Monday, 15 June 2009

European Union Legal Materials (Columbia Law School)

Students of politics, law or economics need guidance on how to access material about the European Union as soon as they have to write or present something on their own.

One of the guides on offer is the Columbia Law School’s Arthur W. Diamond Law Library Research Guide: European Union Legal Materials, written by Duncan Alford and updated by Karin Johnsrud (latest update 30 January 2008).

Here are a few comments based on a cursory reading of the Research Guide on the resources:

• Under Brief overview, the words and the acronym for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) are presented in inverted order.
• The pillar structure has evolved, with justice and home affairs (JHA) migrating to the first (Community pillar), with the exception of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which remain within the intergovernmental third pillar.
• Enlargement: There may be better definitions than mine, but since the big EU enlargement 2004 and 2007 I have tended to use the term Central Europe for the new member states (sometimes including historic ‘Mitteleuropa’ Germany and Austria), while leaving Eastern Europe for the countries between the EU and Russia. – But I am glad for comments and reasons.
• The enlargement process needs an update. Fresh information is available on the Commission’s website.
• Euro currency: There are now 16 Eurozone countries, with Slovakia the latest entrant. Sweden has no opt-out, but is de facto outside the Eurozone. I would recommend the web pages of the European Central Bank (ECB) for information to the general public (brochures etc.) and for serious information about the euro area.
• Constitution: The guide is in need of an update for the time since the ratification processes of the Constitutional Treaty petered out. This includes the 2007 intergovernmental conference, the December 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, the consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty (May 2008) and the state of the ratification processes.
• European Council and Council: Although the European Council (heads of state and government) would formally become an EU institution through the Treaty of Lisbon, it would be natural to admit its leadership role and treat it in tandem with the Council of the European Union.
• European Parliament: The EP has 736 directly elected members under the modified Treaty of Nice, still in force. The latest elections were held on 4 to 7 June 2009. The EP has powers to amend (not only approve; co-decision) legislative proposals, and if the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, these powers would increase.
• European Council: See above. Heads of state (in practice Presidents, since Kings or Queens are nominal heads of state) or government (Prime Ministers) currently meet four times each year, but extraordinary meetings can be convened.
• European Court of Justice: The Civil Service Tribunal could be mentioned for staff cases.
• Committee of the Regions, Economic and Social Committee: The current membership is 344.
• Treaties: The most convenient link would be to the Treaties web page of Eur-Lex, with the consolidated version (2006) of the current treaties, including an Annex with the modifications through the 2007 accession of Bulgaria and Romania; the consolidated version of the Treaty of Lisbon (May 2008) as well as a selection of earlier treaties and accession treaties. – Generally, the improved Eur-Lex portal could be underlined as the primary source for EU law.
• Pre-Lex and the legislative Observatory could have been highlighted more as primary tools for following legislative procedures.
• The Eur-Lex Preparatory acts and the new Directory of Community legislation in preparation are worth mentioning.
• MEPs: The number of MEPs is 736, but grows if the Lisbon Treaty enters into force.
• Languages: Irish (Gaelic) has been added.


I scanned the contents and tested some of the links on offer, without rigorous checking.

The Columbia Research Guide: European Union Legal Materials is still a useful tool for the budding researcher, but an update of the contents and the links would be in order.

Personally, I would structure the materials around the general Europa portal and the legal Eur-Lex portal (starting from the index page). [I did not look into the print resources, the library’s collections or the commercial databases.]

Ralf Grahn