Guide last updated Hester Swift, August 2022
This guide was created by Hester Swift, Foreign & International Law Librarian at the IALS Library.
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The European Union (EU) developed from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), all of which were founded in the 1950s. It became the 'European Union' under the Maastricht Treaty of 1992; this treaty provided that the European Communities should remain in existence as part of the EU and changed the name of the European Economic Community to 'European Community' (EC). The Coal and Steel Community was wound up in 2002 and the European Community ceased to exist in December 2009 when it was subsumed into the European Union under the Treaty of Lisbon. Euratom, which is still going, has a separate legal personality to the EU (see EUR-Lex summary of the Euratom Treaty).
From the original six states of the 1950s, membership has increased to a total of twenty-seven today. The UK joined in 1973 and left on 31 January 2020.
The EU has its own courts: the Court of Justice and the General Court (formerly 'Court of First Instance'). From 2004 until September 2016, it also had a third court, the Civil Service Tribunal, but this body has been dissolved and its jurisdiction transferred to the General Court.
The main legislative and policy-making bodies of the European Union are the Council of the European Union (also known as the 'Council of Ministers'), the European Parliament and the European Commission. The official publisher is the Publications Office of the European Union.
The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Library has a substantial collection of European Union material of legal interest, dating from the 1950s to the present day; it is not, however, an EU depository. Larger collections of EU official publications can be found at the British Library, the London School of Economics Library (British Library of Political and Economic Science), and other UK libraries that were, until Brexit, designated European Documentation Centres.
At IALS, the main EU collection is on the fourth floor (classmarks GO1.A1 and FOL GO1.A1), with some additional material in the Short Loan Collection and the basement Reserve; many online resources are also available. Further details of print and online material are given below.
The Official Journal of the European Union (formerly Official Journal of the European Communities, until February 2003) is the EU’s official gazette. There are two main series, the OJ L ('Legislation') and the OJ C (from the French subtitle, Communications et Informations).
The print OJ used to be the only authentic source of EU legislation, but the online version was given authentic status from 1 July 2013 onwards. The print edition ceased publication at the end of 2013.
Official Journal references usually follow this pattern:
OJ L 12, 16.1.2001 p. 1–23 (Official Journal, L series, issue 12, 16 January 2001, pages 1-23)
OJ C 70, 27.3.2007 p. 9-12 (Official Journal, C series, issue 70...)
However, some OJ C references give the item number (or 'notice number') instead of the page number:
2000/C 264/03 (Official Journal, C series, 2000, issue 264, item three, not page three).
The entire Official Journal is on the European Union's EUR-Lex website, from 1952 to the present. Each issue is authenticated with a digital signature from July 2013 onwards. The 1973 English Special Edition of the OJ, produced when the UK and Ireland joined, is also on EUR-Lex, together with other special editions of legislation translated for new member states.
The old 'OJ S' (Supplement), which published public procurement notices, went online-only in 1998: see Tenders Electronic Daily (TED). Public procurement notices are available on TED from 2014 onwards.
Westlaw UK and Lexis+ UK (see IALS Law Databases page) both include the contents of the L Series - EU secondary legislation - back to the 1950s, not arranged into OJ issues, but in the form of individual legislative instruments.
Westlaw UK has documents published in the C Series back to about 1980, plus a few 1970s documents (under 'Information and Notices'); Lexis+ UK has them back to 2000 (under 'EU Materials').
Print and microfiche holdings
IALS holds the Official Journal (except the public procurement 'S series') from 1952 to 2013:-
L Series: print 1973-2013*, microfiche 1973-1995
C Series: microfiche 1973-1995, print 1996-2013*
Official Journal of the European Communities: special edition, print: English translations of laws in force when the UK and Ireland joined, in 1973
Journal officiel de la Communauté Européene du charbon et de l'acier / des Communautés européennes / de l'Union européenne: print 1958-1977 (in Offsite Store), then microfiche only 1978-2008 (FC 4, held on site).
