Are you looking for information on the European Union (EU)? Perhaps for a seminar paper or simply out of curiosity? If so, you may quickly feel overwhelmed by the host of available resources.
Navigating through the waters of EU information requires, like everything in life, some training and a lot of experience to be done efficiently. Below you will find a few resources and thoughts to help you get started on the journey.
The mother of all sources are the Treaties constituting the European Union. They go back to the “Treaty establishing the European Economic Community” (TEEC), which was signed in 1957 (and entered into force in 1958). The “Treaty of Rome” has been amended several times since. For example, the Merger Treaty of 1965 united the formerly three separate organizations EEC, European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) and European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) with separate Commissions and Councils into the European Communities (for a graphical representation, see here). The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 first added a separate Treaty on European Union (TEU), complementing what at that point became the European Community (EC). With the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 all articles were renumbered, which means you will need to be careful with comparisons of legal bases before and after Amsterdam. In another major departure from previous practice, with the Lisbon Treaty the “Treaty establishing the European Community” (TEC) became the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TFEU).
To complicate matters further, when people referred to the European Union before Lisbon it would have actually been more accurate to speak of the European Community. In academic publications you may find a footnote that, for reasons of consistency, European Union will be used throughout, except where the difference matters. You can find a comprehensive overview of all Treaty revisions on EUR-Lex. All of this probably supports misconceptions of the EU as “too complex” for citizens to understand. However, it is not significantly more complex than most national political systems and much can be learned from simply reading the Treaty. Whenever you start conducting research on a particular area this should be your point of departure. The Treaty defines the (formal) rules and procedures to be followed by the EU institutions.
If you want to develop a deeper understanding of the Treaty and how it is applied in practice, commentaries of European law are an excellent source of information. There are numerous excellent volumes edited by eminent lawyers who master their field. Illustrative examples are “der Schwarze” or “der Beck“. All commentaries I have come across are truly excellent. But since they are expensive you would not normally get a personal copy, even though older editions can often be bought at very affordable rates and serve as a quick reference at arm’s length. Either way, you will find EU commentaries on the shelves of most university libraries, which will also often give you access to online versions (if you are a student at the TU Dresden, click here). Unfortunately, law commentaries seem to be a German-speaking tradition. As far as I know, there are no comparable English-language commentaries of the TEU and TFEU.
Based on the Treaties, the EU institutions can pass a number of legal instruments. The various types are set out in Art. 288 TFEU. Regulations are binding and must be applied in their entirety across the EU. Directives set out goals that all EU countries must achieve but leaves it to each member state to enact laws suitable to achieving these goals. Decisions are binding on those to whom they are addressed (e.g., an individual company) and directly applicable. Finally, recommendations and opinions are non-binding instruments. The exact procedure needed to enact EU instruments can vary. Nevertheless, most laws today are adopted in line with the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure” (OLP) set out in Art. 294 TFEU, which put the Council and European Parliament (EP) on an equal footing. When you have a specific legislative act in front of you and know little about it, you may want to read the recitals at the beginning which are usually a good introduction.
EUR-Lex is the most comprehensive database of everything related to EU law. For example, you can not only find the final laws but, by clicking on the “procedure” tab, you can retrace the various steps leading to their enacment (beginning with the Commission proposal). This can help you understand the different EU institutions’ positions, which can be empirically demanding but is often necessary to understand your “case”. A good glossary of terms is available here. When dealing with directives, the “NIM” (National Implementing Measures) tab provides you with a list of national laws that member states have adopted in reaction to a particular piece of EU legislation. Moreover, EUR-Lex contains a host of other useful resources such as ECJ case law and written questions by MEPs, which can provide fascinating insight into EU policy-making. Last but not least, EUR-Lex runs on a system known as CELEX. Familiarizing yourself with CELEX can help you develop a more comprehensive understanding of what the EU does.
Another major element of the acquis communautaire (a French term referring to the entire body of EU law) are international agreements. They are situated between primary law (the Treaties) and secondary legislation (laws based on the Treaties). Ever since the Treaty of Rome, the EU had had the necessary powers to conclude international agreements with other states and international organizations in specific areas. In 1971, however, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the AETR case developed what can be called the doctrine of “implied powers”, which enabled the EU to conclude international agreements “over the whole field of objectives” defined by the Treaty. In brief, this meant that even where external powers had not been explicitly conferred, such powers are conferred implicitly whenever the goals the EU has set for itself could not be reached through purely internal measures.
