areas. There is also an A–Z glossary of summaries. Another useful resource is Topics of the European Union, which provides “mini-portals” to information from all EU institutions on thirty-two policy areas, such as economic and monetary affairs.

While the best current method of accessing EU legislation is using the online resources discussed herein, prior publications provided print access to EU legislation by subject:

  • European Union Law Reporter. London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1962–Provides a useful topical index to an analysis of EU law which contains citations to the Official Journal. Available on Westlaw Edge.
  • Directory of Community Legislation in Force and other Acts of the Community Institutions. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1984–. The first volume of this two-volume set organizes legislation within the analytical structure of EU law used by the European Commission. The table of contents sets out the various subject areas containing the related EU legislation. This source is difficult to use because the researcher must be familiar with the analytical structure based on the text and divisions of the EU treaties in order to search the source efficiently. The second volume contains a subject index and chronological index with cross-references to the relevant page in the analytical structure set forth in volume 1. This set was updated twice each year on January 1 and July 1. The print version ceased with the January 1, 2004 issue and it is currently only available electronically on EUR-Lex. The current Directory of Legal Acts is available on Eur-Lex. Some older versions of the Directory are available on the Publications Office of the EU website.

7.5. COM Documents – The Commission

Commission Documents, also known as COM documents, include legislative proposals, communications, and reports such as “green papers” or “white papers” issued by the staff of the European Commission. COM documents are numbered sequentially each year and are referenced by year and number.

Example: COM (2002) 0018, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament towards an Integrated European Railway Area. — This report is Commission Document No. 18 published in the year 2002. A researcher could also see this as COM/2002/0018.

COM documents are primarily available in EUR-Lex. Use the citation in “Find results by document number” on the homepage or in the advanced search. They are classified in EUR-Lex as preparatory documents, and they also have a direct access search page. The Commission’s website maintains a Register of Commission Documents, which provides full-text advanced searching and browsing of all Commission documents published since 2001. The Registry will provide direct links to the documents in the Official Journal or PDFs; there is also an option to request documents that are not available, though these may be exempted from public access. COM documents are available in microfiche in some law libraries and in EU depository libraries.

Most of these documents (without the useful explanatory memoranda) were published in the Official Journal C series until June 1999. After June 1999, selected COM documents are available in the electronic Official Journal CE Series on EUR-Lex. Beginning in 2003, the EU ceased the publication of COM documents in microfiche format, while providing them on CD-ROM. EUR-Lex is the most readily available (but possibly incomplete) source for recent COM documents.

7.6. Council of the EU Documents

Prior to 1999, Council documents typically were kept confidential.[6] Due to provisions in the Treaty of Amsterdam and a general policy of improved transparency in EU decision-making, more Council documents are now made public. One of the most frequently sought types issued by the Council is the Common Position, a statement of the Council’s position regarding an amendment to legislation by the European Parliament.

Council documents are available through its Public Register of Council Documents searchable database. Coverage begins with January 1999. Some documents are available in full-text. Documents not marked as public may be requested. Types of documents included are:

  • Monthly Summaries of Council Acts
  • Council Minutes, which consist of two types—minutes concerning the adoption of the legal acts and general minutes
  • Press Releases, which are eventually loaded into RAPID, the European Commission’s press release database, but are available first in the Council’s Press Room website

7.7. European Parliament Documents and Reports

As an important institution involved in the legislative process, the European Parliament (EP) generates documents such as committee reports and floor debates that are of interest to legal researchers.

The EP has created OEIL, the Legislative Observatory database, to track parliamentary action on legislative proposals. It can be searched by multiple criteria such as keywords, document reference, legislation document number, and stage of legislative procedure. There is an option to narrow by Subject so a research can find proposed legislation by topic and corresponding links to relevant documents.

The Plenary session website contains agendas, minutes, vote records, and parliamentary debates as video and/or verbatim transcripts. Dates of coverage vary, but verbatim transcripts are generally available 1996 to present. Researchers should note that the transcripts include the language the speaker used during the debates and are not translated in total. Historical debates can be found in Official Journal of the European Communities: Annexes—Debates of the European Parliament, Luxembourg: Office of Official Publications of the European Communities. This component of the Official Journal contained verbatim reports of parliamentary debates until it ceased publication in print in 1999. Parliamentary debates since 1999 may be found in microfiche at some law libraries and are now published in CD-Rom by the Publications Office of the EU, though there appears to be a delay of several years.