* Online only January 2014 onwards
The L and C series
Official Journal of the European Communities / European Union: Legislation ('L Series', or 'OJ L'): started 1968, online-only from January 2014; contains secondary legislation and some primary legislation.
Official Journal of the European Communities / European Union: Information and Notices ('C series', or 'OJ C'), French sub-title, Communications et Informations: started 1968; online-only from January 2014; contains most primary legislation, preparatory legislative documents, European Parliament minutes, case summaries and other material.
Some OJ issues have 'E', 'A' or 'I' after the issue number, e.g. OJ C 183E, OJ L 305I:
OJ LI and OJ CA/CI/CE issues can be displayed on the OJ page of EUR-Lex, using the 'OJ Series' filter.
The EU's primary legislation consists of the treaties setting out the structure and functions of the EU, together with certain other fundamental treaties agreed between the member states. All are on EUR-Lex, in both original and consolidated versions, including the 1950s texts which pre-date the Official Journal. For further information, see 'Sources of the treaties', below.
The founding treaties
- renamed Treaty Establishing the European Community (EC Treaty, or TEC) from 1 November 1993
- renamed Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) from 1 December 2009.
The articles of the Treaty of Rome/TEC/TFEU have been renumbered twice, by the Treaty of Amsterdam, then the Treaty of Lisbon; article-number conversion tables are annexed to the Amsterdam and Lisbon treaties.
For further information, see summaries of legislation on institutional affairs, on EUR-Lex.
Other EU primary legislation includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights, accession treaties admitting new member states, and reform treaties such as the Single European Act (1986), Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and Treaty of Lisbon (2007).
Sources of the Treaties
EUR-Lex has original versions of primary legislation from the ECSC Treaty (1951) onwards (but the original ECSC and EEC Treaties are not in English - see below for English versions).
Other sources of the original texts include:
Official Journal print edition: primary legislation was published in the OJ from the 1960s onwards (digitised versions of the print edition are on EUR-Lex - see above)
UN Treaty Series: English translations of the 1950s founding treaties were published in the UNTS, which is available online (see FLARE Index to Treaties for UNTS citations). In the UNTS, the ECSC Treaty has the title Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany [etc.]... instituting the European Coal and Steel Community.
Subscription databases: English versions of the original treaty texts (1951 onwards) are also on Westlaw UK and Lexis+ UK, but, on both, each article of each treaty appears as a separate item; the EUR-Lex versions are more user-friendly.
Official Journal C series: consolidated versions of the key treaties, such as the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, are published periodically in OJ C, which is on EUR-Lex, Lexis and Westlaw.
Monograph editions: consolidated versions of the key treaties have in the past been issued as books by the EU Publications Office, under titles such as European Union: selected instruments taken from the treaties and Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community; IALS Library has many of these compilations.
Other sources include Blackstone's EU treaties & legislation, published by Oxford University Press, and the looseleaf commentary, Smit & Herzog on the law of the European Union (LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 2005-). Both titles are held at IALS, but our Smit & Herzog is no longer updated.
The main types of secondary legislation ('legal acts') are directives, regulations and decisions.
Depending on the procedure used to pass a particular legal act, it is classed either as a 'legislative act' or a 'non-legislative' act. Non-legislative acts include delegated or implementing legislation made by the European Commission under the authority of a legislative act.
For more information about types of EU secondary legislation: see the European Commission's ABC of EU Law; see also the EUR-Lex Glossary, under European Union (EU) hierarchy of norms, EU legal instruments, Delegated acts and Implementing acts.
Each legal act has a reference consisting of the year and a serial number, for example:
Each EU legal act also has reference called a 'European Legislation Identifier' (ELI), for technical purposes such as the creation of machine-readable links. For more information about the ELI, see EUR-Lex Help.
Printed sources of secondary legislation
Secondary legislation is published in the L (Legislation) series of the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ L). Until 1 July 2013, the print edition of the OJ was the authentic source of secondary legislation, but from 1 July 2013 onwards the authentic source is the online edition, which is on the EUR-Lex website. The printed OJ ceased publication in 2014.
