Europe and the law
Europe and the law

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The relationship between the EC and the EU

The words ‘European Economic Community’ (EEC), ‘European Community’ (EC) and ‘European Union’ (EU) have already been used in this course, and many texts and journal and newspaper articles use them interchangeably. It is important that you are clear on their relationship and what they mean. This course will always refer to the current position as the EU, but what is the relationship between the EC, the EEC and the EU?

As mentioned earlier, the Maastricht Treaty (1992) established the EU as a legal entity in its own right. The treaty declared that ‘The Union shall be founded on the European Communities.’ These are the three communities mentioned earlier when exploring the evolution of the EU:

  • the community based on coal and steel production (ECSC),

  • the community established with the wider aim (unlimited by a particular sector of economy) of establishing a common market (EEC)

  • the community established in order to develop and manage what at the time were the developing atomic energy programmes (EURATOM).

The Maastricht Treaty also amended the name of the EEC to what is now called the EC.

If the Maastricht Treaty states that the EU was founded on the European Communities does this mean that the EC is identical to the EU? Not really. The Maastricht Treaty established the EU by forming what are known as the three pillars of the EU. They are:

  • the three European Communities

  • a common foreign and security policy

  • police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

The first pillar is managed by the institutions of the EU, while the second and third work through intergovernmental cooperation.

The three European Communities, making up the main area of the EC, represent only one of what is now called ‘the three pillars’ of the EU. The EC is known as the European Community pillar. The other two pillars are represented by a common foreign and security policy and by police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. However, the terms ‘EC and ‘EU’ are often used interchangeably, and the same is true with respect to ‘EC law’ and ‘EU law’.

Figure 3
Figure 3 The European Union and its ‘three pillars’

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