Reports of the EP are available on their website, which includes a searchable database of documents published after 2004. Researchers request the A series Reports most frequently; these are roughly analogous to U.S. Congressional committee reports. The database search currently has different search pages for the current parliamentary term, the 8th parliamentary term (2014-2019), the 7th parliamentary term (2009-2014), and the 6th parliamentary term (2004-2009).

Example: A9-0240/2020, Report on Sustainable Corporate Governance. The A refers to the A series of documents. The number 9 refers to the fourth European Parliament session. The number 0240 is the number of the report and 2020 refers to the year of the report.

European Parliament’s documents published before 1990 are available in print in serials variously named Session Documents, Working Documents, and Documents de Séance. Prior to 1973, reports were not generally available in English. For more detail on the different series of European Parliament documents, refer to the European Commission Delegation’s dated, but still useful guide, Accessing European Union Information. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) regularly question the European Commission on EU policy. These questions and their responses are available from the EP website from 1999 to present. Parliamentary questions were also published in the C Series of the Official Journal of the European Communities until 1999. Researchers with citations should use the Direct Access to the Official Journal website to find questions published in the O.J.

7.8. Economic and Social Committee Documents

Many official documents are available on the official website of the Economic and Social Committee. The legal researcher would be most interested in the ESC opinions, its Annual Report, and its monthly Bulletin. ESC opinions since 1990 are available on its website and in the C Series of the Official Journal.

7.9. Committee of the Regions Documents

Its official website contains a searchable database of opinions and resolutions of the Committee of the Regions as well as press releases and the committee’s recent Activity Reports. COR opinions are also available in the C Series of the Official Journal.

7.10. Status of Legislation

To verify the status of proposed legislation or to learn more about the steps in the enactment of a particular legislative proposal, the following databases are useful. Legislative Procedures (formerly Pre-Lex) on EUR-Lex collects the documents issued at each step of the legislative process. It is searchable by keyword, document number, and citation, and includes hypertext links to relevant documents. In EUR-Lex, researchers can also find the legislative procedure for a particular document, such as a directive, by locating the document and selecting the Procedure tab.

OEIL, the Legislative Observatory database maintained by the European Parliament, provides a synopsis of legislative procedures taken in enacting legislation and is searchable by document number, title of document, and other means. It has procedural documents going back to 1994 and is updated daily.

For press materials such as factsheets and press releases, the European Commission maintains a searchable database for materials of various EU institutions from 1974 to present. The press releases generally include links to official EU documents. Press releases often are the quickest and easiest way to learn of new developments in EU law.

7.11. National Transposition Measures

The enforcement of EU directives depends on enactment of national legislation to fulfill the purposes and objectives of a particular directive. National transposition measures are provisions taken by Member States to implement the directives laid down by EU legislation; they are also known as national implementing measures. As Member States are allowed to choose the way they implement EU legislation, national transposition legislation varies state to state. To determine if the Member State has enacted national legislation in response to EU legislation, EUR-Lex is most efficient.

In EUR-Lex, the measures can be viewed by first accessing the directive and clicking on the National Transposition tab. It includes a list of national implementing measures by member state. Click on the number under “Number of measures” by state to find links to each of the MNEs for that member state. The European Commission relies on self-reporting of enacted legislation by Member States, so the information on national legislation is often incomplete.

As an alternative, Commercial Laws of Europe, a quarterly journal published in London by Sweet & Maxwell, contains a list of important national legislation enacted in the countries of Europe, including legislation implementing EU directives and English translations of selected statutes.

8. Case Law

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) interprets and applies European Union law as found in the EU treaties and legislation.[7] The founding treaties state that the Court “shall ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed.”[8] The Court sits in Luxembourg and its working language is French. A case may be brought in any of the official languages of the EU, and one language will be designated the language of the case (generally the language of the national court referring the case or that of a party to the case). Because of the variety of languages involved in any given case, the Directorate-General for Multilingualism and their Directorates for Legal Translation and Interpretation play a large role at the CJEU throughout the proceedings; learn more about these language arrangements on the CJEU website. The CJEU is split into two courts: the Court of Justice and the General Court.