IALS holds a complete run of the printed Official Journal. It also has the English Special Edition, a collection of secondary legislation that was in force when the UK and Ireland joined the European Communities in 1973, translated into English.
All secondary legislation is on EUR-Lex, including the original Official Journal version and consolidated versions incorporating amendments. However, the latest consolidation is not always up-to-date: to check:
search for the directive/regulation/decision on EUR-Lex
in the results list, note the date of the latest consolidation (if any)
(still on the results page) click on the title of the directive/regulation/decision to open its full record
open Document Information tab, scroll to 'Amended by' and check for amendments since the date of the latest consolidation
EU secondary legislation is also on Westlaw UK (EU tab) and Lexis+ UK (Content - Legislation - EU Legislation).
Legislative acts are passed by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union, using the ordinary legislative procedure or special legislative procedures.
Implementing acts are made by the Commission with the help of committees, in a procedure known as 'comitology' (see 'Comitology' in EUR-Lex Glossary).
Delegated acts follow different procedures: see Commission FAQs on delegated legislation. For more information, see Paul Craig and Gráinne de Búrca, EU Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (7th edition, OUP 2020), chapter 5.
Tracking the progress of legislation
To monitor legislative activity, see:
Implementation (transposition) of directives
Directives are an indirect form of legislation: each member state has to implement - or 'transpose' - them in its own law. Until Brexit, the UK usually transposed them by means of statutory instruments, although occasionally an act of Parliament was required.
The original (OJ) text of each directive on EUR-Lex and Westlaw UK comes with details of transposing legislation for every member state: on EUR-Lex, see 'National Transposition'; on Westlaw, see 'Document details' -'National measures'. Lexis only covers transposition for England and Wales, in Halsbury's EU Legislation Implementator (no longer updated).
Other sources of implementation / transposition details include:
All EU cases are available on Curia, the website of the Court of Justice of the European Union, and on EUR-Lex, the EU's main law site. They are also on subscription databases and in various commercially published print series. Further details of these sources are given below.
The EU courts
The Court of Justice, established in 1952, is the oldest EU judicial institution. It is often known as the 'European Court of Justice' (ECJ), but this is not its formal title. It is not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU court.
The EU created another court in 1988, the Court of First Instance (CFI), to help with a backlog of cases at the Court of Justice. Its name was changed to 'General Court' in late 2009.
The Civil Service Tribunal (CST) was established in 2004 to deal with cases involving the staff of EU institutions. It closed in September 2016 and the General Court now deals with staff cases.
When an EU case is first registered it is given a reference in the following format:-
Until the creation of the CFI, case numbers took the form number/year, for example 290/84. There was no alphabetic prefix, because there was only one court.
Numerical lists of all registered cases are found on Curia.
The European Case Law Identifier (ECLI)
The European Case Law Identifier is a uniform resource identifier for online cases. ECLIs have been assigned to all EU cases, right back to 1954, and the EU now cites its cases with ECLIs instead of law report references.
A full ECLI takes the following form, though the 'ECLI' prefix is often omitted:
ECLI:EU:C:2017:73 (EU case decided by the Court of Justice in 2017, number 73)
There is more information about ECLIs on the European e-Justice Portal and the Curia website.
Opinions of the advocates general
Almost all Court of Justice cases used to have two stages: first the advocate general’s opinion, then the judgment (usually a few months later). However, in recent years many cases have not had an opinion stage.
General Court / Court of First Instance cases only have one stage, the judgment (with a few exceptions, for example case T-51/89).
Printed sources of EU cases
The official printed series of EU law reports (which has now ceased in hard copy), was Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the General Court (previously Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, and other variations). In the UK it is usually known as the 'European Court Reports' (cited with the abbreviation 'ECR'), but this is not its official title. The print edition published cases decided from 1954 to 2011, after which it was replaced by an authenticated digital-only edition.
There used to be a sub-series of Reports of Cases, called European Court Reports: Reports of European Community Staff Cases (ECR-SC). It published cases concerning employees of EU institutions that were decided from 1994 to 2009. ECR-SC has ceased publication and staff cases decided from 2010 onwards appear in the main Reports of Cases series.
