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Law - EU Law

This guide highlights some resources that can be used for researching the law of the European Union.

Primary Legislation

Treaties constitute the ‘primary legislation’ of the EU and provide the legal basis for the EU. They outline the fundamental features of the EU organization, such as the legislative process and the responsibilities of the key decision-making actors.

When conducting legal research on EU matters, you will likely see references to the following Treaties:

  • Treaty of Paris (1951) (formerly the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community);
  • Treaty of Rome (1957) (officially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community);
  • Single European Act (1986);
  • Maastricht Treaty (1992); Treaty of Amsterdam (1997); Treaty of Nice (2001); Treaty of Lisbon (2007)

See EU Treaties for more treaties and information.

Secondary Legislation

Secondary legislation consists primarily of Regulations, Directives, and Decisions, and is the major source of legislation after treaty law.

  • Regulations are laws passed by the Council of the European Union and are binding on all member countries; they do not require national implementation legislation.
  • Directives are laws also passed by the Council. They are addressed to the member countries and the main purpose of a directive is to align national legislation. They are binding on all member countries as to the result that is to be achieved, but each country is free to choose the method achieving the objectives. This process is often referred to as ‘harmonization’.
  • Decisions are laws passed by either the Commission or Council which are binding on those that are addressed, whether they are companies, individuals or governments.

In general, it is the European Commission that proposes legislation, but it is the Council and the Parliament that pass the laws. The procedures for EU decision-making are laid out in the various EU treaties.