The Court of Justice, also frequently referred to as a European Court of Justice or ECJ: Typically, panels of three, five, or seven judges will hear a case, although occasionally the entire court will do so. U.S. legal researchers will be unfamiliar with an official judicial officer active at the Court—the advocate-general. Advocates-general review the written documents submitted in a case and issue a written opinion advocating a legal position prior to the court issuing its own opinion.[9] Under the TFEU, there are eight advocates-general, appointed by common accord among the Member States for six-year terms. Note that the number of advocates-general can be increased by the Council at the request at the CJEU, and the Court’s website indicates that there are currently 11.

The Court of Justice has broad jurisdiction in EU matters and its decisions have the force of law in the Member States. Decisions of the Court can override national legislation and decisions of national courts that are deemed contrary to the provisions of EU treaties and legislation.[10] More information about the Court and its jurisdiction is available at the website of the Court of Justice.

The General Court (previously known as the Court of First Instance), created in 1989 to relieve the case load of the ECJ, originally heard cases dealing with competition law, dumping, subsidies, and staff grievances. Decisions of the General Court are appealable to the Court of Justice on points of law. More information can be found on the web site of the General Court.

There are generally two types of cases that are filed before the Court of Justice. The first involves a party filing a direct action that seeks relief under European Union law. A second occurs when a national court makes a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Court. The national court determines that a question of European Union law is relevant to the resolution of the case before it and submits the question of European Union law to the Court for resolution. The Court’s preliminary ruling on the question submitted is binding on the national court.

The Treaty of Lisbon expanded the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction. The Court now interprets and applies the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be applied within the European Union with the exception of Poland, which negotiated opt-outs. In addition, the accession to the ECHR will bind EU institutions to the convention. Also, the Lisbon Treaty allows national parliaments to bring suits before courts where they believe that a European Union legislation has breached the principle of subsidiarity. Where national parliaments feel that the result of targeted EU legislation could have been accomplished at a national level rather than at a supranational level, the Lisbon treaty allows for the parliaments to bring suit against the EU.

National courts also frequently decide issues of European Union law without referring questions to the European Court of Justice. Although sources of case law of the Member States are beyond the scope of this article, researchers should be aware that national court decisions are frequently relevant to points of EU law and should be consulted along with the case law of the European Court of Justice itself.

Like many institutions of the EU, the Court of Justice and its role in the application of the law is not without critique. A good place to start research on the relationship between the Court and the member states is the famous case Case C-26/62, Van Gend en Loos v. Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen, 1963 E.C.R. 1. In this case, the Court held that EU citizens have a private right of action in national courts for EU law, a doctrine known popularly as “direct effect”; while typically under international law, private rights of action are only available to citizens when explicitly indicated by a treaty, the Court described the EU (then the EC) as a “new legal order of international law.” Researchers will find the case name, Van Gend en Loos or Van Gend & Loos, and the phrase “direct effect” to be the most direct search terms on this particular topic.

8.1. Official Publications

Court decisions are published in the Reports of Cases as individual documents available through EUR-Lex or the Court’s website, called Curia. EUR-Lex contains judgments and orders since 1954, full text opinions since 1987. Curia contains full text decisions since 1997 and all decisions by case number from the Court’s inception in 1953.

Prior to 2011, the official reporter of these courts was the, Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, commonly known as the European Court Reports or ECR. The ECR is divided into two sections. Section I includes decisions from the Court of Justice; section II includes decisions from the General Court. (A third section, ECR-SC, began in 1994 and included staff cases of employee grievances against a European Union institution or agency; this section ceased publication when the Civil Service Tribunal’s jurisdiction transferred to the General Court.)Prior to 1990 when the Court of First Instance began its work, the ECR was not divided into numbered sections.

Publication of decisions in ECR was frequently delayed by eighteen months or longer because of the necessity of translating the decisions into all the official languages of the European Union. The ECR is analogous to United States Reports, the official case reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States. U.S. legal researchers using the ECR will note that there are no concurring or dissenting opinions of the judges on the European Court of Justice. The court issues a judgment of the court to which all the judges agree. The opinion of the advocate general is published separately.

The C Series of the Official Journal of the European Union publishes court orders and judgments and lists cases filed before the European Court of Justice. Previously in print, the Proceedings of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities was a weekly publication containing summaries of judgments, opinions of the advocates-general, and listings of new cases to be brought before the Court. To find and cite cases, it is important for U.S. readers to note that case citations should always include the case number. Additionally, beginning in 2012, the citation uses a unique identifier called an ECLI number or European Case Law Identifier. The ECLI number can be used as a search term in EUR-Lex.


