The primary regulatory bodies in the European Union (EU) are the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission. In general, the European Commission proposes and drafts new regulations for the consideration of and approval by the Parliament and Council:
- European Parliament: Elected by the peoples of the Member States.
- European Council: Representing the governments of the Member States. The Council of Environment Ministers oversees the area of environmental regulations.
- European Commission: The executive and the body having the right to initiate legislation. It is made up of 27 Commissioners, as well as several dozen Directorates-General (DGs) and Services.
The EU was formed in a process of integration between European countries which progressed through several waves of accession, as follows:
- 1951: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands
- 1973: Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom
- 1981: Greece
- 1986: Spain, Portugal
- 1995: Austria, Finland, Sweden
- 2004: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia
- 2007: Bulgaria, Romania
- 2013: Croatia
The main goal of the EU is the progressive integration of Member States’ economic and political systems and the establishment of a single market based on the free movement of goods, people, money, and services. The Member States cede part of their sovereignty under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which empowers the EU institutions to adopt laws.
These laws (regulations, directives, and decisions) take precedence over national law and are binding on national authorities. The EU also issues non-binding instruments, such as recommendations and opinions, as well as rules governing how EU institutions and programs work, etc.
- Regulations are the most direct form of EU law – as soon as they are passed, they have binding legal force throughout every Member State, on a par with national laws. National governments do not have to take action themselves to implement EU regulations. Regulations are passed either jointly by the EU Council and European Parliament, and by the Commission alone.
- Directives are addressed to national authorities, who must then take action to make them part of national law. Directives may concern one or more Member States, or all of them.
- Decisions apply in specific cases only and involve particular authorities or individuals. They can come from the EU Council (sometimes jointly with the European Parliament) or the Commission. They can require authorities and individuals in Member States either do something or stop doing something, and can also confer rights on them.
The EU’s standard decision-making procedure is known as ‘codecision.’ This means that the directly elected European Parliament has to approve EU legislation together with the Council (the governments of the 28 EU countries).