21. Appendix: How to Study European Law  

How to Find (and Read) the EU Treaties

The EU Treaties constitute the primary law of the Union. The formula the ‘EU Treaties’ or simply ‘the Treaties’ commonly refers to two Treaties: the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The ‘Treaties’ are the result of a long ‘chain novel’ of consecutive treaties (see Table 20.1). They started out from three ‘Founding Treaties’ that created the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the European Atomic Energy Community (1957) and the European (Economic) Community (1957). A myriad of subsequent ‘Amendment Treaties’ and ‘Accession Treaties’ gradually changed the textual basis of the three Communities significantly; and this first
treaty base would be complemented by a second treaty base in 1992, when the Maastricht Treaty created the (old) European Union.

To simplify the – very complex – textual foundations of the old European Union and European Communities Treaties, the Member States tried to create a single treaty in the early 2000s. The 2004 Constitutional Treaty was indeed intended to repeal all previous treaties; and it was to merge the European Union with the European Communities. Yet the attempt to ‘recreate’ one Union, with one legal personality, on the basis of one treaty failed; and the Member
States thereafter resorted to yet another ‘Amendment Treaty’: the 2007 Reform Treaty – also called the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite its modest name, the Lisbon Treaty constitutes a radical new ‘chapter’ in the Union’s constitutional chain novel. For while it formally builds on the original ‘Founding Treaties’, it has nonetheless ‘merged’ the old ‘Community’ legal order with the old ‘Union’ legal order into a new ‘Union’ legal order.




Nevertheless, unlike the 2004 Constitutional Treaty, the 2007 Lisbon Treaty has not created a single treaty base for the European Union. Instead, it recognises the existence of two (main) treaties: the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The division into two EU Treaties thereby follows a functional criterion: the Treaty on European Union (TEU) contains the general provisions defining the Union, while the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) contains the specific provisions with regard to the Union institutions and policies. One of the new features of the post-Lisbon era is the possibility of minor treaty amendments instigated by European Council Decisions.

Table 20.3 European Council Decisions Amending the Treaties

In addition to ‘Amendment Treaties’ there are now also ‘Amendment Decisions’ adopted by the European Council (see Table 20.4). The EU Treaties can today be found on the European Union’s

Table 20.4 Structure of the TEU and TFEU

EUR-Lex website: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/collection/eu-law/treaties.html, but there are also a number of solid paper copies such as Blackstone’s EU Treaties & Legislation or my own EU Treaties and Legislation collection. What is the structure of today’s EU Treaties? The structure of the TEU and TFEU is shown in Table 20.4. The (longer) TFEU is divided into ‘Parts’ – ‘Titles’ – ‘Chapters’ – ‘Sections’ –‘Articles’, while the (shorter) TEU only starts with a division into ‘Titles’. The EU Treaties are joined by numerous Protocols and the ‘Charter of Fundamental Rights’. According to Article 51 TEU, Protocols to the Treaties ‘shall form an integral part thereof’; and the best way to make sense of them is to see them as legally binding ‘footnotes’ to a particular article or section of the Treaties.
By contrast, the Charter is ‘external’ to the Treaties; yet it also has ‘the same legal value as the Treaties’.


  1. The European Treaties are the ‘primary law’ but not primary legislation of the Union. For the concept of legislation refers to a unilateral act, whereas the Treaties are multilateral treaties – albeit with constitutional effects once they are ratified by all Member States. Alas, how long will it take Nigel Foster to understand this (see his EU Treaties and Legislation (Oxford University Press, 2017), 1)? To speak of ‘primary legislation’ is to assume that the EU Treaties have been adopted by one author, and even if one sees such an author in the collectivity of the Member States acting as ‘Masters of the Treaties’, it is then impossible to refer to Union (primary) legislation as ‘secondary legislation’. For this is not just inelegant but incorrect. One simply cannot consider the same Member States that have concluded the EU Treaties as the secondary authors of Union legislation. The author of Union legislation is the Union, acting
    today through its Parliament and its Council, and not the Member States. 
  2. Art. IV-437 Constitutional Treaty. This would have simplified matters significantly, see J.-C. Piris, The Lisbon Treaty: A Legal and Political Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 20: ‘Up until 2004, the original 1957 Treaties had been amended and complemented fifteen times. As a result, there were about 2,800 pages of primary law contained in seventeen Treaties or Acts[.]’ 
  3. Art. 6(1) (new) TEU.