The legislation of the EU (acquis communautaire), consists of the primary legislation (treaties and protocols) and the secondary legislation (regulations, directives and decisions).
The primary legislation consists of treaties adopted by the member states as acts of international law, as well as amendments and supplements to the agreements between states, rules of law, established under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the international agreements approved by the EU, for instance: the European Convention on Human Rights.
The primary legislation consists of the European Council’s decisions with its members working as the representatives of EU countries and electoral law to the EP.
The secondary legislation established by European institutions on the basis of the primary law consists of a significant number of legal acts, which can be divided into five areas. These are decrees (similar to Polish legislative acts), standardising the national legislation of each state, and directives, which obligate the states to achieve certain standards. The method of achieving the standards is open. Each country has 1-3 years for the adaptation of local legislation to the EU’s requirements.
All directives are published in the Official Journal of the EU.
The secondary legislation also includes decisions, which are equivalent to decisions in Polish legislation. Each of the decisions is directed to a particular group of interest and concerns particular cases or situations. The receivers of the decisions can be a state, a legal entity or a physical entity.
The secondary legislation contains also opinions and indications, which admittedly have no legal power, but are often used in the evaluation processes among institutions and international bodies. They can also indicate particular actions.
In case of conflict between the primary legislation and the secondary legislation, the first is always the primary legislation.
The majority of the EU’s normative acts is published in the Official Journal of the EU, which is translated into all official languages of the EU.
The Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris (which established the European Coal and Steel Community) was signed in Paris on April 18th, 1951, by six countries: France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The community was established only a few years after the end of WWII. The priority was to rebuild the economy of the old continent and reassure durable peace. The Treaty became effective on 24th of July 1952 and stopped being in force after 50 years in July 2002.
The aim of the six countries’ agreement was to establish a common market of steel, iron ore, and scrap. As a result, it’s aim was to support economic development. The signatories were also aiming at rationalizing production and division of coal and steel industry products.
Further advantages of the Treaty would be insuring regular coal and steel deliveries to the six states, standardized access to these goods, as well as control of the process and production modernisation. All these were to serve economic development, increase employment and improve citizens’ living standards.
According to the Treaty, the common market for coal, iron ore and scrap was opened in February 1953, and in May for steel.
The Community’s assumption were not only directed at economic development but political cooperation as well. Coal and steel formed the foundation of economies of France and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Combining all these sectors, which are important to the defensive capabilities, and making dependent on one another was the key to peace.
The Treaty of Paris formed the foundation of the European institutions in their current shape; it established the High Authority, the Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the European Court of Justice.
Following the rules of the common market, respecting the rules of competition and transparency of prices was supervised by the High Authority, the highest executive body of the European Coal and Steel Community.
The High Authority was composed of nine country representatives, no more than two per country for 6-year terms. The High Authority was supported by the Consultant Committee, composed of the industries, law, employees, traders and consumers representatives. From 1967, the High Authority was known as the European Union Committee.
The Assembly was made up of 78 representatives from national parliaments. Germany, France and Italy had 18 representatives, Belgium and Holland – 10 and Luxembourg – 4. The Assembly was given controlling competencies.
The Council of Ministers was composed of 6 national parliaments’ representatives. The Presidency of the Council was rotational: 3 months for every country. Agreement of the High Authority was obligatory when making decisions.
The Court of Justice was made up of 7 judges nominated for six-year terms on the base of agreement between governments. The role of the Court was to guarantee adherence to the Treaty.
The Treaty of Rome
The Rome Treaties (the treaty which established the European Economic Community and the treaty which established European Atom Community – Euratom) were signed on the 25th of March, 1957 by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg and Italy. They came into force on the 1st of January, 1958. Both documents, along with the Treaty of Paris, are a cornerstone of the European integration. In the preamble the signatories committed themselves to common actions aimed at removing barriers dividing Europe. The key was to achieve constant improvement of citizens’ standards of life and work.
The main aim of creating the European Economic Community was economic development and strengthening the cooperation between the state members as well as creating free movement of services, goods, people and capital. The signatories had one more purpose: strengthening the union of Europe.
The second community established was the European Atom Community (Euratom), which enabled connections between national nuclear systems. Both communities along with the European Coal and Steel Community formed the basis for the European Union.
The Treaty of Rome contained the agreement on shared institutions and their competencies. Under its provisions, the European Parliamentary Assembly was established with 142 MEPs delegated by the states.
