English Legal System - Sources of EU Legislation (Part 1)

EU Legislation

The legislative process which operates in the Community is very complex with different legislative procedures applicable to different contexts.
It is not possible to identify a single body as the ‘legislature’ for the Community as a whole. The Commission, the Council and the European Parliament all take part in the process of making EU legislation.

All legislation starts as a proposal from the Commission and draft versions of these proposals are put forward as Commission documents published in Official Journal C series. The proposals are considered by the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee or the Committee of the Regions which publish reports or opinions.

Once the consultation process has been completed, the Council adopts the regulation or directive.
The Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty all have influenced the increasing importance of the European Parliament in the legislative process, regardless there are still areas in which the Parliament does not have much or at all involvement. Where the Council consults the Parliament, the Parliament does not have normally power to refuse legislation, only to delay. The Council has a central role in the legislative process and the voting takes the form of three (3) system voting – Unanimity, Simple majority or Qualified majority

Types of EU Legislation

The different types of legislation in the EU are: Treaties, Regulations, Directives and Decisions.


Treaties are the highest source of European Union law. They lay down general aims of the EU as well as give rights and obligations.
The existing treaties are: the three (3) Treaties of Rome which establish the framework for Europe – The European Coal and Steel Community Treaty, The Euratom Treaty and the European Community Treaty, the Single European Act, the Treaty on European Union (The Maastricht Treaty) Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice.

There are then several sources of law which set out in particular detail how the general purposes and objectives identified by these treaties are to be accomplished, consisting of regulations and directives


Article 249 of the EC Treaty (formerly Article 189) states:
“…A regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.”

Regulations are automatically part of domestic law – they are directly applicable.
Member states do not need to take further steps to implement them. They operate both between the individual and the state – vertical direct effect, and as between citizen and citizen – horizontal direct effect

They must be published in the Official Journal and come into force on the date specified in the regulation.
An example of a regulation is Regulation 261/2004, which concerned levels of compensation to be paid to air passengers whose flights were either cancelled or delayed. The fact it was a regulation meant that airlines operating in Europe had to comply, and was directly effective, which meant that individuals could rely on it.


Directives are probably the most common form of EU legislation. The directives are less precisely worded than regulations as their aim is to set out broad objectives, leaving the member states to create their own detailed legislation in order to implement those objectives, and are therefore not being initially directly effective.

It is for the member state to achieve these objectives in a specified time by whatever means they see fit and become only law through national legislation such as an Act of Parliament or a statutory instrument, which ever thought to be more appropriate.

However the case law of the European Community is such that if a member state fails to implement the measures required in the specified time limits and where the provisions of the directive seem to be unconditional and precise, the directives are directly applicable.

A member state is not permitted to rely on upon its own failure to perform the obligations which the particular directive entails, and the provisions of the directive may be relied upon directly by an individual where the member state has not implemented them in the time required.

Marshall v Southampton Area Health Authority [1986] QB 401 (No.1) (C152/84)

Directive is not enforceable against a private individual, and they can be used against governments but not against private parties.
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