  • Case C-286/01, Comm’n v. France, 2002 E.C.R. I-5463—published in the ECR Section I
  • Case C-434/16, Peter Novak v. Data Prot. Comm’r, ECLI:EU:C:2017:994 (Dec. 20, 2017)—published online only is the Reports of Cases with an ECLI number.

8.2. Electronic Sources

Opinions of both the Court of Justice and the General Court are available in the following electronic databases:

  • Curia, the European Court of Justice website, contains full text decisions since 1997 and all decisions by case number from the Court’s inception in 1953. A great feature is the Digest of the Case-Law, which serves as a finding aid to identify cases by subject.
  • On EUR-Lex, researchers can browse by court, document type, case number, and year. There is also a Directory of Case-Law, which organizes cases by topic in the same manner as the Digest of Case-Law on Curia. Alternatively, use the Advanced Search and narrow by Collection “Case-law.” contains judgments and orders since 1954, full text opinions since 1987.
  • Westlaw Edge contains judgments from 1954 on; find them by selecting International Materials > European Union > All European Union Cases
  • Lexis+ contains judgments in English from 1954 on; find them by selecting International Materials > View All Countries > European Union.

8.3. Print Sources

Following are several of the more prominent commercial publications of EU case law.

  • European Law Reporter.London: Sweet & Maxwell. This loose-leaf service publishes selected European Commission and European Court of Justice decisions, including opinions of advocate-generals. Headnotes precede each case. This set includes a table of contents, a topical index, and a list of authorities cited. It is updated monthly. It also includes EU Focus, a newsletter on EU law and affairs, and European Community Cases.
  • Common Market Law Reports. London: Sweet & Maxwell. This publication collects selected cases from both the European Court of Justice and the appellate courts of individual member nations that resolve questions of European Union law. This weekly publication includes a roundup of actions of the European Court of Justice.
  • C.M.L.R. Antitrust Reports. London: Sweet & Maxwell. This reporter focuses on European Union documents dealing with mergers, acquisitions, and antitrust issues and includes a summary of European Commission actions, the status of cases before the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, and decisions of the European Court of Justice and the European Commission. Finding aids include a list of cases reported and a subject index.

9. Official Reports on EU Activities

Researchers may find the following two regularly published reports and one website useful for an overview of EU policy.

  • General Report on the Activities of the European Union. Brussels: European Commission, 1994–present. Previously called the General Report on the Activities of the European Communities (1967–93), this annual report by the European Commission to the European Parliament summarizes EU activity for the previous year and includes citations to official EU documents. The most recent edition is available to download for free from Europa.
  • University of Pittsburgh, Archive of European Integration. While not an official publication per se, this archive contains the full text of historic documents dealing with European integration, including many official EU documents. The archive is searchable by subject, institutional author, year, and other criteria.
  • Bulletin of the European Union. Brussels: European Commission, Secretariat-General, 1994–present. Formerly known as the Bulletin of the European Communities (1968–93), this monthly publication by the European Commission provides a summary of EU activities in selected policy areas. The EU Bulletin stopped being published in July 2009. Issues from 1996 to 2009 are available on Europa.

10. Journals and Periodicals

There are numerous journals and periodicals that report on and analyze EU legal developments. This section highlights finding aids and a very selective list of journals that may be useful in EU legal research.

10.1. Indexes

The following indexes can be used to identify periodical articles related to EU issues and topics.

  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. Print coverage from 1960 to present; electronic coverage since 1985. This index contains citations to articles in selected legal journals published abroad and U.S. law reviews focused on international law. The print version has subject, geographical, and author indexes. The electronic version can be found on HeinOnline.
  • Legal Resource Index (also known as LegalTrac). Gale Group. Indexes legal journals from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but mainly focuses on U.S. journals since 1980. This database is the electronic companion to Current Law Index.
  • Journals. On Westlaw Edge. Contains articles from legal journals in the United Kingdom and Europe on European Union law. ECLAS, European Commission Libraries Catalogue. Use Find-eR, European Commission Library Catalogue, to explore the print and electronic collections of the European Commission libraries. Search for departmental collections of twenty directorates general. The catalog also includes Web resources and secondary sources that were previously cataloged in SCAD, a now defunct database of EU documents.

10.2. Selected Journals

Numerous journals and magazines deal with EU law and affairs regularly. Following is a very selective list of these journals; they are all available in print and select major U.S. databases when noted.

