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European Union Legal Materials

Legislative Process

Five EU institutions are involved in the legislative process: the Commission , the Council of the European Union , the Parliament , the Committee of the Regions, and the Economic and Social Committee. The Commission, the Council and the Parliament are primarily involved in enacting legislation. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions serve in a consultative role.

The main decision making process in the EU is called Ordinary Legislative Procedure. Ordinary Legislative Procedure takes the place of "Co-decision" which was the main vehicle by which EU decisions were made prior to December 2009 and the Treaty of Lisbon.

The main elements of the procedure include:

  1. Submission of legislative proposal
  2. Adoption of legislative proposal (first or second reading)
  3. Convening of conciliation committee IF no agreement is reached in the second reading
  4. Adoption of legislative act in the third reading

An outline of the ordinary legislative procedure is available on the European Parliament website.

There are five types of EU legislation:

  1. Regulation, a binding legislative act, applicable to all EU countries and requires no further action to have legal effect.
  2. Directive, sets a goal all EU countries must achieve, but the countries may choose the method by which to achieve that goal. 
  3. Decision, binding on those parties to whom they are addressed.
  4. Recommendation, allows institutions to make their views known and suggest actions without imposing legal obligations (not binding).
  5. Opinion, allows institutions to make a statement without imposing any legal obligations. (not binding).

Official Journal of the European Union

The Official Journal (O.J.) of the European Union publishes the text of legislation and other official acts of the European Union. It contains treaties, all types of legislation, working papers, judgments of the European Court of Justice, proposals for legislation, and other official communications between EU institutions. Prior to 2003, this publication was called the Official Journal of the European Communities. Before 1973 when the United Kingdom and Ireland joined the EU, the O.J. was not published in English. Currently, the O.J. is published daily in all the official languages of the EU. To the U.S. researcher, the O.J. is a combination of the Statutes at Large, the U.S. Treaty series, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register and the Congressional Record.

There are 2 series in the Official Journal.

  • Legislation - L Series contains legislative acts (e.g. regulations, directives, decisions), non-legislative acts (e.g. recommendations, guidelines), other acts, Acts adopted before 1 December 2009 under the EC Treaty, the EU Treaty and the Euratom Treaty
  • Communications - C Series contains resolutions, recommendations, opinions, information (e.g. joint declarations, information from EU institutions), preparatory acts, notices and announcements.

You can find more information about the structure of the Official Journal here.

According to EUR-Lex:

Effective 1 July 2013, the electronic edition of the OJ (e-OJ) is authentic and produces legal effects. However – due to an unforeseen and exceptional disruption of the Publications Office's IT systems – for the OJs listed here, it is the paper version that has legal value.

In such cases, the electronic version of the OJ is published on EUR‑Lex for information purposes only.

Resources for the Official Journal

How to find a document when you have a citation to the OJ

A regulation is generally cited by its number, then its year. In contrast, a directive is cited by its year first, then its number.

Example: Council Regulation No. 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, 2001 O.J. (L 12) 1.

This Regulation is in the L Series of the OJ in the 2001 volume containing issue 12 for that year at page 1.

How to find a regulation or directive when you only have the year and number of the document

Example: First Council Directive 77/780 on the coordination of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the taking up and pursuit of the business of credit institutions, 1977 O.J. (L 322) 30.

Assuming you do not have a citation to the Official Journal, but only the year and number, select the "Year" as 1977 and the "Number of the OJ" as 322 on EUR-Lex.

Finding EU documents using CELEX numbers

EUR-Lex is the official database of documents used by EU officials and available to others by subscription. Most documents in EUR-Lex are assigned a CELEX number. Refer to this table and this infographic to build CELEX numbers.

Finding EU legislation by subject

Frequently, you will want to find EU legislation on a particular legal topic. Unlike the federal statutes in the United States, there is no official codification of EU legislation. However, there are several sources that provide subject access to EU law. Searching electronic databases such as Westlaw may be "easier," but a search of print sources frequently is more effective and efficient.

Electronic Databases for EU legislation

Commission Documents

Commission Documents include proposals and recommendations, impact assessments and their summaries, Commission delegated and implementing acts and other types of Commission decisions, as well as minutes and agendas of the weekly College meetings.

COM documents are numbered sequentially each year and are referenced by number and date.

Example: COM(2022)243, COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT Sixth Annual Report on the Facility for Refugees in Turkey

You can search for a document by doing a keyword search, using the fields, or entering the document identifier in the "Reference" tab.

Council Documents

Prior to 1999, Council documents typically were kept confidential. Due to provisions in the Treaty of Amsterdam and a general policy of transparency in EU decision-making, more Council documents are being made public. Since the Treaty of Lisbon went into force in December, 2009, special transparent measures have been followed which can be found in Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). More information on Legislative Transparency can be found on the Council's website.

Register of Council Documents is available online since January 1999. The register is searchable and some documents are available full-text.

Parliamentary Documents and Reports

As part of the legislative process, the European Parliament generates documents such as committee reports and floor debates that are of interest to legal researchers.

Session Documents / Working Documents

Session Documents are divided into three series:

  • A Series contains committee reports which are referred to by document number such as PE DOC A ____.
  • B Series contains motions tabled by MEP's and other material related to plenary sessions of the Parliament.
  • C Series contains Commission proposals for legislation (COM documents referred to above) that are renumbered with European Parliament document numbers.

Status of Legislation

To verify the status of proposed legislation or to learn more about the steps in the enactment of a particular legislative proposal, the following  databases are useful.

National Implementing Legislation

As mentioned earlier, the principal types of EU legislation include regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions. While regulations are directly applicable to member states, directives require legislative action on the part of each member country. National implementing legislation must be enacted to enforce the objective of a directive. In order to determine if national legislation has been enacted in response to EU legislation, the researcher has several aids.