The Assembly was a consulting body. Decisions were made by the Council of Ministers on the motion of the Commissions of both communities. One Council and one Commission weren’t established until the Merger Treaty, which came into force on the 1st of July, 1967.
European Social Fund was established based on the Treaty of Rome. Its aim was to increase the employment rates and improve the general conditions of employees’ lives. According to the act, the European Central Bank was also created to facilitate economic expansion of the Community.
Official name of the Treaty which established the European Economic Community was changed in further acts. The Treaty of Maastricht erased adjective “economic”, while the Lisbon Treaty has changed the name of the act to: “the Treaty on European Union”.
The Single European Act
The Single European Act, which updated the Treaty of Rome, was passed during the inter-government conference in Luxembourg and Brussels that worked on amendments and additions to the existing treaties. It concerned the amendments and supplement to three treaties: establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the European Economic Community (1957) and Euratom (1957). The act came into force on the 1st of July, 1987. The document was signed by 12 countries, including the 6 founders and countries which joined the Community in 1973, 1981 and 1986: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, Great Britain, Greece, Spain and Portugal. The signatories committed themselves to creating the European Single Market until the end of 1992.
The act defines the single market as an area without internal boundaries, with free movement of goods, people, services and capital. The document reinforced the competencies of some institutions and improved the decision-making process. The rule of unanimity in the Ministers Council was replaced by the rule of qualified majority excluding matters concerning taxes, movement of people and workers’ rights.
The Single European Act reinforced the European Parliament’s role in the process of adopting EU legislation and in the dialog between EU institutions. It established a new procedure of cooperation between the EP and the Council of Ministers and the procedure of agreeing to treaties and associations. It developed cooperation in the field of foreign policy.
The Treaty established the European Council by formalizing conferences and summits of the highest EU countries’ representatives. The decision was made to arrange at least two meetings of the Council a year. There was no precise list of the Councils’ competencies.
The Treaty was expanded with new chapters concerning currency, social policy, economic and social cohesion, research and technical development as well as environment protection.
The Maastricht Treaty
The document was signed on the 7th of February, 1992 in Maastricht, the Netherlands and came into force on the 1st of November, 1993. It has changed the name of the European Economic Community into the European Union. It created a new structure of the EU based on 3 pillars: economic and currency union, common foreign and security policy and cooperation in the fields of security, jurisdiction and internal matters. The Maastricht Treaty was signed by 12 countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain and Italy.
It’s aim was to create an area without internal borders, confirm the Union’s identity on the international arena and conduct common foreign policy.
The document was a new step in the Community’s history. It opened the road for political integration. The Maastricht Treaty brought in the notion of a European citizen, reinforced the EP’s competencies and created the economic and currency union.
The European Communities’ pillars covered economic, social and environmental policies. They combined the European Community (EC), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, until its expiry in 2002), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). The decisions process was regulated by the so-called community method and involved the institutions. The European Commission would ask the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to work on their proposals, suggest amendments and finally adopt them as European legislation.
The next pillar created common foreign and security policy and enabled the countries to take up joint activities in this area.
As the next step, the countries were obligated to cooperate in the law and internal matters. It aimed at ensuring safety and high level of civil liberties.
The Maastricht Treaty strengthened the role of the European Parliament by increasing its legislative and control powers. The procedure of joint decisions was one of such powers. It enabled the EP to accept some legal acts jointly with the Council. According to the Treaty, the EP was active in the process of the European Commission confirmation.
The Maastricht Treaty prolonged the term of the European Commission from 4 to 5 years, the same period as the EP.
The Treaty established the European Committee of the Regions whose role is to give opinions about legal acts from local and regional perspectives. The Committee acts as an advisory body.
The Treaty introduced indicators and principles (five requirements in total) to be met by a country aspiring to become a member of the Economic and Monetary Union and the euro area. The most important are the public debt not exceeding 60% of GDP and the budget deficit not exceeding 3% of GDP.
One of the most significant innovations introduced by the Maastricht Treaty was the concept of European Citizenship, which is above and beyond the national citizenship.
The citizens of the European Union have thus acquired new rights, such as the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Community, to be protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities of another Member State, and the right to submit a petition to the European Parliament.
The Treaty of Amsterdam
The Treaty of Amsterdam amended the Treaty on European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts. It was signed in Amsterdam on the 2nd of October, 1997 and came into force on the 1st of May, 1999. It was signed by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain and Italy. One of the most important parts of the document strengthened the EU’s federal character. The document introduced institutional changes: reinforced the EP’s power and introduced the position of High Representative for EU Foreign Policy.
