Skip to main content

European Union Law: Secondary legislation

Subjects: Law

EU secondary legislation: what it is

EU secondary legislation is made by the EU institutions.  The five EU legal instruments specifically provided for in the Treaties are:  Regulations, Directives, Decisions, Recommendations and Opinions.

The binding legal instruments

The binding legal instruments that make up the secondary legislation of the EU are Regulations, Directives and Decisions.  As set out in Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

  • A Regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in
    all Member States.
  • A Directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is
    addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.
  • A Decision shall be binding in its entirety. A Decision which specifies those to whom it is addressed
    shall be binding only on them.

 

The non-binding legal instruments

Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union also provides for non binding legal instruments.

  • Recommendations call upon the party to whom they are addressed to behave in a particular way without placing them under any legal obligation
  • Opinions issued by the EU institutions give assessments of situations or developments in the Union or in the individual Member States. They may also also prepare the way for subsequent, legally binding acts, or be a prerequisite for the institution of proceedings before the Court of Justice

Recommendations and Opinions have moral and political significance, without being legally binding

The three other main forms of actions that shape the EU legal order without having legally binding effect are Resolutions, Declarations and Action programmes.

Finding EU secondary legislation

EU legislation is freely available on EUR-Lex, and this data forms the basis of the content of some of the subscription databases.  The EUR-lex simple search screens offer searches by word, document number, date, OJ reference, CELEX number, and more.

For draft legislation try Prelex, a Commission database for monitoring the decision making process in the EU, or the European Parliament's Legislative Observatory (click the Procedures tab to search).

The Bodleian Library subscribes to legal databases that include coverage of EU primary and secondary legislation, in particular Justis, Lexis®Library and Westlaw.

EU secondary legislation: how to find it

EU legislation is freely available on EUR-Lex, and this data forms the basis of the content of some of the subscription databases.  The EUR-lex simple search screens offer searches by word, document number, date, OJ reference, CELEX number, and more.

For draft legislation try Prelex, a Commission database for monitoring the decision making process in the EU, or the European Parliament's Legislative Observatory (click the Procedures tab to search).

The Bodleian Library subscribes to legal databases that include coverage of EU primary and secondary legislation, in particular Justis, Lexis®Library and Westlaw.

Citation construction

OU students are required to provide a full citation the first time they cite to a piece of EU legislation. The format expected is

legislation type + year/number+ title + Official Journal Legislation series publication details ie [year] OJ L issue #/page

eg Council Regulation (EC) 139/2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings [2004] OJ L24/1

Subsequently, an abbreviated title + unique number form of citation can be used eg EC Merger Regulation 139/2004

CELEX citations

You may encounter a citation in the form of a CELEX number.  This can be used in EUR-Lex to retrieve legislation thanks to a dedicated search screen.