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European Union Law: Institutions and Sources

This guide provides an overview of the structure and lawmaking activities of the EU Institutions as well as resources for EU research.

Types of EU Legislation

Regulations:  These laws are directly applicable and binding on Member States without the need for national implementing legislation.

Directives:  Member States are bound as to the objectives to be achieved within a certain time frame but are left to decide the method and form of implementation.  The passage of national legislation is necessary to implement a directive.

Decisions:  The binding effect of a decision is applicable only to the party to which the decision is directed.  This could be any or all Member States, a corporation or an individual.

Recommendations and Opinions:  These issuances are advisory only and have no binding effect.

   The Law-Making Process

The process for creating law, established in the Treaty of Amsterdam, involves the direct participation of three institutions:  the European Comission (representing the Union as a whole), the European Parliment (representing the European people and directly elected by them) and the Council of the European Union (representing the member nations).  The Commission proposes new legislation.  The Council and Parliment pass the legislation through a procedure call "codecision." 

The major forms of EU legislation are directives and regulations.  Regulations are directly applicable and binding Member States without the need for national implementing legislation.  Directives bind member states as to the objectives to be achieved within a certain time frame but member states are left to decide the method and form of implementation.  The passage of national legislation is necessary to implement a directive. 

Other legal instruments include decisions and opinions. The binding effect of a decision is applicable only to the party to which the decision is directed.  This could be any or all member states, a corporation or an individual.

The lawmaking process begins when the Comission makes a proposal.  The proposal comes in the form of a COM document  which is then submitted to the Council.  Proposals usually contain the reasoning behind a proposal making them a useful research source.  COM documents are sometimes referred to as "legislation in preparation" or "preparatory acts."  Every law must be based on a specific treaty article referred to as the "legal basis" for the proposal.  Each legislative proposal begins with the legal basis for the act.  Proposed and final legislation is published in the Official Journal.  Published daily, the Official Journal is the primary source for EU legislation, public documents and notices.

In some areas such as agriculture, taxation and competition, the Councel will invoke a consultation procedure.  When the Comission proposes new law in these areas, the Council will seek advise from the European Economic Committee and the Committee of the Regions who issue their own reports.

The Court of Justice of the European Communities and the General Court are charged with ensuring the all treaties and legislation are enforced. 

 The EU enacts law that addresses a wide range of policy areas.  Click here for a list of policy areas and a summary of EU activities in those areas.

Preparatory Documents

Commission Proposals:  Often referred to as COM documents, these documents are the way in which the Commission proposes new legislation to the Council.  SEC (a contraction of ‘Secretary General’) is also a Commission working document.  Proposals usually contain the reasoning behind a proposal making them a useful research source. 

COM documents are sometimes referred to as “legislation in preparation” or “preparatory acts.” 

Parliamentary Questions:  Written questions from Parliament members to the Council and Commission are available as well as the responses from the Council or Commission.

Opinions of the Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions:  When these committee are involved in the consultation process, they issue reports that contain the committee opinions and recommendations.