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European Union Research Guide: About EU Legislation

European Union Legislation and Who Makes It

On this page you will find basic descriptions of how various EU institutions factor into the legislative process and of types of legislation.

EU Institutions & Their Roles in the Legislative Process

European Council

  • Highest level of representation, made up of Members' heads of state.
  • Sets EU policy priorities, but does not pass legislation.

European Commission

  • Acts as the “executive” in a Parliamentary system by initiating legislation and submitting proposals to the Council of the European Union. 

Council of the European Union (a.k.a. Council of Ministers)

  • Made up of ministers in various policy areas from each Member State.
  • Acts on Commission proposals, and is the final legislative authority. May request the Commission to propose legislation.

European Parliament

  • Composed of Representatives directly elected by populations of the Member States.
  • Acts as a forum for debate and comment upon proposed legislation.
  • Committees review proposed legislation, and draft a report and opinion for consideration by the plenary.

Economic and Social Committee

  • Composed of members appointed by Member States, representing industry, labor and consumers.
  • May be asked to give an opinion on proposed legislation.

Court of Justice of the European Union (official "Court of Justice" or "Cour de Justice")

  • Supreme court of the European Union in matters of European Union law.
  • Decides cases interpreting legislation.

How EU Bodies Work Together

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union work together in a process called Ordinary Legislative Procedure (f.k.a. "co-decision").

Types of EU Legislation

Primary Legislation

  • The founding Treaties, as amended, and other European Union agreements

Secondary Legislation

  • Regulations
    • Community laws adopted by the Council of Ministers upon a proposal by the Commission. Directly binding on all Member States, with the force and effect of a national statute.
  • Directives
    • Community laws adopted by the Council of Ministers upon a proposal by the Commission.
    • Binding upon Member States to which they are addressed with respect to the results to be achieved; Member States may individually choose methods of implementation.
  • Decisions
    • Community laws, issued by the Commission or Council. Directly binding on those to whom decision addressed.
  • Recommendations
    • Adopted by the Commission or Council.
    • Have no binding force.
  • Opinions
    • Written statements by the Commission, Council or Committees.
    • Have no binding force, but indicate policy.