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The European Union and Its Structure

The Origin and Development of the European Union

Today’s European Union (EU) has its origins in three distinct communities, all of which were formed during the 1950s. They were: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), formed in 1951; the European Atomic Energy Community, or Euratom (EAEC); and the European Economic Community (EEC), both of the latter founded in 1957.

The first concrete proposal for closer economic cooperation between the States of Western Europe was presented by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman, who proposed the establishment of a common market for coal and steel products.1 The proposal led to the adoption of the treaty that established the European Coal and Steel Community. This common market was created in 1952 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.

Several factors in the mid-1950s caused the ECSC members to pay more attention to a regional customs union. This resulted in a proposal for the establishment of a supranational organisation for nuclear energy (Euratom) and a common market that would cover a wide range of economic activities. The proposal came from the Belgian foreign minister Paul-Henri Spaak at a meeting of the ECSC Foreign Ministers in Messina, Italy in 1955.

On the basis of Spaak’s proposal two draft treaties were prepared in 1956, one for Euratom and the other for the European Economic Community, the EEC. The final versions of the treaties were adopted in 1957 in Rome. The EEC Treaty is therefore known as the Treaty of Rome.2

To ensure uniformity in the three communities’ institutional structure, two other conventions were adopted. The first was the 1957 Convention on Certain Institutions Common to the European Communities. This established the European Parliament, a court, and a joint economic and social committee.3 The

  • 1 For a detailed account of the efforts during the 1940s and 1950s to establish the European Communities, see C Barnard and S Peers (eds) European Union Law (Oxford University Press, 2014) .
  • 2 For the texts of the founding treaties of the European Union, see ‘Founding treaties’ at EUR-

Lex: (visited 4

January 2016).

3 Convention relative a certaines institutions communes aux Communautes Europeennes (Rome, 25 Mars 1957) (visited 4 January 2016).

EU Environmental Law and Policy. David Langlet and Said Mahmoudi. © David Langlet and Said Mahmoudi 2016. Published 2016 by Oxford University Press.

second convention, adopted in 1965 and better known as the ‘Merger Treaty’, established a common council and a commission for the European Communities.[1] [2]

Parallel to the increase in the number of Member States of the European Communities from six to twelve as a result of the membership of Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 1973; Greece in 1981; and Portugal and Spain in 1986, the long-term aspirations for closer cooperation resulted in the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986.5 This Act, which came into force on 1 July 1987, was intended to create an internal market that would replace the common market among Member States by 1 January 1993. To achieve this aim, the Act introduced a variety of changes in the three basic treaties establishing the ECSC, the Euratom, and the EEC, respectively. Additionally, the Single European Act formalised Community competence to enact laws in a number of new areas, including environmental protection. (On this, see further Chapter 4.)

The next major step in the efforts to create an ‘ever closer union’ among the European peoples was the adoption of the Treaty of the European Union[3] in Maastricht on 7 February 1992. This Treaty, which entered into force on 1 November 1993, created two new ‘pillars’, so that the new Union came to rest upon three ‘pillars’. One consisted of the three existing communities, namely ECSC, EEC, and Euratom. The two new ‘pillars’ were not supranational and followed a more traditionally intergovernmental decision-making process. They regulated cooperation on foreign and security issues (‘second pillar’) and legal matters and home affairs issues (‘third pillar’). Furthermore, the title European Economic Community (EEC) was formally changed to European Community (EC) to reflect that the Community was now to address far more than purely economic issues.[4] As a result, the EEC Treaty was renamed the EC Treaty by the Treaty of Maastricht. This reform also reinforced the decision-making role of the European Parliament in numerous areas of EC competence, and other issues became also subject to majority decisions in the Council, the body in which governments are represented.

In 1993 a formal division was made between the EC and the EU. Simply put, the EC denoted the dense and largely supranational cooperation built up around the internal market, whereas the EU included more inter-State cooperation over, inter alia, foreign policy and defence issues. ‘EU’ was also used to denote the geographical area that consists of the EC/EU Member States. This division, and the consequent terminological confusion, ended in December 2009. We return to this later.

