Your rights under the Environmental Legislation of the EU

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Courtesy of European Environmental Bureau

1. WHAT IS THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION? Three international organisations emerged shortly after the end of the Second World War, namely the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The first of these, the ECSC, was founded in 1951 for a period of 50 years and expired in July 2002; whereas the other two, concluded in Rome on 25th March 1957, are still in force. The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (renamed ‘European Community’ by the Treaty of Maastricht), entered into force on 1st January 1958.

Out of these ‘European Communities’ grew the European Union (EU), which has existed since November1st 1993, the date of entry into force of the Treaty of Maastricht.

The European Union is based upon three pillars: 1) the European Community pillar (embracing the three Communities Treaties); 2) the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSFP); and 3) Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters.What distinguishes the first pillar from the other two is the method of integration followed, which is supranational instead of intergovernmental. In other words, in the areas covered by the first pillar the Member States have ceded their sovereign rights to a greater extent, conferring to the Community institutions the power to act independently and to adopt binding instruments, effective in the national legal orders in the same way as domestic laws (as far as the environment is concerned, practically all provisions are to be found in the EC Treaty). Conversely, in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, the leading role is still played by the Member States. The applicable decision-making process is unanimity (which means that every action at Community level must be agreed by all Member States) and there is no supremacy or direct effect for EU law adopted in these fields.

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