Fahnen der EU-Mitgliedsländer wehen am Eingang zum Europaparlament in Strassburg


M 01.04 From Draft Directive to Law

Laws in the EU

The European Union is based on the principles of intergovernmentalism, that is the cooperation between states on governmental level within an international organisation, and supranationalism. That is to say the EU can pass binding laws for all its member states. It implies that the member states have to give up a certain part of their political self-determination in favour of the Union.

If the EU wants to pass a law, there are two possible ways to do so: Either a regulation or a directive can be determined.

Regulations are laws that are valid for all member states as soon as there are entered into force. They have to be implemented according to the EU’s determination. National laws concerning a particular political field are replaced by an EU regulation if they concern the same field.

An example for this is the General Data Protection Regulation which has to be implemented by the member states since May 2018. The regulation determines how to handle the personal data of the European citizens which are available to companies and public authorities. The regulation determines that all EU citizens may request the deletion of their personal data if there is no reason for companies to store it.

Directives determine an aim which has to be achieved until a certain date. How the member states achieve this aim is their own responsibility. The EU may make recommendations how to get there. These recommendations, however, are not binding. The member states have to pass national laws or adjust existing laws to transpose the directive. The advantage of such a directive is the fact that national differences according legislation can be taken into consideration.

An example is the directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment from 2015. For instance, this directive provides that the use of thin plastic bags needs to be reduced to 90 bags per inhabitant by 2019. A further reduction to only 40 thin plastic bags per inhabitant needs to be achieved by December 2025. National governments can decide individually whether thin plastic bags will be more expensive for consumers or whether they will be banned completely. Thus, the member states may find their own arrangements.