After the creation of the Court of First Instance (now called the General Court) in 1988, the main Reports of Cases (ECR) series was divided into two sections: Section I published Court of Justice cases and Section II published CFI/General Court cases. It was cited as follows:
 ECR II-469 (1991, part II, starting at page 469)
However, the new authenticated digital Reports of Cases series is not divided into two sections and it numbers each case from page one. This means that the traditional ECR citation format no longer works, so cases are now cited using the European Case Law Identifier, or 'ECLI', instead. (In fact the EU now uses the ECLI to cite all cases, however old - see above.)
IALS Library holds the entire English edition of Reports of Cases (and ECR-SC from 1994 to 2006). The title of the main series has changed over the years: Reports of cases before the Court of Justice of the European Coal and Steel Community, then Reports of cases before the Court, then Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, then Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the General Court. IALS also has the French edition, from 1954 to 2003; the German edition, from 1954 to 1998 part 2; the Dutch edition, from 1954 to 1964; and the Italian edition, from 1954 to 1964.
Reports of Cases used to publish every case in full, in contrast to the UK's selective law reporting practice. Since 2004, however, it has only published brief details of less important cases; the full reports can be found on Curia and EUR-Lex.
Case summaries and court notices are published in the C series of the Official Journal of the European Union.
Selected EU cases appear in UK publications such as Common Market Law Reports, European Commercial Cases, European Community Cases, All England Law Reports: European Cases (ceased publication in December 2015), Weekly Law Reports and All England Law Reports. IALS Library holds all these titles.
Online sources of EU cases
The Curia website has a database of all EU cases, with links to the authenticated reports published in the online-only Reports of Cases, details of commentary in journals and other information. Curia also provides numerical lists of all registered cases, with details of pending and dropped cases, cross-references to joined cases and appeals, and links to opinions, judgments and other documents.
The EUR-Lex website also has all EU cases, including the authenticated digital Reports of Cases. Each case record on EUR-Lex includes a 'Document information' tab with further details, such as law report citations and citations to commentary in journals (under 'Doctrine').
EU cases are also on Westlaw and Lexis, but Lexis omits judgments that are not available in English.
European Union competition cases, such as antitrust investigations and merger scrutinies, are usually dealt with by the European Commission or national competition authorities. EU and national courts hear some competition cases, however.
The main source of information about EU competition policy is the European Commission's Competiton Policy website. It provides case databases (with links to press releases, notices from the OJ and documents not published elsewhere), legislation, rules, guidelines and the annual Report on Competition Policy. The Competition website also has a database of national court decisions on EU competition law. For competition cases heard by the Court of Justice and General Court/CFI, see Curia.
The Official Journal C series publishes competition notices, including announcements of new cases, merger clearance notices and opinions of the advisory committees. The Official Journal L series publishes some types of competition decision by the Commission, for example, Commission Decision of 5 December 2001 relating to a proceeding under Article 81 of the EC Treaty (Case IV/37.614/F3 PO/Interbrew and Alken-Maes), OJ L 200, 07.08.2003, p. 59-84. The Official Journal is available on EUR-Lex.
Westlaw UK and Lexis+ UK have competition decisions and competition notices that were published in the Official Journal and competition cases heard by the Court of Justice and General Court/CFI.
The European Competition Network coordinates enforcement of EC competition rules by the member states’ national competition authorities and the European Commission. Its website provides background information, publications and links to the national competition authorities’ websites.
The Report on Competition Policy, published annually by the European Commission, is a survey of each year’s competition activities from 1971 to date. IALS Library has the printed reports from 1971 to 2008 and they are on the EU's Competition website from 1971 onwards. From 1952 to 1970, competition information was published in the General Report on the Activities of the European Communities, which can be found on the Publications Office website: 1970s general reports, 1950s-1960s general reports.
The Antitrust supplement to Sweet and Maxwell's Common Market Law Reports, held at IALS and also available on Westlaw Uk, reproduces Commission decisions, court decisions, notices and other documents.
