Introduction to European Union law
Introduction to European Union law

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Introduction to European Union law

7 Creating an EU polity

In Section 3 development from the EEC to the EU was noted. It was a slow process. Each new Treaty saw new competences added and increased rights of individuals. The challenge has been how to guarantee these rights. Doing this was left to the CJEU. Its judgments have consistently held that the Treaties have established a new legal order with its own institutions and enforcement mechanisms in which the ‘member states have limited their sovereign rights in ever wider fields and the subjects of which comprise not only the member states but also their nationals’: Opinion of the Court of 14 December 1991 [1991] ECR 6102. The CJEU’s teleological, or purposive, interpretation of the Treaties has been an essential element in creating a constitutional legal base.

With respect to competences and institutional powers, this approach by the CJEU ensures that competences the EU acts upon have a proper legal base and that treaty rights take precedence over conflicting domestic laws. The supremacy of EU law over domestic law is touched on in Section 10.

Though the EU does not have a government (in the Westminster sense), it possesses clear governance structures and legislative procedures. These are based on institutional interaction in the use of clearly defined powers. The CJEU has regularly acted as a brake on the extension of those powers and as an arbiter of the relationship between EU institutions and between the institutions and member states.

In order to grasp the court’s jurisprudence that follows, you will need some appreciation of EU governance structures.

How the EU works

Watch the following three videos on how the EU works and how key post-holders perceive those areas of governance.

Download this video clip.Video player: How does the EU work?
Skip transcript: How does the EU work?

Transcript: How does the EU work?

NARRATOR
The European Union, confused? Here's how it works.
We'll start with the European Commission. It's the powerful civil service of the EU, the engine room, if you like. It's run by 28 commissioners, one from each member country. It administers much of the money that the EU spends, but this is also where new laws are born. It's political. The Commission is based in Brussels in this glass and steel building with lots of flags in front of it.
Next, the European Parliament. It's based in Brussels in this glass and steel building, but sometimes everyone goes to this glass and steel building in Strasbourg instead. Members, or MEPs, sit here. There are 751 from all over Europe. Parliament started as an under-powered talking shop, but has become a serious player voting on nearly all the laws proposed by the European Commission.
There's more – the Council of the European Union. It's where the governments of the 28 member countries have their say. Representatives of said governments meet in this building in Brussels. Sometimes all the leaders meet here to give political direction to the EU. Generally, there's a deal at the end. It's usually a compromise.
One more thing, there's the European Court of Justice. It's there to make sure everyone sticks to the rules and follows the laws. It also sorts out squabbles between the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament. It's in Luxembourg. And it looks like this.
And in a nutshell, that's how the EU works.
End transcript: How does the EU work?
How does the EU work?
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Download this video clip.Video player: The role of the president of the European Council (Note that there are now 28 member states, not 27.)
The role of the president of the European Council (Note that there are now 28 member states, not 27.)
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Download this video clip.Video player: The EU institutions explained by their presidents
Skip transcript: The EU institutions explained by their presidents

Transcript: The EU institutions explained by their presidents

[MUSIC PLAYING]
HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

MARTIN SCHULZ
[SPEAKING GERMAN]

EUROPEAN COMMISSION

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
My name is José Manuel Barroso. I am now the President of the European Commission.

EUROPEAN COUNCIL AND COUNCIL OF MINISTERS

ELENI MAVROU
I am Eleni Mavrou, I'm chairing the Justice and Home Affairs Council.
MARGRETHE VESTAGER
I was chairing the Economic Council. It's called Ecofin.
HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]

THE EU INSTITUTIONS EXPLAINED BY THEIR PRESIDENTS

[MUSIC PLAYING]

EUROPEAN COUNCIL GIVES THE POLITICAL DIRECTION

HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
Together, we must bring Europe back on the path to structured growth and jobs.
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
[MUSIC PLAYING]

EUROPEAN COMMISSION MAKES PROPOSALS AND OVERSEES IMPLEMENTATION

JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
European Commission represents a general European interest. That's the way we see ourselves. It's a unique institution with a supranational nature. So we come from all our member states, but we are not here representing our governments, our countries. We are here trying to interpret, to represent the general common European interest. This European Commission that has the right, and indeed I could say also the duty, to come with the proposals for legislation. Afterwards, it's for the Council where the governments are represented and for the Parliament to approve. They are the co-legislators. But the right of initiative is from the Commission.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

COUNCIL OF MINISTERS ADOPT NEW LAWS ON BEHALF OF NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS

ELENI MAVROU
The Council of Ministers meets in various formations.
MARGRETHE VESTAGER
It is kind of the house of 27 member states. It's where ministers meet from each country.
ELENI MAVROU
And in each case, the ministers that are responsible for specific fields take part.
MARGRETHE VESTAGER
And when compromise is made on the basis of a proposition from the Commission, then we will negotiate with the European Parliament.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW LAWS ON BEHALF OF THE CITIZENS

MARTIN SCHULZ
[SPEAKING GERMAN]

700+ MEMBERS

7 POLITICAL GROUPS

300 NATIONAL PARTIES

[MUSIC PLAYING]

WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AS PRESIDENT?

HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
There is a political will to break some taboos and to find an agreement, finally.
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
MARTIN SCHULZ
[SPEAKING GERMAN]
JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
The role of the President is to, of course, give the overall political direction, but afterwards to work for consensus. In terms of my daily work, I have a lot of time to work with the other commissioners. I need also time to represent European Union, for instance, in the summits where I am with the [INAUDIBLE] council, from United States, to China, to Russia, to India, to Japan, and the other summits.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT YOUR INSTITUTION?

MEMBER 1 OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
What is a real structural solution to this crisis? Well, we receive nothing at all.
MEMBER 2 OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
MARTIN SCHULZ
[SPEAKING GERMAN]
HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
ELENI MAVROU
You have a personal contact with each member of the Council. Knowing the background of each one's position is important.
MARGRETHE VESTAGER
I think it's very important that you can hear what other people say, that you really listen, not just, you know, give them the floor and say thank you, but that you really listen.
ELENI MAVROU
Understanding the others' position is a key element in reaching decisions on a European level.
JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
What I see here is a great independence and a dedication to the European cause. My experience is, and I think this is instinct, that the ideological differences don't count in the European Commission. They are almost irrelevant, I can say to you. Myself, I say that as President of the Commission, my party is Europe. And I really mean it, that is my party.
[MUSIC PLAYING]

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR EUROPE?

MARTIN SCHULZ
[SPEAKING GERMAN]
JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
European Union is not just about the market, but it is a project of peace and also a project of freedom and democracy. I think more than ever in the 21st century, a globalised world, it is important that we stand together.
HERMAN VAN ROMPUY
[SPEAKING FRENCH]
End transcript: The EU institutions explained by their presidents
The EU institutions explained by their presidents
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
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