Roger's quick EuroFAQ

Being brief answers to a few questions on European Union issues that have been raised regularly in the Lantra-L translators' mailing list. As such it is mainly intended for terminological rather than political guidance. The definitive sources are of course the EU's own Europa website and the terminology database Eurodicautom.


EU, EC, EEC - which one is it?

The European Union (EU)

Many people assume that the European Union has replaced the European Communities since the ratification of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (aka Treaty on European Union, TEU). This is not actually the case; it has supplemented them. The distinction between the two is somewhat vague, but in essence the Union is a territorial entity, composed of the fifteen Member States, whereas the Communities are administrative bodies. The titles of the institutions vary in accordance with this: the Council of Ministers and the Committee of the Regions are "of the European Union" while the Commission and the Economic and Social Committee are still "of the European Communities" (update: the latter is now in the process of changing its name to the European Economic and Social Committee or EESC).

The European Communities (EC)

There are two of them (EC and Euratom) with slightly different treaty provisions, but for practical purposes they have been one organisation since it was decided in the 1950s and 60s that the same institutions would run the then EEC, Euratom and the ECSC. There is frequently terminological confusion - since they share the initials - between the European Communities (plural), which have been in existence since the 1950s and one of them, ...

The European Community (EC)

(singular) the most important of the three Communities, covering almost everything bar iron and steel production and nuclear energy. This is a new name (used since the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993) for what used to be known as ...

The European Economic Community (EEC)

Established in 1957. The name change took place under the Maastricht Treaty, so EEC is correct usage in references (including many document titles and numbers) predating 1993.

The other Community is the ...

The European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC)

established in 1957; until 2002 there was also the ...

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)

which was officially absorbed entirely into the European Community when its treaty expired.

Note also that "EEC", "EC", "ECSC" and "EURATOM" are used in document reference numbers and (apart from EURATOM) translated into the appropriate language form: "Council Directive 98/999/EC" would be "Directive du Conseil 98/999/CE", etc.

es, fr, it, pt da de en fi nl sv
Same initials in all languages for "European Community" and "... Communities"
"Euratom" or "EURATOM" is more usual in all languages

Where can I get hold of the texts of official documents?

Most current EU legislation - Directives, Regulations, Recommendations and [some] Communications - is now available on the Europa server. In particular you can browse the Eur-Lex database by subject area from or use their own search engine on These links are to the English versions; versions in the other official languages can be reached from them or by replacing /en/ in those URLs with the appropriate two-letter language code. There seem now to be direct links between language versions of every page. As exact forms of titles are not always immediately obvious, I usually search on the document number (usually in the form 99/1234/EC or EEC/1234/71); note that the different language versions use their own native initials for the Community involved. When searching generally, however, bear in mind that the document referred to in one place as "Directive EC/1234/99" may well have a full title like "Council Directive (EC) No 1234/99 regarding ..."

Pre-legislative Commission documents including draft legislation, White and Green Papers and other policy and discussion documents (the sort that have numbers in the form COM (99) 1234) are slightly trickier to find; many current ones are available on Europa as well, but the Commission's own provisional search engine (in English and French) - query_fr for the French, as you'd expect - won't find them by number; I have again often used the reference number for searches, often from a regular web search engine.

What is the European Economic Area (EEA)? Which countries are in it?

The EEA is a more modest free trade zone consisting of the Member States of the EU plus the countries which were members of EFTA, with the exception of Switzerland (where a referendum overturned the ratification of the agreement, but which has most of the same provisions anyway). The non-EU member countries are Norway , Iceland and Liechtenstein; Austria, Sweden and Finland were also in it before they joined the EU.

Which European Court do I mean?

The body which rules on the application of European legislation is the Court of Justice of the European Communities based in Luxembourg. It is frequently confused with the European Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg and not an EU body at all, but actually associated with the Council of Europe. Both tend to be referred to as "the European Court". There is also occasionally confusion with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is a United Nations body, but very little with the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, which monitors EU spending.

Which Council are they talking about?

It could be:

Corrections or suggestions? Let me know

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