by August Reinisch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 268pp. Hardback £45.00/$80.00. ISBN: 9780521513944. Paper £15.99/$29.99. ISBN: 9780521730280. eBook $24.00. ISBN: 9780511577437.

Reviewed by Robert Zbiral, Department of Political Science and European Studies, Law Faculty of Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Email: robert.zbiral [at]


The law of the European Union has in recent decades transformed, at least in Europe, from a topic known only to fairy-tale afficionados (to paraphrase Stein 1981) to one of the most pulsating areas of research. The amount of available literature is staggering and extends from introductory texts to the most sophisticated theoretical pieces. This startling development might be explained not only by ever growing impact of EU law on national legal systems of Member States, but also by the fact that this subject remains probably the sole common topic in an otherwise still fragmented European legal sphere. Let’s provide an example. If you wish to study EU Law in the Czech Republic, there is a selection of five relevant textbooks; the same situation exists in other Member States, and in major countries such as Germany or the United Kingdom the number reaches double digits. All in all, there are in my view more than one hundred textbooks on the same topic: what other legal field comes close to that?

The previous exercise on textbooks is performed for reason. I am not a native speaker so it is hard to judge, but I find the title of the reviewed book slightly misleading. At first sight, I thought ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS IN EU LAW would deal with some deep, inherent issues related to EU law. Quick consultation of CUP’s website however revealed that the book is an introductory textbook. To my knowledge Law and Politics Book Review has had little tradition in reviewing this kind of literature, yet given the many books on this topic I hope readers looking for an introductory text for their clases or themselves could enjoy an evaluation of this book.

Any prospective author of EU textbook faces the abovementioned hurdle of overcrowded market. Craig and De Búrca (2008), Lenaerts and Van Nuffel (2005), Chalmers et al. (2006) or Arnull et al. (2006) all provide first-rate and exhausting cover of EU law in English, so any new competition may seem unwarranted; on the other hand, these books might be formidable for beginners or students of non-legal background. Reinisch smartly decided to target these noticeable groups and in order to help them understand the challenging issues, he structured the text inquestion and answer format (thus the book’s title). Generally speaking, I have my doubts about these “innovative” approaches, because students learn a little bit, one dimensionally, and the poor examiner has to listen or read the same answers all and again. [*334]

The questions and answers are grouped into 11 chapters within a traditional outline, which starts with the history of European integration and continues through institutions, legislative process, effects of EU law, judicial control, fundamental rights protection, free movement of goods and persons, competition law (similar to antitrust), and EU policies to role of the EU on international stage. Overall there are approximately 150 questions and answers, each set running from half to two pages. For ease of use the introductory text exploits instruments such as heavy cross-referencing and bold print. While “ease of use” is given for lack of footnotes or references, I think no one would be harmed by at least one page of further reading accompanying each chapter.

Reinisch himself admits that “being brief on EU law is . . . like squaring the circle” (p.ix), and one must call this assessment an understatement. It is next to impossible, and as a result all “standard” textbooks cited above exceed thousand pages. When one has hardly a quarter of that space available, he or she must consider wisely what to include and in what detail. The selection is of course affected by author’s background and preferences and therefore is obviously subjective. Still, in my view the compromises made by Reinisch have certain drawbacks. First relates to content. Selected important parts of EU law are simply left out, the prime example being the nowadays central sector of Justice and Home Affairs. Similarly, students would search in vain for topics such as Monetary Union (is euro already dead?), EU influence on taxation, or probably the most important legislation adopted in last decade, the REACH regulation. Not that the space precluded their inclusion: namely parts dealing with competition law (38 pages) and discrimination (11 pages) are incomparably detailed to their significance and to the rest of the book. A second objection concerns the time factor. It is understandable to base the text on the Nice Treaty, valid at the time of writing, because the fate of Lisbon Treaty was uncertain. Less understandable, however, are occasional forecasts of de lege ferenda based on the Constitutional Treaty. Even without the advantage of hindsight, why refer to an already buried document if the subsequent one was still kicking and more likely to become binding?

In order to overcome the hurdle of too much material for too little space, an author has to write clearly and succinctly. Reinisch definitely has this gift and if he allows himself more space, then he shows how to explain complex issues in a brilliantly comprehensive fashion (e.g., horizontal direct effect, pp.58-60). If the space is not available, the text sometimes turns into telephone book of numerous facts with little “flesh” on them (e.g. p.92). It is important to note that while Reinisch specifically mentions non-lawyers as a target group of this book, his construction of the text as well as style remain predominantly legalistic. The bulk of argumentation revolves around the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice and consists of explanations of selected judgments. This is indeed a traditional approach, but I sometimes wonder if it could not be more helpful to concentrate on the impact of those judgments in real-life situations instead of those ever present lists of parties and historic issues in fact. Alas, Reinisch prefers law in [*335] books to law in action. I am always surprised when someone dedicates so many pages to a description of the arcane system of Qualified Majority Voting in the Council without mentioning that 80 % of legislation is adopted by consensus and that no proposal has ever been rejected in a vote (see e.g. Heisenberg 2005). The same could be said about the co-decision procedure, where the informal bargaining between the Council and European Parliament follows Treaty articles only very loosely. For students of disciplines other than law this knowledge might be even more useful, not to say it makes otherwise quite boring facts livelier.

In the end, let me turn back to “novel” structure of the book. I honestly found the question and answer format rather purposeless. Perhaps Reinisch himself realized its limitations, because in the end students could easily read the chapters as a classic text, which logically develops and where later parts build on the previous ones. In fact, the majority of questions resemble more headings of (sub)sections than invitations to debate. And that (maybe unintentional) classical feel helps the book to move from prearranged exam instrument to good introductory text on EU law. The criticism expressed above must be perceived in light of the also mentioned inherent and objective impediments of the task. For those who are interested in EU law and yet unable or unwilling to undergo the ordeal of full-size textbooks, Reinisch’s ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS IN EU LAW is an essential first choice. I guarantee they will know much more about the topic than before.

Arnull, Anthony et al. 2006. EUROPEAN UNION LAW. 5th edition. London: Sweet and Maxwell.

Chalmers, Damian, Christos Hadjiemmanuil, Giorgio Monti, Adam Tomkins. 2008. EUROPEAN UNION LAW. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Craig, Paul and Gráinne de Búrca. 2008. EU LAW: TEXT, CASES, AND MATERIALS. 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heisenberg, Dorothee. “The Institution of Consensus in the European Union: Formal Versus Informal Decision-Making in the Council.” 44 EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL RESEARCH: 65-90.

Lenaerts, Koen and Piet Van Nuffel. 2004. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF THE EUROPEAN UNION. 2nd edition. London: Sweet and Maxwell.

Stein, Eric. 1981. “Lawyers, Judges, and the Making of a Transnational Constitution.” 75 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW: 1-27.

© Copyright 2010 by the author, Robert Zbiral.