What are the differences between EU decisions, directives and regulations?


The UK is a member of the European Union, which as of 2014 contains 27 member states and aims to create common laws and policies which promote social and economic development across those member states.

The EU produces laws in many areas, including trade and competition, agriculture, social justice, and human rights. The European Union member states also produce policies on security and overseas development and aid.

Types of EU legislation

Visit our EU law pages for more background and detail on how EU laws affect us.

Laws are created in the EU in a number of ways depending on the subject matter and the desired effect. The primary legislation of the EU is contained within its treaties which are agreed between member states and set out the constitutional basis upon which the Union is run.

Secondary legislation is made by the European Commission, Council of Ministers and the Parliament. Its purpose is to achieve the objectives set out within the treaties and to ensure that member states are all operating in a coordinated way.

Secondary legislation takes three forms, decisions, directives and regulations.


Decisions are laws made on specific issues and do not usually bind all member states. They usually affect specific institutions or individuals. Unlike directives, they are fully binding and do not require any national legislation to be enforced.

Although they can be made on almost any subject, decisions are most commonly used to give effect so specific policies, for example, coordinating the price of vegetables or approving the merger of companies.


Directives are require member states to implement EU laws themselves. They are usually relatively broadly drawn, leaving the member state free to apply their own interpretation. This is designed to ensure that the EU does not intrude too much on national sovereignty and that different legal systems are respected.

In a number of cases however, the EU has confirmed that directives can have a direct effect, meaning that they can be enforced even when there is no national legislation.

This will usually be the case where the member state in question either does not comply, or where the laws they make do not successfully achieve the original outcome.

This direct effect is however only vertical, meaning it can only be used in actions against the state and not against other individuals.


Regulations are the most powerful form of EU law. They operate much like national statutes, being binding on all member states as soon as they are approved, and having direct effect both vertically and horizontally. This means that an individual can rely on that law immediately within their own country, both in actions against the state and other individuals.

This is of concern to some Eurosceptics who believe regulations are part of a process of eroding national sovereignty in favour of a European federal state.

As it is binding within the UK, EU legislation can have important consequences for UK businesses and individuals. If you think you may be affected by EU legislation, take legal advice from a specialist solicitor.

Contact Law works with all types of solicitors throughout the UK, including specialists in EU law. Call us on 0800 1777 162 or fill in the web-form opposite to talk to one of our advisors.

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