One of the basic concepts of the Treaty was the adaptation of existing EU legal acts to planned enlargement of the European Union to Central and Eastern Europe. But the inter-government conference, which was supposed to prepare such documents, was unable to do it. As a result, a decision was made that the present treaties would be changed later.
The Treaty of Amsterdam clearly indicated the European Union values. These are: freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental liberties. These are principles shared by all countries and all of them are obligated to respect them. In light of the values declaration, one important innovation was introduced: the procedure on how to act, in case the common law is not applied properly. The procedure provides that in case of serious and durable lacks of adherence to the common EU law. First an opinion is formed on the issue. In the next step the country may have its rights limited, ex. being prohibited from voting in the European Council.
Moreover, the Treaty strengthens anti-discrimination provisions. The document obligates the Council to take appropriate steps to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religious beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Common foreign policy
One of the main topics of the inter-government conference, which preceded the Treaty of Amsterdam, was to improve the effectiveness of the common foreign and security policy, to make the EU voice on the international arena stronger. The reform of common foreign policy seemed to be particularly important in relation to the Balkans war. At that time it became clear, that the EU must speak with one voice and make coordinated decisions.
The Treaty introduced the High Representative for EU Foreign and Security Policy. Its role was to guarantee the EU activities had more cohesion and were more visible.
The function was given to the general secretary of the European Council, who supported the EU Council in the foreign policy area.
The Treaty of Amsterdam strengthened the EP’s role by extending procedures of common decisions to new areas and simplifying them. The change was in erasing the third reading of the act in the EU Council. In practice, it meant that in case of disagreement between the EU Council and the EP during the second reading, the act was rejected without the third reading, as it was up until then.
This made the role of the EP equal to the role of the EU Council in the legislative matters.
The Treaty of Amsterdam limited the number of MEPs to 700. It was crucial considering the EU enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe countries. The document also strengthenes the arrangements of the Treaty of Maastricht concerning the EP’s role of the EP in confirming the European Commission.
With reference to the EU Council, the Treaty provided qualified majority voting in the areas of employment and social security. The Treaty also extended competencies of the European Court of Justice in the areas of the following policies: asylum, immigrants and free movement of people.
The Treaty of Nice
The Treaty of Nice, which amended the EU Treaty, the treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts was signed in Nice on the 26th of February, 2001 by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany, Sweden, Great Britain and Italy. The treaty came into force on the 1st of February, 2003 after being ratified by all member states. Ireland, as the only country in the EU with the constitutional obligation to pass UE treaties in the referendum, dismissed the act in the first voting. It was adopted in the second referendum, after some amendments.
The Treaty of Nice was created to prepare the EU for the enlargement and the reforms of tEU institutions. It was crucial for the EU to function without disturbance during and after the biggest enlargement in its history in May 2004. The situation was new and new technical solutions had to be provided. The treaty did not change the rules of cooperation between the institutions, but specified its composition and the way of working.
According to the Treaty of Nice, the European Commission was to be composed of the number of commissioners corresponding to the number of states. Eventually, the decision to reduce the number of commissioners was taken. They are chosen in a way which guarantees justice for all of the countries.
The Treaty strengthens the significance of the Commissions’ president. The person in this position decides the internal organization of the institution to make their works coherent and effective. The president distributes competencies among commissioners and has the power to change it before the end of term. He is also responsible for appointing its deputes.
The Treaty of Nice increased the number of MEPs to 732 with the highest number of 99 for Germany (the biggest EU country) and 5 for Malta (the smallest UE country). Poland has 51 MEPs.
Voting in the EU Council
The Treaty of Nice introduced new rules of voting in the Council of the EU. It makes its decisions by:
- simple majority (15 member states vote in favour)
- qualified majority (55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the EU population, vote in favour)
- unanimous vote (all votes are in favour)
Each EU country was given the so-called voting weights proportional to the size of its territory. The biggest countries: Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy got 29 votes, while Poland and Spain got 27. Only 3 votes got Malta. As a result, starting from the 1st of November, 2004 the Council could decide to take action by a majority of at least 232 votes per 321. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU (the 1st of January, 2007) total number of votes given to the all EU countries increased to 345, and a qualified majority – to 255.
The decisions concerning voting weights were still in force with the Lisbon Treaty, with the added possibility from March 2017 to repeat a vote on request of one country.
