The European Union (EU Law)

May 13, 2023

In your law degree, you will study a module on the law of the European Union (EU). This module continues to be vital to your legal studies despite Brexit. This is because all legal professionals should have a basic understanding of EU law due to the inherent influence of EU law on domestic law, resulting in retained EU law in England and Wales.

The EU is a highly integrated political and legal system comprised of 27 sovereign member states, 24 official languages, and a population of 446 million. 19 countries within the EU are further integrated into a monetary union because they share their own currency, the Euro. The EU has its own institutions and agencies; these institutions create and interpret EU law. The constitutional functions and powers of these institutions are outlined within the EU treaties, primarily the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The key EU institutions that you should be aware of are listed in Article 13(1) of the TEU: the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council (also known as the Council of Ministers), the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. The institutions are fundamental to ensure that the EU operates effectively.

The Council, or the Council of Ministers, is an institution that students are often confused about and mistake for the European Council. The Council is comprised of representatives from the governments of each 27 member states, who have the authority to raise issues and vote on behalf of their respective governments. The Council is presided over on an equal six-month rotating basis by each of the member states’ representatives. Under Article 16(1) of the TEU, the Council works with the European Parliament as the key decision-making body to deal with the EU’s legislative and budgetary matters. However, the council also has responsibility for policymaking and coordination with the European Commission, under Article 241 of the TFEU.

The Council should not be mistaken for the European Council, which is comprised of the leaders of each member state’s government and led by the President of the European Council. The President of the European Council is elected on a termly basis by a qualified majority of the European Council. The European Council’s primary function, as outlined in Article 15(1) TEU, is to set the political agenda and development of the EU. However, recently it has largely served to resolve disputes between EU institutions and member states.

You must ensure that you understand the difference between these two institutions and are clear in your coursework and exams about which council you are referencing. You should also reflect on all of the EU institutions and their election methods; with the exception of the European Parliament, the key institutions are elected by a relatively small group of people. A high-grade student will reflect on controversies in the law such as this, therefore, you should form your own opinions on these issues to aid your critical comment which will enable you to obtain high marks.

Another area of confusion for many students is the role of the EU courts for UK parties post-Brexit. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is comprised of the Court of Justice and the General Court, with the caseload of the CJEU divided between the two in accordance with Article 256 of the TFEU. The Court of Justice is comprised of a judge from each member state, who must act independently and not in the interests of the member state, and assisted by eleven Advocate Generals. The General Court consists of 54 judges, with two from each member state. Under Article 19(1) of the TEU, the CJEU acts to “ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is applied”, as well as developing the basic principles of EU law which shapes the nature and the operation of the EU. The CJEU remains relevant for the UK today because of residual EU law in domestic law which may be developed and interpreted in a new light by the CJEU; EU law is also important for the UK as it still somewhat applies to the law in Northern Ireland in certain matters. 

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