  • The Economist. London: The Economist Newspaper. This British weekly newsmagazine usually includes two to three articles in each issue related to EU affairs.
  • European Current Law. London: Sweet & Maxwell. This monthly publication contains digests of European Union legislation, cases, and articles organized by subject and a cumulative subject index.
  • Common Market Law Review. Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law Int’l. Bimonthly. (Available online from Kluwer Law International; Kluwer Competition and HeinOnline with limits.)
  • European Law Review. London: Sweet & Maxwell. Bimonthly. (Available online from Westlaw Edge.)
  • EU Focus: Essential Developments in EU Law and Policy. London: Sweet & Maxwell. This newsletter includes topical summaries of EU legal developments and is part of European Community Cases. (Available online from Westlaw Edge.)
  • Journal of Common Market Studies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Quarterly. (Available online from the Wiley Online Library.)
  • Yearbook of European Law. New York: Oxford University Press. Each annual contains selected articles on European legal topics and book reviews. (Available online from Oxford Academic.)
  • European Journal of International Law. London: Oxford University Press. Contains systematic coverage of the relationship between international law and EU law. (Available online from Oxford Academic; limited issues on Westlaw Edge and HeinOnline.)

11. Additional Research Help

12. Articles on EU Legal Research

The following law review articles published since 1995 guide researchers in the use of EU legal materials.

  • Ian Thomson, “European Sources Online,” 9 Legal Information Management 100 (2009).
  • John Furlong and Susan Doe, “Researching European Law: A Basic Introduction,” 6 Legal Information Management 136 (Summer 2006).
  • John Furlong, “How to find European Law: a basic introduction,” 9 Legal Information Management 89 (2009).
  • Paul Clarke, “What’s happening in the EU?,” 9 Legal Information Management 84 (2009).
  • Jochen Sreil and Jacqueline Suter. “Research Guide for United States Users to Materials from the Court of Justice of the European Communities.” Columbia Journal of European Law 1 (1995): 559–67. Written by senior personnel at the European Court of Justice, this guide focuses on official publications of the European Court of Justice, both in print and electronic databases.
  • Patrick Overy, Update: European Union – A Guide to Tracing Working Documents, GlobaLex (July/August 2016).

13. Conclusion

With twenty-seven Member States, the European Union has become an even more prominent economic power in the world. Interest in EU law and policy will likely grow even at smaller law schools without extensive international law offerings and at law firms outside major metropolitan areas. This guide was intended to aid infrequent users of EU materials in locating sources of EU law and EU official documents. It was not intended to be a comprehensive guide to EU law. Researchers requiring further information should consult the introductory texts and research guides described in this guide for more detailed information on this growing supranational organization and its law and policies.


[1] Switzerland and Norway are not members of the EU. Both along with Iceland and Liechtenstein, are members of the European Free Trade Association. European Free Trade Association.

[2] The European Coal and Steel Community terminated its existence in July 2002 and its assets were transferred to the European Community. Protocol (34) on the Financial Consequences of the Expiry of the ECSC Treaty and on the Research Fund for Coal and Steel, Treaty Establishing the European Community, 2001 O.J. (C80) 67.

[3] Previously, DG’s were referred to by Roman numeral, but since September 1999, DG’s have been reorganized and are referred to by the name of their policy portfolio such as economic and monetary affairs.

[4] Case 26/92, N.V. Algemene Transp. & Expeditie Onderneming Van Gend & Loos v. Netherlands Inland Revenue Admin., 1963 E.C.R. 1, 12.

[5] Formerly known as the Official Journal of the European Communities, the Treaty of Nice mandated the change in title to the Official Journal of the European Union effective February 1, 2003. Treaty of Nice, art. 2, 38, 2001 O.J. (C80) 26.

[6] “The working papers, ‘basket documents,’ the minutes of the sessions and working party meetings [of the Council] are considered confidential.” Barbara Sloan, Accessing European Union Information 12 (1998).

[7] The Court of Justice of the European Union is separate and distinct from the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

[8] Treaty on European Union, art. 19, 2016 O.J. (C 202) 13, 27 (consolidated version).

[9] The office of advocate-general is based on the office of commissaire du gouvernement of the Conseil d’Etat in France.

[10] Case 6/64, Costa v. ENEL, 1964 E.C.R. 1251.