The Treaty of Nice increased the use of qualified voting in 30 new areas, i.e.: the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy; voting on the president of the EC and its members.
The Treaty of Nice allowed for enhanced cooperation between the member states. At least 8 countries can cooperate in broadened areas of foreign policy and safety. The aim of such cooperation is to support the EU’s interests as a whole in light of common values and aims. Defence was the area excluded from the enhanced cooperation.
The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed on the 29th of October, 2004 in Rome by 25 member states. It never came into force due to rejection in the referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The Treaty was the first comprehensive attempt in the EU history to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms for all citizens of the European Union, to simplify and organize its legal basis and to improve and democratize its institutions. The document foresaw an expansion of voting with qualified majority for further 40 areas. It established the change of voting method in the EU Council replacing the Nice system with double majority voting.
Following the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty member states began work on the Lisbon Treaty.
The Treaty of Lisbon
The main aim of the Treaty of Lisbon is to improve the EU in all areas. The document simplified the decision making process in the EU Council. It created the position of permanent president of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The new treaty has changed the rules of member states’ presidency in the EU. The presidency was reduced to managing the works of the EU Council, while the other matters are coordinated by its permanent president, not as before by the rotating presidency’s head of state.
The document states that the current presiding country will work as part of the so-called trio with the previous and the next countries in line for the presidency. The presidency lasts 6 months.
The Treaty of Lisbon is the first document mentioning withdrawal from the EU.
This Treaty, as the previous ones, strengthens the EP’s role.
300-pages long, the Treaty of Lisbon came into force 2 years after being signed ( on the 1st of December, 2009). One of the reasons it took so long was its rejection in the Irish referendum.
Despite its volume, it was called a “mini-treaty”, which was to suggest that the EU dismissed the plans for a Constitution.
The Treaty of Lisbon is a revision document, which expands and updates up-until-now agreements. It gives the EU legal personality, that enables it to make international agreements and defines its competencies. It doesn’t refer to the overly-national symbols such as a flag or an anthem (elements of the rejected constitution). It was a guarantee that there is no will to reshape the EU into supranational super country. However, the treaty mentions the common EU values, i.e.: its cultural, religious and humanist heritage.
Improvement in taking decisions
The main aim of the Treaty was to improve the EU’s decision making process. Dismissing the unanimity rule in EU Council voting pointed towards common majority voting. The rule of unanimity is still in force when it comes to the most important issues i.e.: defensive capabilities and foreign policy.
According to the treaty, the voting system from the Treaty of Nice was in force until the end of 2014. Later, the rule of double majority was used: 55% of states with 65% of inhabitants.
The Lisbon Treaty and the EP
The Lisbon Treaty brought new law-making powers to the European Parliament in more than 40 areas, i.e.: agriculture, energy policy and immigration. These are areas under the co-decision procedure, where the EP cooperates during the decision making process with the EU Council.
The EP along with the EU Council is responsible for the entire EU budget. The Parliament votes on the composition of the European Commission with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is simultaneously the vice-president of the Commission.
Further change was the idea, that the president of the Commission is chosen from the political group which won the elections. Moreover, the president of the EC is appointed with absolute majority, not simple majority.
One of the most important changes in the Lisbon Treaty was creating a system of early legislative warning. In practice, it means reinforcing of the role of national parliaments, which have 8 weeks to submit comments if they claim that the decisions of EU institutions double theirs competencies.
The aim of this idea is to guarantee to the national parliaments’ the rule of subsidiarity principle, which dictated how the EU law should be implemented, when there are no national regulations in place.
If the national parliament acknowledges that this principle was breached, it can inform the appropriate EU institutions. If more member states’ parliaments submit similar information, the project is analyzed again. Further consequence is possible blockage. The EP is able to propose changes to the current treaties. According to the Treaty, the number of MEPs is 751 including the president.
THE CHARTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
As the only EU institution directly elected by the citizens, the Parliament has the power and responsibility to hold the other EU institutions accountable. The Parliament is the guardian of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, included in the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the newly established right of the citizens’ initiative, which allows people to suggest new policy proposals if one million people have signed a petition.
The charter contains rights and freedoms under six sections: dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights and justice. To reflect modern society, the charter includes 'third generation' fundamental rights, such as: data protection, guarantees on bioethics or transparent administration. The promotion and protection of the children rights are two key objectives of the EU on which the Treaty of Lisbon has put further emphasis. Poland decided to join the so-called British protocol limiting the Charter’s application.