The EU is based on a series of treaties. These first established the European Community and the EU, and then made amendments to those founding treaties. These are power-giving treaties which set broad policy goals and establish institutions with the necessary legal powers to implement those goals. These legal powers include the ability to enact legislation which can directly affect all member states and their inhabitants. The EU has legal personality, with the right to sign agreements and international treaties.
Under the principle of supremacy, national courts are required to enforce the treaties that their member states have ratified, and thus the laws enacted under them, even if doing so requires them to ignore conflicting national law, and (within limits) even constitutional provisions.
The direct effect and supremacy doctrines were not explicitly set out the European Treaties but were developed by the Court of Justice itself over the 1960s, apparently under the influence of its then most influential judge, Frenchman Robert Lecourt.
Courts of Justice
The judicial branch of the EU—formally called the Court of Justice of the European Union—consists of two courts: the Court of Justice and the General Court The Court of Justice primarily deals with cases taken by member states, the institutions, and cases referred to it by the courts of member states. Because of the doctrines of direct effect and supremacy, many judgments of the Court of Justice are automatically applicable within the internal legal orders of the member states.
The General Court mainly deals with cases taken by individuals and companies directly before the EU’s courts, and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal adjudicates in disputes between the European Union and its civil service. Decisions from the General Court can be appealed to the Court of Justice but only on a point of law.
The treaties declare that the EU itself is “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities … in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
In 2009, the Lisbon Treaty gave legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The charter is a codified catalogue of fundamental rights against which the EU’s legal acts can be judged. It consolidates many rights which were previously recognised by the Court of Justice and derived from the “constitutional traditions common to the member states.” The Court of Justice has long recognised fundamental rights and has, on occasion, invalidated EU legislation based on its failure to adhere to those fundamental rights.
Signing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a condition for EU membership previously, the EU itself could not accede to the Convention as it is neither a state nor had the competence to accede. The Lisbon Treaty and Protocol 14 to the ECHR have changed this: the former binds the EU to accede to the Convention while the latter formally permits it.
The EU is independent from the Council of Europe and they share purpose and ideas especially on rule of law, human rights and democracy. Further European Convention on Human Rights and European Social Charter, the source of law of Charter of Fundamental Rights are created by Council of Europe. The EU also promoted human rights issues in the wider world. The EU opposes the death penalty and has proposed its worldwide abolition. Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for EU membership.