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 effectively and efficiently. Below I share with you a few resources and thoughts to help you get started on your journey.
The mother of all (primary) sources are the Treaties constituting the European Union. They initially go back to the “Treaty establishing the European Economic Community” (TEEC), which was signed in 1957 and entered into force in 1958. This original Treaty simply goes by “Treaty of Rome” but has been amended through so called “Intergovernmental Conferences” (IGCs; see here) many 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 their own 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, before Lisbon when people referred to the European Union it would have actually been more accurate to speak of the European Community. In academic publications you will often 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 (see below). All of this probably supports misconceptions of the EU as “too complex” for citizens to understand. Nevertheless, much can be learned from simply studying 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. A “reader-friendly” edition of the Treaty can be downloaded here (PDF, 1.2 MB). Note that this version is from 2007 and fails to reflect recent changes (for those recent changes, see p. 1 here [PDF, 3.5 MB]). Anyway, the 2007 version should suffice for most purposes.
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 (for examples of all of the aforementioned, see here). When you have a specific legislative act in front of you, I would encourage you to always begin with reading the recitals. In effect, this will give you some preliminary information with which understanding the act itself will be much easier. In institutional terms, the exact procedure needed to enact EU instruments can vary. Nevertheless, today laws (i.e. binding instruments) are usually adopted in line with the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure” (OLP) set out in Art. 294 TFEU. The procedure begins with a Commission proposal, which needs to survive Qualified Majority Voting (QMV; see here) in the Council and support from a majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). While this makes the formal procedure crystal clear, do not be surprised if you find things to work differently in real life.
EUR-Lex is the most comprehensive database of everything related to EU law and has gradually developed into a one-stop-shop. For example, not only can you find the final versions of laws, by clicking on the “procedure” tab you can retrace the institutional steps beginning with the Commission proposal (formerly, this was included in another database called “PreLex”). Ideally, this will help you understand the different EU institutions’ positions, which is empirically very demanding but often necessary to produce convincing research. Moreover, if you see a “summary” tab this will conveniently give you background information (a good glossary of important 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 to transpose EU goals. 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, under EUR-Lex’s hood is a coding system for classifying all EU output called CELEX. Familiarizing yourself with how CELEX numbers are made up will help you develop a more comprehensive understanding of the EU.
Another major element of the acquis communautaire (which is a French term referring to the entire body of EU law) are international agreements. They are situated somewhere between primary law (the Treaties) and secondary legislation (laws based on the Treaties) but probably lean towards the former. Ever since the Treaty of Rome, the EU had been explicitly conferred powers to conclude international agreements with other states and international organizations. In 1971, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in its famous AETR case developed 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/Commission 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, which are sort of the EU’s embassies, 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 under a rubble of information. 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 even sit through entire Council sessions. The EP has EuroparlTV which produces its own news and offers videos of plenary and committee meetings. The EP material is usually easiest to access on Internet Explorer. Together these sites will give you a real “feel” for how the EU institutions work.
If you are interested in ongoing or very recent developments, you can have a look at the press releases included 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 will need to 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 on a specific piece of legislation or action. The European Council and Council database contains press releases only from from 1 January 2014. Earlier press releases are included, somewhat counterintuitively, in RAPID. The EP’s press releases can be found here. It can also contain informative background notes and fact sheets (e.g. here). Old EP press releases are, again, included in RAPID. In summary, if you look for information before 1 January 2014 check RAPID. For information after 1 January 2014 search through the press release database of each individual institution. For the last 30 days, you may simply check the EU Newsroom.
While not, strictly speaking, press releases let me add three further sources here. The EU Bookshop offers many EU publications that can often be freely downloaded as PDF files. In the “EU explained” section, for example, you can find glossy introductions to the EU. Some publications are more geared towards substance. 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. Sometimes I also like to check the minutes of the Commission meetings (i.e. the College of Commissioners). If you are interested in a more forward-looking notion, you should take a look at the Commission work program. Recent (European) Council meetings can be found here, while the preponderantly important 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 technical information and insight into political communication, they usually do not give you the juicy story behind EU decision (e.g. which country or leader teamed up with whoever else to kill off the proposal of another country or institution). To get this kind of information you will need to turn to reporters. Fortunately, the European media landscape has developed dramatically in recent years. If there is one upside to all the crises that EU has been going through these past years, this might be it. One of the best sources is Politico Europe. Politico is a well known brand in the USA with a reputation for high-quality information and the potential to shake up the Brussels media landscape. Whenever something you are writing about is really salient (e.g. the collapse of the Eurozone or Martians attacking the Charlemagne), Politico is probably the best source you can find. On top, the English is excellent which gives you an opportunity to beef up your language skills as well. The Guardian’s European Union section is in many regards comparable to Politico Europe. Naturally, however, it has a much stronger focus on stories that carry particular importance for the UK.
EurActiv is the media outlet closest to the Brussels bubble. It will have many more stories, also rather technical, than either Politico or the Guardian. Its biggest downside is that the English is sometimes substandard. EU Observer is a mix between Politico and Euractiv. Usually it will report in better English than Euractiv but also cover slightly more mundane aspects of European integration (which are vitally important to someone seriously studying the EU on an academic level) than Politico. Whichever outlet you go for, all of them are great and you will be surprised how quickly you will be drawn into the fascinating dynamics behind European decision-making. There really is no better object of study for students of political science, in my opinion. Finally, let me also mention LexisNexis (or short “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, simply check with your library if you have access to 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, in my experience, 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 definitely 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 look as nice as CVCE. 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 (foreign affairs) 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 you anything between extremely valuable to totally worthless information. At any rate, it will take weeks if not months before you get your hands on any documents (however trivial) and therefore, again, I do not consider this a very promising route for BA or MA students. Just focus on all the resources mentioned above and do not be fooled: this is a lot of information to process! As you will notice, whatever kind of information you will find is usually not terribly detailed, particularly as regards the position (or “preferences”) of the different actors involved. Therefore, I advise my students to formulate rather broader topics. While this will give them a chance to train many important skills of scientific writing, it will also make sure that they are not bogged down by the need to find information that can only be derived through more specialized data gathering techniques.