COM documents, or 'COM docs', are a series of official publications produced by the European Commission for the attention of other EU institutions, such as the Council of the EU, or the European Parliament. They have reference numbers prefixed 'COM' ('Commission'), for example, COM (2000) 529. They include numerous different types of material, such as proposals for legislation, consultation papers and reports on the implementation of policy.
Printed COM documents ceased publication in April 2003 and the series is now online-only.
COM documents are on EUR-Lex under 'Preparatory Documents' from 1960 onwards, with a complete set from 1999 onwards.
The Archive of European Integration, provided by the University of Pittsburgh, includes many COM documents.
Westlaw UK has COM documents from around the mid-1990s onwards, under 'Preparatory Acts'.
Lexis+ UK has COM documents from around the mid-1990s onwards, under 'EU Materials'.
IALS holds some printed COM documents of legal interest: see Library Catalogue. Each COM doc has its own catalogue record; most, but not all, of them have the classmark RES FOL GO1.A1.J.45.
As well as being published individually by the EU, COM documents were reproduced in the Official Journal C Series until 2003. The OJ C versions of proposals for legislation (a type of COM doc) do not include the explanatory memoranda found in the individual COM doc versions.
The EU makes international agreements with non-EU countries and with other international organisations, for example: 'Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the facilitation of the issuance of visas', OJ L 128, 30.4.2014, p. 49–60. EU member states also make international agreements among themselves.
EU international agreements are published in the L series of the Official Journal and are available on EUR-Lex. They are also on Westlaw and Lexis.
Status information about EU international agreements can be found in the Treaties and Agreements Database provided by the Council of the EU's Treaty Office. The database covers all agreements since 1989, plus older agreements that are still in force and some important old agreements which are no longer in force. It also includes the Treaties, the EU's primary legislation.
EU international agreements are published in the L series of the Official Journal. This ceased print publication at the end of 2013 and became an online-only title, available on EUR-Lex.
IALS Library has a large collection of books on many different aspects of EU law: see Library Catalogue. Most of the print titles are found in the fourth floor reading room, at classmark GO1.A1.
Introductory works include the following:
FinD-Er, the online catalogue of the European Commission libraries, lists individual journal articles as well books, conference proceedings and other material. (Access to full-text journal articles is for Commission Library members only.)
European Current Law, a print publication, has a bibliographical section. It is held at IALS to 2019 only (incomplete).
A number of old bibliographies are held at IALS classmark BG110, the most up-to-date of which is the Court of Justice Library’s Legal Bibliography of European Integration (1981-1999).
European Current Law, published monthly by Sweet and Maxwell, provides summaries of selected EU legislation and case law, arranged by subject; it also lists journal articles, books, legislation, cases, competition decisions, implementing measures and other information. The monthly parts cumulate into yearbooks. IALS Library has European Current Law from 1973 to 2019 (incomplete).
The following are some of the journals in IALS Library which are specifically focused on EU or European law; almost all are available online as well as in printed format (see links on Library Catalogue):
Columbia Journal of European Law
Common Market Law Review
European Business Law Review
European Intellectual Property Review
European Law Review
European Public Law
Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law
Revue trimestrielle de droit européen
Many non-specialist journals also publish articles on EU law. Use the following databases to conduct a broad literature search:
Westlaw UK and Lexis+ UK both include EU official publications from the 1950s to date (see above for details). IALS also subscribes to numerous journal databases that cover EU law (see 'Journals', above).
For further information about databases for EU law research, see our Databases guide.
Key sites are listed below; for more EU-related websites, see the Eagle-i portal (select 'European Union' under 'Country or primary jurisdiction').
EUR-Lex: the EU's law database, containing the Official Journal; primary and secondary legislation; cases; COM documents, including green papers, white papers and proposals for legislation; international agreements; EFTA documents; details of the progress of EU legislation (under 'Lawmaking Procedures'); and summaries of legislation, by subject.
EU Newsroom: the EU's news site, with press releases from all the EU institutions and agencies, plus a calendar of events.