Directive in Europe

Description of Directive

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes directive in the following terms: [1] Directives have come to symbolise the new constitutional order of Europe even more than their legal brethren, Regulations and Decisions. At the summit of this order stands Community law, enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, as amended by subsequent Treaties. Directives are subordinate instruments, in that they must reflect Treaty provisions, but they are endowed with the same supremacy over national law.

Unlike Regulations and Decisions, which once issued pass directly into effect throughout the EU, Directives have first to be enacted nationally before obtaining legal force (although the Francovich case showed that failure to implement a Directive promptly can lead to remedy by the European Court of Justice). Thus member states have flexibility over the form of the legislation, a privilege which some countries use to minimise the impact of Directives, whereas others, most notoriously the UK, seize the opportunity to maximise their impact by ‘goldplating’ them with unnecessary refinements.

While the Common Agricultural Policy is mainly implemented by Regulations, the single market operates through ‘horizontal’ Directives, which set out industry-wide standards, and ‘vertical’ Directives, which specify the minutiae of business processes. A ‘framework’ Directive covers a broad field of policy in which legislation is to be brought in. These Directives are drafted by the Commission, ratified (often unread or after only superficial examination) by theCouncil of Ministers, occasionally amended by the European Parliament and finally passed into domestic law with the barest of scrutiny. The Parliament of Westminster makes more attempt than most national assemblies to vet them, but it is overwhelmed by the volume of documents, including the Statutory Instruments which the British civil service deploys to transpose Directives into law.

It is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the size of the problem, since the official statistics are deficient, partly through under-recording and partly through double counting (see more in this European encyclopedia). A French estimate made in 1993 put the number of European pieces of legislation at over 1,500 per year, 10% more than the volume of French legislation. A later British estimate suggested that in 1995 the Commission issued 2,801 Regulations, 3,025 Decisions and 35 Directives, as well as 600 draft proposals. In 1996 1,832 British Statutory Instruments were registered, of which (if French experience is a guide) some 75% will have been related to Directives and other forms of EU legislation. Many of these were lengthy, complex and brought up either at short notice or when the Houses of Parliament were in recess. A Danish MEP stated in 1997 that by 1996 over 23,000 EU legal acts were officially in force (nearly 9,000 relating to agriculture), although this figure evidently included some superseded Directives. An Economist calculation put the acquis communautaire at some 80,000 pages in 1998, more than twice the length of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

This system, whereby 370 million Europeans receive (or so it is estimated) over half their law from distant middle-ranking bureaucrats, has started to concern more than just sceptics. There is, however, no solution in sight, and the increasing use of Regulations foreseen by the Commission will deprive national governments of even the vestiges of control. (See also Legal instruments.)

Directive and the European Judicial System

Description of Directive provided by the European Union Commission: In Community law a directive is a legislative instrument that is binding on the Member States to whom it is addressed as regards the result to be attained but leaves them free to determine the form and methods. Directives may be adopted under the EC Treaty either by the European Parliament and the Council or by the Council or by the Commission. The Community institutions use Regulations more often than Directives in judicial cooperation in civil matters. Once adopted, Community Directives still have to be transposed by each of the Member States, that is to say they must be implemented by national law.


Popular Topics about European Judicial and European Law

  • European Judicial Network in Criminal Matters
  • Atlas Judicial Europeo (in Spanish)
  • European Judicial Training Network
  • Red Judicial Europea (in Spanish)
  • European Judicial Atlas in Civil Matters
  • European Law Students Association
  • European Law Journal
  • European Law Institute
  • European Law Faculties Association
  • European Law Review
  • European Law Moot Court Competition
  • European Law Firm


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

See Also

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