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A directive is a legislative act of the European Union, which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. It can be distinguished from regulations which are self-executing and do not require any implementing measures. Directives normally leave member states with a certain amount of leeway as to the exact rules to be adopted. Directives can be adopted by means of a variety of legislative procedures depending on their subject matter.

Legal basis

The legal basis for the enactment of directives is article 249 of the Treaty establishing the European Community and, as such, directives only apply within the European Community pillar of the European Union.

Article 249
In order to carry out their task and in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, the European Parliament acting jointly with the Council, the Council and the Commission shall make regulations and issue directives, take decisions, make recommendations or deliver opinions.

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 upon those to whom it is addressed.

Recommendations and opinions shall have no binding force.

The Council can delegate legislative authority to the Commission and, depending on the area and the appropriate legislative procedure,both institutions can make laws. There are Council regulations and Commission regulations. Article 249 does not clearly distinguish between legislative acts and administrative acts, as is normally done in national legal systems.

Legal effect

Directives are only binding on the member states to whom they are addressed, which can be just one member state or a group of them. In practice however, with the exception of directives related to the Common Agricultural Policy, directives are addressed to all member states.


When adopted, directives give member states a timetable for the implementation of the intended outcome. Occasionally the laws of a member state may already comply with this outcome and the state involved would only be required to keep their laws in place. But more commonly member states are required to make changes to their laws — commonly referred to as transposition — in order for the directive to be implemented correctly. If a member state fails to pass the required national legislation, or if the national legislation does not adequately comply with the requirements of the directive, the European Commissionmarker may initiate legal action against the member state in the European Court of Justice. This may also happen when a member state has transposed a directive in theory but has failed to abide by its provisions in practice. On 1 May 2008 1,298 such cases open before the Court.

Direct effect

Notwithstanding the fact that directives were not originally thought to be binding before they were implemented by member states, the European Court of Justice developed the doctrine of direct effect where unimplemented or badly implemented directives can actually have direct legal force. And in Francovich v. Italy the court found that member states could be liable to pay damages to individuals and companies who had been adversely affected by the non-implementation of a directive.

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