Lawmaking in the European Union
Jan 20, 2010 QuickCounsel Download PDF
The European Union (“EU”) is an economic and political union of 27 member states, located in Europe. Established in 1993, it is an outgrowth of earlier unions such as the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the Schengen Agreement.
All member states are indivisibly sovereign and of equal value. Certain powers are delegated by each member to EU institutions in return for representation within those institutions, which are empowered to make laws.
The European Commission, which is located in Brussels, is the permanent executive body responsible for implementing the various treaties that form the EU. It formulates policy and initiates legislation. The Commission also has the authority to bring breaches of the treaties before the European Court of Justice.
Council of the EU
The Commission transmits legislative proposals to the Council of the European Union, which is also in Brussels. The Council, which is made up of ministers from each member country, is the most powerful institution in the EU and the major decision-making body. As such it decides on important community policies and has the power to adopt rules. The official acts of the Council include regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.
The European Parliament consist of 736 members, elected by the individuals from the 27 member states. It plays an integral role in the development of legislation. The parliament also shares its duties involving the annual budget for the European Union.
A directive is a legislative act of the EU that requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. Member States are free to choose the means, methods and procedures that will result in the achievement of the goal determined by the directive. The EU monitors and reports on actions that are taken by Member States to enact new national laws or amend existing laws to achieve an EU-dictated result. If the respective law of a single Member State of the EU is different from others, it would cause problems for citizens and not contribute to the establishment of internal free movement of goods, services and people. Member States are given timetables for the implementation of the directives.
It is important for a company to investigate the status of a directive in any particular country where it wishes to operate. For, while members of the European Union have worked to create a single, harmonized pan-European internal market, a seeming paradox has arisen: The more “harmonizing” legislation that is passed at the EU level, the more important divergent national laws become.
For example, Directive (2002/96/EC) on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of such equipment, and is therefore important for companies that manufacture or distribute electrical or electronic equipment in Europe. However, while the member states were supposed to have implementing legislation in place by August of 2004, not all countries did, including the UK which did not implement the directive until January of 2007. Once implemented, one finds that there are disparate registration, “take back” requirements and fees among the member states. This type of national disparity can make compliance cumbersome and costly.
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