The EU as a community of law: Overview of the role of law in the Union

24-03-2017

The term 'community of law' was popularised by Walter Hallstein in the 1960s. It emphasises that the Community, and now the European Union, is founded on the 'rule of law' principle, and underscores the role of law in the European project, which has been described by political scientists precisely as 'integration through law'. Modern definitions of the 'rule of law' include such elements as the limitation of the powers of public officials by the law, the fact that laws are public, general and apply equally, and finally the presence of an independent, impartial and neutral judiciary. The building blocks of the EU as a community of law have been laid, from the 1950s onwards, in the case law of the Court of Justice. The ECJ's case law proclaiming numerous general principles of Community law was inspired by the common legal traditions of the Member States. Over time, many such principles became enshrined in the written sources of EU law, notably the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaties. The 'life cycle' of EU law – including its creation, application, interpretation and enforcement – involves various institutional actors. Key roles in the creation of EU law are played by the Commission, Parliament and Council, while the application of EU law on a day-to-day basis is predominantly the task of national courts. Supreme authority to interpret EU law, and to review the compatibility of legislation with the treaties is vested in the ECJ. Individuals – natural and legal persons – enjoy the status of subjects of EU law, and can seek judicial enforcement of their rights based on EU law before national courts. In certain situations they can also seek legal protection directly from the EU courts – the General Court and the Court of Justice.

The term 'community of law' was popularised by Walter Hallstein in the 1960s. It emphasises that the Community, and now the European Union, is founded on the 'rule of law' principle, and underscores the role of law in the European project, which has been described by political scientists precisely as 'integration through law'. Modern definitions of the 'rule of law' include such elements as the limitation of the powers of public officials by the law, the fact that laws are public, general and apply equally, and finally the presence of an independent, impartial and neutral judiciary. The building blocks of the EU as a community of law have been laid, from the 1950s onwards, in the case law of the Court of Justice. The ECJ's case law proclaiming numerous general principles of Community law was inspired by the common legal traditions of the Member States. Over time, many such principles became enshrined in the written sources of EU law, notably the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaties. The 'life cycle' of EU law – including its creation, application, interpretation and enforcement – involves various institutional actors. Key roles in the creation of EU law are played by the Commission, Parliament and Council, while the application of EU law on a day-to-day basis is predominantly the task of national courts. Supreme authority to interpret EU law, and to review the compatibility of legislation with the treaties is vested in the ECJ. Individuals – natural and legal persons – enjoy the status of subjects of EU law, and can seek judicial enforcement of their rights based on EU law before national courts. In certain situations they can also seek legal protection directly from the EU courts – the General Court and the Court of Justice.