The Foundations of EU Law

The foundations of EU law were laid in a series of treaties, designed to ensure peace in Europe and gain overall economic benefits.

The EU started as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 “to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace”; it has grown and developed since then in a series of treaties, as described in The history of the EU on its website.

Fullfact.org published a convenient summary document on 14 April 2016, How the EU works: the EU’s powers.  Some of its key features are listed below:

●  Administrative regulations facilitate the free movement of people and trade.

●  People’s human rights, as defined by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), are protected by legislation – as described below (

●  The European Court of Justice makes decisions which are binding on specific cases that have been referred to it. It can impose financial penalties for non-compliance.

●  Without countries signing new treaties the EU can make laws. New laws have to be agreed by either the European Council (composed of national foreign ministers or other government nominees) or by the democratically-elected European Parliament; most new laws have to be agreed by both these institutions.

These foundations of EU law were agreed in the series of treaties that formed and amended the EU.  Further information can be obtained from the European Commission website, which published an FAQ on the EU competences and the European Commission powers.

There have been many criticisms of the EU, but its unprecedented level of cooperation has made Europe more peaceful and prosperous than it has ever been.  Its legal governance has been necessary to achieving its objectives.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5352.htm.