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date: 18 September 2019

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

It is a truism that the European Union has grown out of (nearly) all recognition since its birth as the European Coal and Steel Community in the early 1950s. The number of Member States has grown from six to 28 (there always seem to be more waiting in the wings) and the substantive scope of the Treaties on which it is founded might now surprise even Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman. At the same time, scholarship on European Union law has become more diverse in style and critical in attitude. The doctrinal works aimed mainly at students and practitioners that once dominated the academic literature have now been joined by theoretical, contextual, and interdisciplinary material. This ‘new wave’ literature is frequently hostile to particular developments or sceptical of the direction in which ‘the project’ is travelling.

All this makes European Union law an ideal subject for an Oxford Handbook. Once of concern principally to specialists, it is now an established part of the curriculum in law schools across the Continent and beyond, and a focus for the scholarly activity of many of those who work in them. The complexity and depth of Union law now approximates that of a developed national system. Indeed, Union law is associated with the evolution of many sectors of modern law in the Member States. Whilst there were national rules on, for example, trade marks, the environment, or asylum prior to the Union, the modern development and systematization of the law in fields such as these has largely been realized or prompted by Union law. Moreover, the variety of Union legal forms and the contingency of Union legal authority have made Union law an important interface between many legal and non-legal academic traditions. The result is that an understanding of the subject is essential, not just for legal practitioners and policy makers, but also for those who study the Union from other disciplinary perspectives.

The striking range of approaches now evident in the literature on Union law reflects the unique theoretical problems it poses. With some of the characteristics of an international legal regime and some of the characteristics of a federation, what is the right level of analysis? Are its concepts to be measured against national legal standards or some other yardstick? What does it mean for certain concepts, such as the separation of powers or sovereignty, to be developed outside a domestic legal paradigm? Are some of its norms, such as those relating to fundamental rights, to be compared with those of international treaties or national legislation (p. vi) or some other source? Questions like these may lead to a rethinking of familiar concepts as the very novelty of the Union legal context challenges traditional assumptions about their meaning and operation. Issues about how law manages conflicts are raised by the very contestedness of Union law, which may give rise to conflicts not just around the content of a given norm but also over whether the Union has authority to enact it and who is responsible for its implementation and enforcement.

The Oxford Handbook of European Union Law comprises 38 chapters divided into eight sections examining how we are to conceptualize Union law; the architecture of Union law; making and administering Union law; the economic constitution and the citizen; regulation of the market place; economic, monetary, and fiscal union; the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice; and what lies beyond the regulatory state. Each chapter summarizes, analyses and reflects on the state of play in a given area, and suggests how it is likely to develop in the foreseeable future. The authors, who come from a range of different backgrounds and adopt a range of academic perspectives, were asked to assume some basic knowledge of the legal framework within which the Union operates and what it seeks to achieve, but not detailed familiarity with the particular area of Union law under discussion. Our hope was that the resulting collection would offer a unique and authoritative guide to the richness of the debates that Union law generates, one that would be widely used both inside and outside academia by those who are interested in the law underpinning the Union and its policies, including advanced students of law and other disciplines, policy makers, and legal practitioners. It is for others to judge how successfully that hope has been realized.

We would like to thank Alex Flach at OUP for first suggesting an Oxford Handbook on European Union Law and his colleague Natasha Flemming for shepherding the collection through to publication. We would also like to thank Jenny Papettas of Birmingham Law School for helping to sub-edit some of the chapters. Our greatest debt, however, is to our authors for agreeing to take part in this venture and tolerating with such magnanimity our occasional reminders and all too frequent requests for items of information we should have asked for before. Chapters were completed between December 2013 and September 2014, though some small changes were incorporated subsequently.

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January 2015