The European Community (EC) is one of the three pillars of the European Union (EU) created under the Maastricht Treaty (1992). It is based upon the principle of supranationalism and has its origins in the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union. If the Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, the EU's pillar structure will be abolished. This means that the European Community, and the other two pillars, will be merged and cease to exist as separate entities.
See also: History of the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty built upon the Single European Act and the Solemn Declaration on European Union in the creation of the European Union. The treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 and came into force on 1 November 1993. It superseded the European Communities, absorbing it as one of its three pillars. The first Commission President following the creation of the EU was Jacques Delors, who briefly continued his previous EEC tenure before handing over to Jacques Santer in 1994.
The Treaty of Amsterdam transferred responsibility for free movement of persons (e.g. visas, illegal immigration, asylum) from the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) pillar to the European Community (JHA was renamed Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (PJCC) as a result). Both Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice also extended codecision procedure to nearly all policy areas, giving Parliament equal power to the Council in the Community.
In 2002, the Treaty of Paris which established the European Coal and Steel Community (one of the three communities which comprised the European Communities) expired, having reached its 50 year limit (as the first treaty, it was the only one with a limit). It was seen as redundant so no attempt was made to replace it, instead the Treaty of Nice transferred its elements to the Treaty of Rome and hence its work continued as part of the EEC area of the Community's remit.
The EEC institutions became the institutions of the EU but the roles of the institutions between the pillars are different. The Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice are largely cut out of activities in the second and third pillars, with the Council dominating proceedings. This is reflected in the names of the institutions, the Council is formally the "Council of the European Union" while the Commission is formally the "Commission of the European Communities". This allowed the new areas to be based on intergovernmentalism (unanimous agreement between governments) rather than majority voting and independent institutions.
However, since Maastricht, Parliament has gained a much bigger role. Maastricht brought in the codecision procedure, which gives it equal legislative power with the Council on Community matters. Hence, with the greater powers of the supranational institutions and the operation of Qualified Majority Voting in the Council, the Community pillar can be described as a far more federal method of decision making. Indeed, in the draft European Constitution, this was to be called federalism but the wording was changed to "community method" due to the political overtones of the word 'federal' in the United Kingdom.
Under the Treaty of Lisbon the pillar structure would be abolished, merging the Community pillar with the others into a single European Union, over which Community institutions would have greater powers. This would include the legal personality of the Community which would hence be transferred to the Union.This was previously proposed under the European Constitution but that treaty failed ratification in 2005. The Treaty of Lisbon is planned to come into force in 2009, if fully ratified.
The Euratom treaty, unlike that of the ECSC, did not expire and despite proposals to merge that fully into the Union, it will continue to exist as a sole independent entity within the Union.