Ever since the Treaty of Rome, the EU has concluded thousands of international agreements. You can find them in the respective databases of the Council, EEAS or EUR-Lex. If you need general background information on the EU’s relations with certain countries or world regions, you can also have a look at the summaries offered by the EEAS or the Commission’s Directorate-Generals (DGs) for Trade and Development. Frequently the EU delegations also offer interesting information on the EU’s bilateral relations with the country in which they are located.
The EU Newsroom offers an enormous wealth of information. As the “single entry point to all EU news” it gathers the latest news and press material from all EU institutions and most agencies in one place. Its comprehensiveness is also its major weakness. One easily feels lost. The Commission’s audiovisual service is packed with videos, audio and photos. Moreover, it has its own TV channel called “Europe by Satellite” where you can, for example, watch the Commission’s midday press briefings or follow European Council meetings live. The Council has an excellent streaming page page as well, where you can sit through entire Council sessions. The EP has a similar resource here. Together these sites can give you a real “feeling” for how EU institutions work.
You can also look for information included in press releases, available in the EU Newsroom. While only going back 30 days, it will give you all press releases by all EU institutions. If you need to find information going back more than 30 days, you can consult each institution’s own press release database. The Commission’s RAPID database goes back to 1975. In RAPID, watch out for “memos” and “FAQs” as they usually provide excellent summaries. The European Council and Council database contains press releases starting from from 1 January 2014. Earlier press releases are included, somewhat counterintuitively, in RAPID. The EP’s press releases can be found here. They can also contain informative background notes and fact sheets (e.g. here). Old EP press releases are, again, included in RAPID.
While not, strictly speaking, press releases let me add some more sources here. The EU Bookshop offers publications that can often be freely downloaded. In the “EU explained” section, for example, you can find introductions to the EU. Some publications are more geared towards substance than others. For example, the “General Report on the Activities of the European Union” is summary of all the EU has done in a given year (see, for example, here). More often, however, the EU bookshop targets the general public. You can also check the minutes of the Commission meetings (i.e. the College of Commissioners). Recent (European) Council meetings can be found here, while European Council conclusions are here. To learn more about the EP, this seems a good place to start.
While press releases can give you a lot of insight, they usually do not give you other important information like which country was for or against a proposal. For this, you will need to turn to reporters. Fortunately, the European media landscape has developed positively in recent years. If there is one upside to all the crises that EU has been going through, the increased attention it gets might be it. One excellent source is Politico, which is an American political journalism company with a reputation for high-quality information. The Guardian’s European Union section is in many regards comparable to Politico. Naturally, however, it has a stronger focus on stories that carry particular importance for the UK.
EurActiv is another excellent source that runs more stories than Politico or The Guardian, including rather technical ones. EU Observer is a mix between Politico and Euractiv. The specific outlet you go for does not matter too much. All of them are great and you will hopefully be quickly drawn into the fascinating dynamics behind European decision-making. Finally, let me mention Lexis-Nexis, which is a database supporting full-text searches on various newspapers starting from 1985. Whenever you think your story may not only have drawn ripples in Brussels but shaken national capitals, a database like Nexis can yield a wealth of additional data. This being said, finding information on Nexis can sometimes be daunting because of the breadth of the database. Anyway, just give it a try! Students of the TU Dresden can just click here. If you are studying at another university, check with your library if you have access to this or a similar database.
In cases where you have looked thoroughly for information in other places but just can’t find what you are looking for, you may want to try Europe Direct sponsored by the European Commission. They are best contacted by e-mail and will help you find almost anything. If you are studying an event in the European Union going back 30 years or more, you should also check the following two archival sources. The Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance de l’Europe (CVCE) collects an impressive amount of primary documents on European integration since 1945. The Archive of European Integration (AEI) hosted by the University of Pittsburgh does not have quiet such a sophisticated visual interface. But don’t judge a book by its cover! There is a host of information waiting to be uncovered and those persistent enough to look for it are rewarded with information that is simply unavailable for anyone working on more contemporary episodes of European integration.
Finally, while usually beyond the scope of seminar or even BA or MA theses, interviews with EU officials in Brussels or German officials in Berlin can give you amazing insight into what happens at the European level. You could also try to file a document access request with any of the EU institutions, which can yield extremely valuable information. However, it will take weeks if not months before you get your hands on any documents and therefore, again, I do not consider this a very promising route for students. So just focus on all the resources mentioned above and I am sure you will easily find enough “data” for your purposes. Enjoy the journey!