Personal interpretation Marc Sel, last updated 2003-02-04.
EU law - definitions
The European Communities' core objective of achieving European unification is based exclusively on the rule of
law. Community 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 treatiest.
The Treaties establishing the European Communities have been revised several times through:
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 Community law and its
- the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), which entered into force in 1952
- the Treaty of Rome (1957), which entered into force in 1958
- the Single European Act (1987)
- the Treaty on European Union - 'Maastricht Treaty' (1992), which entered into force in 1993
- the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), which entered into force in 1999
- the Treaty of Nice (2001), which entered into force in 2003
- the Treaty 'establishing a constitution for Europe' was signed in 2004 but never ratified
- The Treaty of Lisbon (2007)
Secondary legislation is based on the Treaties and implies a variety of procedures defined in different articles
thereof. In the framework of the Treaties establishing the European Communities, Community law may take the
- 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 and of the European Court of First Instance, for
example, in response to referrals from the Commission, national courts of the Member States or individuals.
These types of legislation comprise the acquis communautaire.