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European Union Law: Legal system

EU legal system : quick facts

The EU is a partnership of 27 ‘member states’, which have agreed to work together on issues of common interest.  EU legal materials consist chiefly of the Treaties, which are negotiated at intergovernmental conferences and ratified by each member state, secondary legislation, decisions and cases.  There is also a large body of draft legislation and official records of negotiations, known collectively as ‘travaux préparatoires’.

The Treaties set out rules and procedures for EU decision making. The main institutions involved in the process are:

•    The European Council and the Council of the EU

•    The European Parliament (EP)

•    The European Commission

EU legislative procedure

The Lisbon Treaty introduced changes to the legislative procedure, and these are set out by Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure, the Commission formulates the draft legislation.

There is a first reading in the European Parliament, after which it goes forward to the Council.  At this stage it may be adopted, but if the Council does not adopt it, after the Council's first reading, it returns to the Parliament for a second reading.  At this stage, it may be adopted, rejected, or returned to the Commission, which may reject or approve the Parliament's amendments, and return it to the Council.  Depending on the level of consensus achieved, the Council may adopt the act, or the draft legislation may go before a Conciliation Committee, convened by the Council and Parliament.  There will then either be agreement, confirmed at a third reading by the Council and Parliament, or the instrument will be deemed to have been rejected, concluding the legislative process.

The judicial organs of the EU are:

•    The European Court of Justice (together with the General Court  and the Civil Service Tribunal)

•    The Court of Auditors

EU's institutions

All the main EU institutions have freely accessible websites. See the links below, which also give more details about the functions of each institution