EU law is divided into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ legislation. The treaties (primary legislation) are the basis or ground rules for all EU action.
Secondary legislation – which includes regulations, directives and decisions – are derived from the principles and objectives set out in the treaties.
The European Union is a unique economic and political union between 28 European countries that together cover much of the continent.
The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries that trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict.
The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Since then, a huge single market has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential.
Human rights and equality
One of the EU’s main goals is to promote human rights both internally and around the world. Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights: these are the core values of the EU. Since the Lisbon Treaty’s entry in force in 2009, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights brings all these rights together in a single document. The EU’s institutions are legally bound to uphold them, as are EU governments whenever they apply EU law.
Transparent and democratic institutions
The enlarged EU remains focused on making its governing institutions more transparent and democratic. More powers have been given to the directly elected European Parliament, while national parliaments play a greater role, working alongside the European institutions. In turn, European citizens have an ever-increasing number of channels for taking part in the political process.