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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: December 2009

2 - Historical, legal and institutional contexts


Introduction: what is the European Union?

The question this book sets out to answer is: “how – to what extent and in what ways -does EU law affect health law and policy?” Chapter 1 offered an indication of what we (and others) mean by “health law and policy”. This chapter turns to the other part of the question: EU law. It is obviously impossible to develop an understanding of the impacts of EU law on health law and policy without a contextualised understanding of the legal system of the EU. We hope that this book will be of interest to a diverse group of readers, many of whom may have no background in EU law. This chapter therefore provides an introduction to the EU's legal order, its general principles and its institutions. The aim is to provide a framework within which the more detailed analyses offered by subsequent chapters may be placed. This framework provides historical context; it also aims to elucidate the legal structures and institutional mechanisms of the EU.

The legal order of the EU is unique. It differs from both the national legal systems of its component Member States and from traditional international law. It is also a legal order with a clearly articulated dominant purpose: that of “integration” of the markets, economies, and (ultimately) related policies of its Member States.

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