This section aims to help you to better understand what makes the EU legislation and get clearer with such terms as 'treaty', 'directive' and 'regulation'.
The EU’s core objective of achieving European unification is based exclusively on the rule of law. EU law is an independent legal system which takes precedence over national legal provisions. A number of key players are involved in the process of implementing, monitoring and further developing this legal system for which a variety of procedures apply. In general, EU law is composed of three different - but interdependent - types of legislation:
Primary legislation includes in particular the Treaties and other agreements having similar status. Primary legislation is agreed by direct negotiation between
Member State governments. These agreements are laid down in the form of Treaties which are then subject to ratification by the national parliaments. The same procedure applies for any subsequent amendments to the Treaties.
The Treaties on the European Union have been revised several times through:
- the Single European Act (1987),
- the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union (1992),
- the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), which entered into force on 1 May 1999.,
- the Treaty of Nice (2001), which entered into force on 1 February 2004.
- the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), which entered into force on 1 December 2009
The Treaties also define the role and responsibilities of EU institutions and bodies involved in decision-making processes and the legislative, executive and juridical procedures which characterise EU law and its implementation.
Secondary legislation is based on the Treaties and implies a variety of procedures defined in different articles thereof. In the framework of the Treaties on the European Union and EU law may take the following forms:
- Regulations which are directly applicable and binding in all EU Member States without the need for any national implementing legislation.
- Directives which bind Member States as to the objectives to be achieved within a certain time-limit while leaving the national authorities the choice of form and means to be used. Directives have to be implemented in national legislation in accordance with the procedures of the individual Member States.
- Decisions which are binding in all their aspects for those to whom they are addressed. Thus, decisions do not require national implementing legislation. A decision may be addressed to any or all Member States, to enterprises or to individuals.
- Recommendations and opinions which are not binding.
Case-law includes judgments of the European Court of Justice [link] in response to referrals from the European Commission, national courts of the Member States or individuals.
These types of legislation comprise the acquis communautaire (the body of EU law).