European Union directive

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The legislative acts of the European Union (EU) can have different forms: regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.

A European Union Directive is the collective decision made by the member states, acting through their national Government Ministers in the Council of the European Union and the Parliament. It is customary to group discussions around a specific topic in the Council, allowing the member states to send the Minister which is competent for this area to the meeting.[1] (

The European Commission has the task [2] ( to submit a proposal, which may then be adopted by the Council and, where required, Parliament[3] ( Depending on the policy area one of there are three different legislative procedures apply.



The justification for a directive has to be the needed Harmonisation to reduce market barriers and help to create a European single market. Thru a process of multible Treaties, most policy areas are now being decided under the Codecision procedure.


A directive fixes the objectives to be pursued by the EU member states, but leaves freedom of choice for the ways of obtaining them (maintaining an obligation to achieve the result): "A directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods." (art. 249 ex.189).

How each country puts the directive into effect depends on their legal structure, and may vary. For example, in the UK most directives are brought in via statutory instruments but some directives create such major changes to the law that Parliament passes a separate Act to incorporate the changes.

In areas covered by the EEA Agreement, directives are also binding for Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and are integrated into the EEA Agreement through an EEA Joint Committee decision and subsequently becomes part of the national legislation of the EEA EFTA States. See EFTA for further information.


In practice, with the exception of directives related to the common agricultural policy, the Union 'addresses' directives to all member states, and specifies a date by which the states must have put the directive into effect. (These dates are determined by the Council of Ministers at the time of the main agreement). Individual states often miss these deadlines, and when the deadlines slip badly, the European Commission can and does commence proceedings in the European Court of Justice against the countries involved.

Through its case law, the European Court of Justice has provided guidelines for member state judges on how to deal with cases where directives have not been transposed into national law, or have been transposed incorrectly.

  • When national law has multiple possible interpretations, the judge must choose the interpretation that conforms with EU law. This rule also applies to directives not yet transposed into national law.
  • In cases against the state or any state body, directives have "direct effect". A state that hasn't transposed a directive on time may not invoke this to its own benefit. "Direct effect" only applies to rules that are sufficiently clear.
  • Citizens can sue the state for damages caused because of tardy transposition.
    • Infractions - Where a Member State fails to comply with its obligations under the Treaty for example, by not correctly transposing a directive (or not doing so on time), or by failing to implement it properly. Infraction cases are taken to the European Court of Justice by the Commission for trial if their Reasoned Opinion is not adequately answered.

See also


  1. Template:AnbFor example, a Directive on Health would be agreed by the respective Health Ministers of each member state. This custom is not always respected, in 2005 the proposed Directive on Software Patents was put on the agenda of the meetings scheduled on the topic of Agriculture and Fisheries.
  2. Template:AnbNote therefore that, despite the fantasies of the UK tabloids, the Commission has no powers to create laws unilaterally. There is no "Federal Government" in Brussels.
  3. Template:AnbOr not, as the case may be. In 2004, the Parliament refused to ratify the draft Software Patents directive as presented and heavily amended it. Indeed it is not untypical for a Draft Directive to go through this cycle a number of times before a final version receives ratification.

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