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Legal questions in the European Union

Member States must, at the national level, comply with and apply the rules set by the European Union, i.e. EU legislation. Photo: European CommissionMember States must, at the national level, comply with and apply the rules set by the European Union, i.e. EU legislation. Photo: European Commission

European Union law is an international legal system that is binding in a special and unique way. The European Union (EU) holds legislative power in the areas over which it has been granted jurisdiction by the Member States. In general, EU law takes precedence over national legislation.

EU law can also influence the interpretation and application of national legislation. Member States must, at the national level, comply with and apply the rules set by the European Union, i.e. EU legislation.

European Union law

EU law is a far-reaching and constantly evolving system that affects the Member States and thereby their citizens in a variety of ways.
The Unit for EU and Treaty Law of the Legal Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs acts as an adviser and expert in questions relating, for example, to EU Treaties, institutions, competence and external relations agreements.

European Union legislation

When exercising the Union’s authority, its institutions adopt Regulations, Directives and Decisions and offer recommendations and opinions.

A Regulation is universal. Every part of it is binding, and it is applied in its entirety in all Member States.

A Directive sets out a binding goal for all Member States to which it is addressed, but allows national authorities to devise the means and manner to achieve that goal.

A Decision is binding in its entirety. If it names the parties to whom it is addressed, it is binding only on them.

Recommendations and opinions are not binding.

The European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is implemented mainly by means of the Council’s Decisions.

European Union Treaties

EU Treaties consist of international agreements between EU Member States, on which the EU, its competence and institutes are based. Treaties form the central framework for all EU activities. The most important of these are:

  • Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (Treaty of Rome) 1957
  • Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) 1957
  • Treaty on European Union (Treaty of Maastricht) 1992
  • Treaty of Amsterdam 1997
  • Treaty of Nice 2001
  • Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community 2009.

The first three can also be called founding treaties. The first two founded the European Communities, and the Maastricht Treaty founded the European Union. In addition, the treaties have been amended when new Member States have joined the Union. The Treaty of Lisbon amended the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, which was renamed Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Thus, by virtue of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Union is based on two treaties, namely:

  1. the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and
  2. the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).li>

In addition, the European Union has the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has the same legal status as the TEU and TFEU. When the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the Charter of Fundamental Rights became legally binding.

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