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European Union Legal Materials

Introduction

This guide first introduces the researcher to the ways the European Unions works, and then to the various materials available in the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, in the Columbia University Libraries, and on the Internet. If you have any research questions, you may email them to us at referencedesk@law.columbia.edu.

Brief Overview

The European Union  (EU) is a unique economic and political union between 27 European countries that together cover much of the continent. 

The EU began as the European Steel and Coal Community in 1953 with the intent to regulate the capacity of large metal fabricating industries. The six original Member States - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands - signed the ESCC Treaty and began the process of European integration. The EU has developed in stages with the creation of an economic community, development of a single market and the removal of many trade restrictions and border controls. In recent years, the EU has developed a common foreign affairs policy and improved cooperation among Member States on justice and home affairs. 

The EU's institutional set-up currently includes 7 European institutions, 7 EU bodies and over 30 decentralized agencies which work cohesively to address EU issues. It has 20 EU agencies and organizations to carry out legal functions, but the decision-making process of the EU is constantly evolving. The 4 main decision-making institutions of the EU are:

  • the European Parliament (Brussels/Strasbourg/Luxembourg) : A forum for political debate and decision-making at the EU level. It
  • the European Council (Brussels) : Defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities. 
  • the Council of the European Union (Brussels/Luxembourg) : Represents the member states' governments. It is where national ministers from each member country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.
  • the European Commission (Brussels/Luxembourg/Representations across the EU) : Helps shape EU's overall strategy, proposes new EU laws and policies, and monitors and implements the EU budget.

While the EU began as an economic union, it has since evolved to implement policies in many other areas such as climate change, health and justice.

The EU has 24 official languages.