The Historical Evolution Of European Union Shipping Law

Antwerp Port
Vincent J.G. Power | Article

Traditionally, there have been two sources of maritime law: national maritime law and international maritime law. Today, however, there is a third source, namely, European Union (EU) maritime law. EU maritime law is not national maritime law because the EU is not a nation. Nor is it international law because the EU is not simply a network of international treaties but is instead sui generis. This means that EU maritime law is sui generis. The purpose of this Article is to examine aspects of how EU maritime law has evolved historically and to discuss briefly the nature of this growing third force of maritime law in the world. Before examining the evolution of EU maritime law, it is useful to discuss briefly the nature of the EU and to outline some general observations about the EU and shipping.

The EU has evolved from the three European Communities founded in the 1950s: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). The EU is now the most closely integrated international organisation globally. Its twenty-eight Member States have surrendered elements of their sovereignty to the EU in return for such phenomena as an internal market, a social union, an economic and monetary union, and a “new legal order.”

The EU has its own legal regime that evolved from scratch over six decades. EU law operates alongside Member State law, but where both apply, EU law prevails over any conflicting Member State law. The EU began with few legal rules, and everything since has had to be fashioned and shaped by political agreement and legal adjudication.