The EU legal system

The legal order created by the European Community has become a permanent feature of political reality in the Member States of the European Union. Not only is the EU a creature of the law but it pursues its aims exclusively through a new body of law, Community law. This is independent, uniform in all the Member States of the Community, and separate from yet superior to national law. Many of its provisions are directly applicable in all the Member States. On the basis of the European Treaties, thousands of decisions are taken each year which have a major impact on the running of the Member States and on the lives of European citizens. Information about the EU is available on the Europa website.

The Bodleian Law Library is one of several European Documentation Centres in the UK.


European integration is based on the three founding Treaties:

The founding treaties have been amended on several occasions, bringing major institutional changes and introducing new areas of responsibility and new Member States.  The current consolidated treaty is the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union 2016.

How to cite Treaties

Cite the treaty name, followed by the year of publication, the Official Journal series and the issue and page numbers. For example:

Protocol to the Agreement on the Member States that do not fully apply the Schengen acquis—Joint Declarations [2007] OJ L129/35

Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union [2008] OJ C115/13


The terms primary and secondary legislation mean different things when applied to EC legislation than in the UK domestic context. The treaties are primary legislation. They can have a direct effect and are capable of conferring individual rights enforceable in the UK courts without further enactment.

Secondary legislation is that which emanates from the Council and Commission of the European Communities. There are three types:

  • Directives, which must be implemented in the domestic legislation of Member States within a certain period of time. In the UK, most Directives are implemented by Statutory Instruments (under the European Communities Act 1972). Others are implemented by Acts.
  • Regulations, which are directly applicable in that they do not require national implementing legislation. However, many require additional national provisions in relation to procedure and enforcement.
  • Decisions, which are similar to Directives in that they require national implementing legislation. However, unlike Directives, they do not have general application and are addressed to particular member states or particular persons or bodies.

The Council and the Commission also issue Recommendations and Opinions, but these are a form of quasi-legislation and do not have binding force.

The Official Journal of the European Communities (OJ)

The authorised text of the treaties and secondary legislation are printed in the Official Journal of the European Communities (OJ). The OJ has four parts:

  • L Series (Legislation) - text of agreed legislation, in two sections: Acts whose publication is obligatory (eg, EEC Regulations), and Acts whose publication is not obligatory (eg EEC Directives)
  • The Annexe - fulll text of debates of the European Parliament
  • S Supplement - notices for tendering for contracts

How to cite Regulations and Directives

Regulations are cited as follows:





Official Journal citation

Council Regulation



applying rules of competition to transport by rail, road and inland waterway

[1968] OJ Spec Ed 302
Council Regulation(EC)139/2004on the control of concentrations between undertakings (the EC Merger Regulation)[2004] OJ L24/1

Directives and decisions are cited similarly, but the year precedes the legislation number: 





Official Journal citation
Council Directive(EC)93/104concering certain aspects of the organisation of working time[1993] OJ L307/18
Council Decision(EC)2004/411on the adequate protection of personal data in the Isle of Man[2004] OJ L151/51

Case law

The Court of Justice and the General Court

The Court of Justice of the European Union (EUCJ) is the judicial institution of the EU. It is made up of three courts: the Court of Justice, the General Court (previously the Court of First Instance) and the Civil Service Tribunal. Their role is to make sure that Community law is uniformly interpreted and applied in the Member States. The EUCJ has one judge per member country and nine Advocates General. The judges elect a President and a Vice-President from among themselves for a renewable term of three years. The President sits as one of 13 judges at the full court or the Grand Chamber for particularly important cases. Other cases are heard in Chambers of three or five judges. The Advocates General assist the Court by presenting an Opinion on cases. The General Court deals with cases brought by individuals and organisations against the EU's institutions or regulatory acts and competition law cases. Appeals against decisions of the General Court go to the ECJ.

Law Reports

The European Court Reports (ECR), the most authoritative law report series, is published in all the official languages of the EU. Hard copy production of the ECR slowed to a halt in 2011, but all reports are available electronically on the EurLex and Curia websites. The ECR can also be found on Justis and Westlaw, and BAILII provides judgments. The Common Market Law Reports and All England Law Reports (European cases) publish full reports of some ECJ hearings (and are held in Westlaw and Lexis Library respectively). Many of these law reports include the Advocate-General's Opinion as well as the judgment. Summaries of recent cases appear in the Times and Financial Times.

How to cite ECJ cases

Cases are numbered sequentially throughout the year; the second number in a case number is the year the case entered the court system. Since 1989, case numbers have included a letter to indicate the court: EUCJ case numbers are preceded by C-; General Court/Court of First Instance case numbers are preceded by T-; and Civil Service Tribunal case numbers are preceded by F-. When citing cases, the case number (and letter) should be given in roman font before the name of the case, which is given in italics. The year of publication of the report follows in square brackets, then the abbreviation for the ECR. The volume number is distinguished by a roman numeral I or II: volume I covers the EUCJ and volume II covers the General Court and Civil Service Tribunal. The first page of the report is attached to the volume number by a hyphen, as shown in the examples below.

In 2014, the EU introduced the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) to make it easier to identify and locate cases. The ECLI is composed of a number for each judgment that identifies the originating jurisdiction, the code of the court that rendered the judgment, the year of the judgment and its number. Each component is separated by a colon.

If a case has not yet been reported in the ECR, cite the CMLR or another authoritative UK series, or cite the ECLI after the case name (as shown in the final example).

For pinpoints to particular paragraphs of a judgment, provide a comma after the first page and write 'para' before the paragraph number. Do not use square brackets as is done to identify numbered paragraphs in UK reports.

Case Number

Name of Case


Report & Volume

First PagePinpoint
Case 152/84Marshall v Area Health Authority[1986]ECR723,paras 26-27
Case C-106/89Marleasing[1990]ECR I-4135 
Case T-344/99Arne Mathiesen AS v Council[2002]ECR II-2905 
Case C-246/07Commission v Sweden[2010]3 CMLR27 
Case C-542/09Commission v the NetherlandsEU:C:2012:346  
Case C-40/11Yoshikazu Iida v Stadt UlmEU:C:2013:691, para 72