Guide last updated Hester Swift, December 2019
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The European Union (EU) developed from the three European Communities founded in the 1950s: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). 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 EU 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 EU Documentation Centres (EDCs), the nearest of which is at the London School of Economics Library (British Library of Political and Economic Science).
At IALS, the main EU collection is on the fourth floor, 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. It publishes legislation, case summaries, notices, Council conclusions, minutes of parliamentary debates and many other types of official EU document. The printed 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, documents published in the C series sometimes have references like this:
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 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, now exists in the form of the website Tenders Electronic Daily (TED). Current procurement notices are available to all on TED, while registered users can access a five-year archive.
Westlaw UK and Lexis®Library (see IALS Law Databases page) both include the contents of the L Series - EU secondary legislation - back to 1952, not arranged into OJ issues, but presented 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 (all come under 'Information and Notices' on the EU page); Lexis®Library has them back to 2000 (under 'EU Materials').
Print and microfiche holdings at IALS
IALS holds the Official Journal (but not the 'OJ S' public procurement supplement) from 1952 to 2013, when print publication ceased: -
L Series: 1973-2013, print (in Offsite Store); 1973-1995 also on microfiche (FC 37, held on site).
C Series: 1973-1995 on microfiche (FC 37, on site), then print 1996-2013 (Offsite Store).
Official Journal of the European Communities: special edition, print (Offsite Store): 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).
The L and C series
There are two main series of the Official Journal, L and C:
Subseries: some issues of the OJ C have 'E', 'A' or 'I' after the issue number, e.g. OJ C 183E.
The CE, CI and CA issues of the Official Journal are scattered through the main C series on EUR-Lex, not listed separately. However, it is possible to display the OJ CA or CI using filters at the top of the OJ page.
Public procurement notices
From 1978 until mid-1998 the OJ had a supplement that published public procurement notices. This was sometimes known as the 'S series'. Since July 1998 public procurement notices have been published online, via Tenders Electronic Daily (TED).
The EU's primary legislation consists of the treaties setting out the structure and functions of the EU and certain other fundamental treaties agreed between the member states. All are on the Treaties page of EUR-Lex, in both original and consolidated versions, including the 1950s texts which pre-dated 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 today's 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 'Building the EU through the Treaties', on EUR-Lex.
Other EU primary legislation includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2010), 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, EEC and Euratom Treaties are not in English, as there were no English-speaking signatories.
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. The FLARE Index to Treaties gives UNTS citations. In the UNTS the ECSC Treaty has the heading 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®Library, but, on both, each article of each treaty appears as a separate item (the EUR-Lex versions are more user-friendly).
Consolidated (amended) versions
EUR-Lex (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 the C series of the Official Journal, which is available on EUR-Lex, Lexis and Westlaw.
Monograph editions: consolidated versions of the key treaties have been issued as books by the EU Publications Office in the past, 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 (or '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 a European Legislation Identifier (ELI), for technical purposes such as the creation of machine-readable links. For more information about the ELI, see the EUR-Lex FAQ.
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 available consolidation is not always up-to-date: to check:
search for the directive/regulation/decision on EUR-Lex and, in the search results list, note the date of the latest consolidation
(still on the search results page), click on the title of the directive/regulation/decision to open its full EUR-Lex record
open the Document Information tab, scroll down to the heading 'Amended by' and check whether there have been any amendments since the date of the latest consolidation
Other online sources: all secondary legislation is also on Westlaw UK and Lexis®Library (both are available to authorised users via the IALS Law Databases page). Find the EU collections on Westlaw and Lexis as follows: -
Legislative acts are passed by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union using the ordinary legislative procedure (formerly 'codecision procedure') and special legislative procedures.
Implementing acts are made by the Commission with the help of committees; this procedure is therefore known as 'comitology' (see Commission FAQ on comitology).
Delegated acts follow different procedures: see Commission FAQ on delegated legislation. For more information, see Paul Craig and Gráinne de Búrca, EU Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (6th edition, OUP 2015), chapter 5.
