European Union Legislation

The primary legislation of the EU is in the treaties themselves. These provide for five kinds of ‘act’.


Most EC legislation is adopted through a process called codecision. This can be quite a complex procedure, but the basic outline is given below. Be careful though – this is a simplified description and there can be many twists and turns on the road, and some steps may happen more or less at the same time. In addition, if all parties agree, the process can be stopped at any point after the European Parliament’s (EP) First Reading and the proposal adopted. Indeed, huge attempts are in practice made to get agreement at first reading stage, which necessitates an informal institutional negotiation called a trilogue.


Once legislation has been agreed, there will often be an ongoing need to update it to account for technical progress/changes, to oversee its implementation and to draw up guidance. This is generally done by the Commission, assisted (or interfered with, depending on your point of view) by a committee made up of representatives of the Member States. This goes by the delightfully uninformative name of comitology and can have significant effects on policy in the UK.

Although these are technical committees, it is important that you understand when the stakes are high – for instance for UK manufacturing and jobs, or for the environment – and you might need to send more senior representatives in order to maximise the chances of a good outcome for the UK. UKRep can provide very helpful assistance and advice if you alert them to the significance of the negotiation.

Martin Stanley

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