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What are EU directives?

The UK, along with all other member states of the European Union, has passed certain powers to the European Parliament to act jointly with the European Council and European Commission to make regulations, directives and deliver opinions across the European Union.

An EU directive is where a ‘directive’ is given to a particular member state, or all member states in the EU and that member state will be expected to implement that particular directive into law.

This has, of course, led to some criticism in particular member states that they have passed sovereignty to the European Union. The European Union (then called the European Community) has been in existence since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 but the United Kingdom did not join until 1973.

The role of EU directives

In order to describe the role of EU directives it is perhaps best to first look at EU regulations.

A regulation is in effect far more powerful than a directive as it has general application and will be directly binding on all member states.

Regulations are generally applicable because once given by the EU they are automatically deemed to be enshrined in each member state’s law. In other words, when an EU regulation is passed there is no need for the UK to pass legislation as the regulation is automatically incorporated under EC Treaty (Article 249).

The idea behind this is that member states have passed certain powers to the EU to make decisions and so there should be no need for each member state to pass legislation every time a regulation is decided upon. It also removes the possibility of each member state having a slightly different take on the specific regulation and incorporating it slightly differently, whilst the speed of introducing new legislation would also hold up the effectiveness of the new regulation.

Differences between directives and regulations

A directive is very different from a regulation in several ways: firstly, it is not directly applicable and therefore does have to be enshrined into UK law through an Act of Parliament. This allows each member state, and its courts, to interpret or adapt slightly differently from the particular directive.

The reason for this is that a directive is usually used to set out a result to be achieved. The member state is allowed to decide how to reach that result, or how it can best meet that result taking into account its own society, economy and politics and so is able to use different methods. The end result of the directive must, however, still be achieved by those member states addressed by the directive.

The rationale behind EU directives is therefore quite clear: the EU has certain powers and certain aims which it can achieve through a variety of different methods. The use of a directive is to ensure that each member state still produces the result desired by the EU by allowing each member state to get there in its own way.

This is a sensible move which recognises the differences culturally and socially between different countries of the EU. However, given that directives take a lot longer to implement as they must be put into law by the member state, the EU will often use regulations to ensure the legislation is directly applicable and, where appropriate, does not leave room for a different slant on the legislation by different member states. 

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