Tracking the progress of legislation
To monitor ongoing lawmaking procedures, 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. The UK normally uses statutory instruments for transposition of directives, although occasionally an act of Parliament is required.
The original (OJ) text of each directive on EUR-Lex and Westlaw UK has details of transposing legislation for every member state attached to it: on EUR-Lex, see 'National Transposition' tab; on Westlaw, see 'National measures'. Lexis covers transposition in England and Wales only: see Halsbury's EU Legislation Implementator.
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 free 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 does not belong to the EU).
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 the EU courts’ website, 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 an ECLI instead of a Reports of Cases (ECR) reference. A full ECLI takes the following form:
ECLI:EU:C:2017:73 (= an EU case decided by the Court of Justice in 2017, number 73)
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 of these 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 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). It is usually known as the 'European Court Reports' (ECR), but this title did not actually appear on the publication. 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 print publication; staff cases decided from 2010 onwards appear in the (online only) main series, Reports of Cases.
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 ECJ cases and Section II published CFI/General Court cases, with citations in the following form:
 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 for all cases, however old - see above.)
IALS Library holds the entire English edition of Reports of Cases (plus 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 (ECR) used to publish every case in full, in contrast to the UK's selective law reporting practice. Since 2004, however, less important cases have been omitted, although brief details are given; the full reports of these cases can be found on Curia and EUR-Lex.
The C series of the Official Journal of the European Union publishes case summaries and court notices.
Selected EU cases also 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 has these titles.
Online sources of EU cases
All EU cases are available on the Court's website, Curia, including the authenticated digital Reports of Cases. 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, including law report citations and - under 'Doctrine' - citations to commentary in journals.
EU cases are also on Westlaw and Lexis®Library. 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 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 provides a database of national court decisions on EU competition law.
ECJ and CFI/General Court decisions: there is a collection of ECJ and CFI competition cases from 1962 to 1999 on the Competition website; for more recent cases, see Curia (the website of the Court of Justice of the EU).
EUR-Lex, Westlaw UK and Lexis®Library have competition decisions and notices that were published in the Official Journal.
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, legislation and links to the national competition authorities’ websites.
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 now online only, on EUR-Lex; it ceased print publication at the end of 2013.)
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 (they are all on the EU's Competition website).
The Antitrust supplement to Sweet and Maxwell's Common Market Law Reports, held at IALS, 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.
EUR-Lex: has all COM documents from 1999 onwards, under 'Preparatory Documents'. Many earlier COM docs are also found on EUR-Lex, including some very old digitised ones from the Commission's Historical Archives. EUR-Lex has been the official source of COM docs since they ceased print publication in 2003.
Archive of European Integration: this website, provided by the University of Pittsburgh, makes available many COM documents, including some that are not on EUR-Lex.
Westlaw UK: has COM documents from around the mid-1990s onwards, under 'Preparatory Acts' (the EU collection is accessed via the 'More' tab on Westlaw UK).
Lexis®Library: has COM documents from around the mid-1990s onwards, under 'EU Materials' (see alphabetical index on Sources tab).
IALS holds some printed COM documents of legal interest: see Library Catalogue. Each COM doc has its own catalogue record; most, but not all, COM docs have the same IALS 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. Proposals for legislation (a type of COM doc) appeared in the OJ C without the explanatory memorandum that is found in the individual COM doc version.
The EU makes international agreements with non-EU countries and 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.
International agreements concluded by the EU 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.
The European Commission’s Treaty Office also maintains a database of EU international agreements. This only covers international agreements with external parties: it excludes primary legislation ('The Treaties') and international agreements among EU member states. It provides a summary of each agreement as well as the full text and status information; it also provides analytical lists ('ready inventories'), for example, a list of all agreements which include a declaration of competence by the EU.
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 European Union 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 held at IALS (to 2014), has a bibliographical section.
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 2014 only.
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 and Lexis®Library both include EU official publications from the 1950s to date (see above for more information). 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.