Overview of the EU legal system
Produced in partnership with Laura Bolado of Andes Legal Consulting Ltd
Overview of the EU legal system

The following Public Law practice note produced in partnership with Laura Bolado of Andes Legal Consulting Ltd provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Overview of the EU legal system
  • Introduction to the EU legal system
  • Conferral
  • Primacy
  • Sincere co-operation
  • Subsidiarity
  • Proportionality
  • Competences of the EU and of its Member States
  • Proportionality Exclusive competence
  • Proportionality Shared competence
  • More...

Introduction to the EU legal system

The EU legal system is sui generis—there is no other legal system it can be compared to, though it draws elements from many. The key to understanding how it works is to avoid trying to subsume it into (or compare it to) a national system and observe its behaviour from different angles.

From its inception, the EU (at the time, the EEC) was intended to grow and become more than an economic bloc, which is why the founding Member States agreed to transfer parcels of sovereignty to the newly 'supranational' institutions. Supranational as the word indicates is something placed over a national structure. The term is used to denote the opposite to intergovernmental where decisions are taken by consensus and linked to national government interests.

Upon joining the EU, Member States are no longer able to adopt, independently, legislation in the areas delegated by the EU Treaties ie the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and their predecessors to the EU institutions. The Member States created a new system that, according to established case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, takes precedence over their national law.

For background reading, see Practice Note: Structure and functions of EU institutions and bodies.

The system is built on several values and principles,

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