A treaty is a contract between nations. Treaties are recognise
d as an important part of international law. Treaties are also referred to as exchanges of letters, protocols, international agreements, conventions, or pacts. As mentioned before, treaties are an integral part of the EU. They provide the authority for any action taken by the EU, as they have been approved by all EU member countries. A treaty, at its core, is an agreement between EU Member States. Treaties set out objectives, rules for institutions within the EU, and determine relationships between EU member countries. They may also be amended to continue being equal and modern—this helps the EU to become more efficient and ready to welcome more members into the fold.
The most prominent EU treaties include:
- The Merger (or Brussels) Treaty
- The Single European Act
- The Treaties of Rome: ECC and EURATOM
- The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community
- The Treaty of Amsterdam
- The Treaty of Lisbon
- The Treaty of Nice
- The Treaty on the European Union (or the Maastricht Treaty)
A regulation is a binding law or rule, established by an authority to regulate conduct. Regulations are applied across the entire EU. A number of regulations are used in the EU to control and maintain trade arrangements and standards.
A directive is a goal, decided by the EU, which all member countries must achieve. The way in which they go about achieving the goal, however, is up to each individual state. For a directive to take effect at national level, EU countries must adopt a law to incorporate it into national legislation. This national measure must achieve the objectives set by the directive. National authorities must communicate these measures to the European Commission.16An example of an EU directive is the directive for consumer protection. The central body determines the contents and criteria of the directive and the member states can determine how to achieve the directive. The directive may relate to hidden charges on goods. Member countries then need to act with internal legislation and enforcement to remove hidden charges. EU countries have some room to manoeuvre in this process, so that they may consider specific national characteristics.17 Incorporation of a directive into national law must occur by the deadline set when the directive is adopted (generally within 2 years).
EU Fundamental Laws and Freedoms
One of the remarkable EU features is the way that it has acted to improve personal freedoms and human rights.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) is a document of the EU which is frequently updated in light of changing social conditions. The Charter contains sections entitled “Dignity”, “Solidarity”, “Freedoms”, “Equality”, “Citizens’ Rights” and “Justice”, and “General Provisions”.
Some of the noted laws provided by the Charter are the prohibition of slavery, human cloning and the death penalty. The Charter also supports personal freedoms such as privacy and freedom of thought on matters of religion, language, assembly, and asylum.
The Charter clarifies the various rights and freedoms provided by precedent of the Court of Justice of the EU (‘CJEU’), namely the CJEU’s case law; the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) and associated rights; as well as other rights that are provided through international instruments and constitutional commonalities between the EU member states.
The Charter is a very up-to-date document. It has provisions for what are known as “third generation” fundamental rights, which include guarantees on bioethics; data protection; and transparent administration. Furthermore, it operates within the bounds of the principles of solidarity and proportionality. The implication is that its provisions, such as the prohibition of discrimination, are relevant to EU institutions. Member states still retain freedom to develop their own specific internal regulatory regimes.