Guide to legal regulations

EU legal acts

Categorisation by type of legal act

  • Regulations: A regulation is a legal act of general application which is binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all European Union countries. It is a legal act adopted by the Council and Parliament under the ordinary or special legislative procedures.
  • Delegated and implementing regulations: These are legal acts of general application which are binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all EU countries. Delegated and implementing regulations are adopted by the European Commission as non-legislative acts under the power delegated by a legislative act (i.e. a regulation or directive). Delegated regulations specify or complement certain details or aspects of a regulation or directive, while implementing regulations concern procedural elements, i.e. they implement rules already set out in basic legislative acts. This second group includes regulatory and implementing technical standards proposed by one of the ESAs (the EBA, EIOPA, ESMA and ESRB) and adopted by the European Commission in the form of implementing regulations.
  • Directives: A directive is a legislative act that is binding on the Member States  to whom it is addressed. It requires EU countries to achieve a certain result but leaves them free to choose how to do so. EU Member States are obliged to transpose directives into their national legislation.
  • Decisions: A decision is a legal act that is binding in its entirety but only on those to whom it is addressed (e.g. an EU Member State or a firm).
  • Recommendations: A recommendation is not legally binding. A recommendation allows the EU institutions to make their views known and to suggest a line of action without imposing any legal obligation on those to whom it is addressed.
  • Opinions: An opinion is not legally binding. It allows the EU institutions to make a statement in a non-binding fashion, in other words without imposing any legal obligation on those to whom it is addressed. It can be issued by the main institutions (Commission, Council, Parliament), and also by the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, which give opinions on draft laws from their specific regional or economic and social viewpoint.

Categorisation according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)

  • Legal acts under Article 288 of the TFEU (also known as EU secondary law): These comprise the normative legal acts listed in Article 288 of the TFEU, namely regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions. The legislative process for legislative acts (i.e. regulations and directives) involves the participation of the European Parliament and the Council. In the ordinary legislative process, legal acts are proposed by the European Commission and are adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council.
  • Legal acts under Articles 290 and 291 of the TFEU (also known as EU tertiary law): The TFEU also defines them as non-legislative acts. Article 290 of the TFEU defines the method for adopting delegated acts, while Article 291 deals with implementing regulations. In both cases the legislative act (i.e. the regulation or the directive) delegates to the European Commission the power to adopt non-legislative acts of general application to supplement or amend certain non-essential elements of the legislative act.
Note: EU primary law includes the founding treaties, the annexes and protocols to these treaties, and the treaties of accession of new Member States to the EU. Through these treaties, Member States have transferred a certain part of their sovereignty to the EU and thus allowed EU law to be applied alongside national law. At the same time, the Member States have recognised the primacy of EU law over national law.