The growing number of States in the Union, together with a desire for closer cooperation on common policy in new areas, led to several rounds of significant amendments to the EU Treaty (Treaty of Maastricht) and the EC Treaty. The first amendments were introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, signed in October 1997

and in force from 1 May 1999.[5] This treaty led to significant substantive changes in the EU regulatory framework and policies. It also provided for a renumbering of most of the articles of the relevant Treaties.

The second round of amendments, specifically prompted by the anticipated expansion of EU membership from fifteen to twenty-seven, was made by the Treaty of Nice,[6] signed in February 2001, and entered into force on 1 February 2003. In addition to changes to the composition of the institutions and decision-making procedures, this Treaty resulted in the adoption of a legally non-binding EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.[7]

The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community was adopted for a period of fifty years and ceased to exist in July 2002. The coal and steel sectors then came to be governed entirely by the EC Treaty.

At a meeting of the European Council, consisting of the EC heads of State and Governments, in Laeken, Brussels, in 2001, questions concerning, among other things, distribution of powers and the institutional structure of the Union were addressed in the so-called Laeken Declaration.!! It was also decided to convene a conference on the future of the Union. This conference consisted mainly of members of the European Parliament, national parliamentarians, and government representatives who primarily participated in their personal capacity. In July 2003 it put forward a proposal for a new treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe that would replace the EC and EU Treaties. After some amendments, the draft Constitution was adopted by the European Council in June 2004 and signed by all Member States.12 However, agreement on a new treaty (in this case called the Constitution) and amendments to existing EU treaties must be ratified by all Member States to enter into force. When accession to the new Treaty was clearly rejected by the majority of people in referendums in France and the Netherlands, the ratification process practically stopped.

The idea of a new, cohesive European constitution was formally abandoned in 2007 in favour of an agreement on further amendments to the existing treaties. The result was the Treaty of Lisbon, adopted the same yeard3 After a fairly lengthy ratification process (which included two referendums in Ireland with some modifications of the text), the Treaty of Lisbon came into force on 1 December 2009. It does not replace the previous Treaties (EU Treaty and the EC Treaty), but lists many changes to their contents. Also, the former EC Treaty—originally the Treaty of Rome of 1957—was renamed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This change signifies that the European Community had ceased to exist as a separate legal entity and that the two Treaties (the Treaty on European Union, or TEU, and the TFEU) thus regulate different aspects of the EU. Euratom continues as a separate legal entity.


[2007] OJ C 306/1.

Briefly put, the TEU establishes the EU’s fundamental values, objectives, and principles, and the overall institutional structure and division of powers. It also contains, somewhat inconsistently, rules for common foreign and security policy. The TFEU develops the more specific rules for the various European Union bodies and for the exercise of the Union’s competence.

The Treaty of Lisbon contains no major amendments to environmental policy. Perhaps the most significant change is the establishment of a separate legal basis for EU energy policy, an area that, with climate change, has become closely connected to the environment. Other more fundamental changes are that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has become legally binding and has gained the same legal status as the Treaties. It is also stipulated that the EU shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Art 6 TEU). As regards the EU’s values in general, it is now provided in Article 3(3) TEU that:

It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.

The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies, though does not significantly change, the distribution of powers between the EU and Member States in various policy areas. Of greatest importance from an environmental perspective is that the EU has exclusive power to legislate in the fields of the common commercial policy and the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy. The internal market, the environment, transport, and energy are all areas where the competence to legislate is shared between the Union and its Member States. The consequences of this shared competence are addressed in detail in Chapter 4.

  • [1] Traite Instituant un Conseil Unique et une Commission Unique des Communautes Europeennes [1967] OJ 152/2.
  • [2] [1987] OJ L 169/1. 3 [1992] OJ C 191/1.
  • [3] 7 Art G.A (1), Treaty of Maastricht. Even before this title was formalised, the expression ‘EuropeanCommunity’ was used in practice to denote the EEC. Sometimes it was used erroneously instead of
  • [4] ‘European Communities’.
  • [5] [1997] OJ C 340/1. 9 [2001] OJ C 80/1. w [2012] OJ C 326/391.
  • [6] 11 European Council (Laeken) (14—15 December 2001) Conclusions of the Presidency, Bull EU12-2001.
  • [7] 12 [2003] OJ C 169/1.
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