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EU Legislation: Introduction

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The UK signed the Treaty of Rome 1957 in 1972 and became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC) on 1 January 1973. The EEC has now become the European Union (EU).

International treaties do not automatically become part of the legal system so to avoid Parliament having to legislate to incorporate each piece of EU legislation into English law the European Communities Act 1972 was passed.

European Communities Act 1972

Section 2(1): .. All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly....

Section 2(4): .. any enactment passed or to be passed, other than one contained in this part of this Act, shall be construed and have effect subject to the foregoing provisions of this section; but, except as may be provided by any Act passed after this Act....

Executive and Legislature

Policy is guided by the Brussels based Council of Europe and the European Commission. The Council of Europe is comprised of Ministers from the member States and is often called the Council of Ministers. The European Commission is the central executive, and its members are nominated by the Governments of member States.

EU law is often passed in relation to commercial and consumer law, employment law, freedom of movement and the environment.

The European Parliament, is made up of MEPs, directly elected by residents of the member States. The Parliament can veto legislation in some areas and its role in law making process is gradually increasing.

Primary Legislation

The EU foundational treaties are primary legislation, which is binding on member States and cannot be challenged in national courts or the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Reform Treaty 2007

Also known as the Lisbon Treaty, it renames the EC Treaty (Treaty of Rome 1957) as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Treaty also amends the Treaty on European Union (TEU) which is sometimes known as the Maastricht Treaty.

The UK has ratified the Reform Treaty and this is affirmed by the passing of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008.

Secondary Legislation

Regulations and directives are two types of secondary EU legislation.

  • Regulations

    Regulations are directly applicable, so have legal force in a member State without the need for further specific domestic legislation.

    Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

    Article 288: .. A regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States....

    Previously EC Treaty Article 249.

  • Directives

    Directives are not directly applicable and are implemented in the UK by specific domestic legislation. There is usually a time limit for implementation imposed. Directives are often passed by statutory instrument or an Order in Council. This means as subordinate legislation they are subject to judicial review.

    Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

    Article 288: .. 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....

    Previously EC Treaty Article 249.

    Directives can have direct effect.

    Van Duyn v Home Office [1974]

    Defendant, the Home Office refused the claimant, Miss Van Duyn leave to enter the UK on the grounds of her undesirability. She was a practising Scientologist and a Dutch national.

    Claimant attempted to rely on a directive which allowed free movement of workers in the EU.

    European Court of Justice held that individuals should be able to rely on directives in national courts, otherwise the usefulness of a directive was weakened. The court held that the directive could have direct effect.

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