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6.2 The supremacy of EU law

Whenever there is a conflict between the provisions of EU law and the provisions of the domestic (national) law of a member state, then EU law will prevail. This is a principle which was developed by the ECJ as the relationship between domestic and EU law is not clarified by treaty provisions. This is an important principle, as it ensures the proper functioning of the EU. If an EU member state had the power to annul EU law by adopting new domestic (national) law which was in conflict with the
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6 1 The relationship between EU law and domestic law

It is important to understand the relationship between EU law and the domestic (national) law of the EU member states. This is guided by a number of important principles.

5.4 Summary of Part D

Table 3 summarises the main aspects of Part D.

Table 3 Types of law and their effects

Type of law Effect
Treaties Directly applicable
Regulations Directly applicable

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5.3.4 Recommendations and opinions

These have no binding force and therefore are ineffective as Community law. However, they can have ‘persuasive authority’. If a recommendation or opinion is ignored, it may later be followed up with a stronger legislative initiative, such as a decision or directive.

Activity 4 The EU law-maki
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5.3.3 Decisions

A decision is an individual act emanating from an EU institution and addressing particular individuals, firms or EU member states. It is a legal tool designed to allow the Community institutions to order that a measure be taken in an individual case. The decision therefore, unlike the regulation or directive, is of individual application, and is binding only upon the persons to whom it is addressed.

5.3.2 Directives

A directive is a Community act which ‘shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods’. A directive therefore has to be implemented by each EU member state through its own domestic legislative process. After the enactment of a directive, the EU member states will generally be given a period of time within which to bring their domestic law in line with the obj
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5.3.1 Regulations

A regulation is a Community act, which ‘shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.’ Regulations are directly applicable, which means that once they have become EU law they apply immediately in all EU member states. They do not need implementation by the member states.

Regulations come into force 20 days after their publication in the European Union's official journal, unless otherwise specified.


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5.3 EU secondary legislation

Law made by the EU institutions in exercising the powers conferred on them by the treaties is referred to as secondary legislation. This legislation includes:

  • regulations

  • directives

  • decisions

  • recommendations

  • opinions.

Another EU institution often required to contribute to the EU law-making process is the European Court of Justice. This has two main functions:


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5.2 EU primary legislation

In Part B we learned that the different stages in the development of the EU have been marked by the adoption of intergovernmental documents called ‘treaties’. These are the first source of EU law and contain the founding legal acts. They contain the basic provisions and the majority of EU economic law. The treaties also create the decision- and legal rule-making powers of the EU institutions.

5.1 EU law

The main sources of EU law are:

  • EU primary legislation, represented by the treaties

  • EU secondary legislation, in the form of regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions

  • rulings on cases brought before the European Court of Justice.

EU law is created by the legislative powers with which the EU member states have invested the EU institutions. The law created by EU institutions is al
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4.7 Summary of Part C

Here you have learned about the rule-making mechanisms which characterise the EU and its main constitutive institutions: the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. These institutions complement each other in their legislative functions in order to deliver a body of Community law that applies uniformly and consistently in all the member states.

4.6 The European Court of Justice

The role of the European Court of Justice is to ensure that EC legislation is interpreted and applied consistently in each EU member state. It has the power to settle disputes and impose sanctions. It may also be asked to clarify the meaning of an EU law. Cases may be brought by EU member states, EU institutions, businesses or individuals. The membership of the court has expanded with the growth of the EU itself. The ECJ is composed of one judge for each EU member state. There is no system of
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4.5 The European Parliament

The European Parliament fulfils three main functions:

  • it shares the power to legislate

  • it exercises democratic supervision over all EC institutions

  • it shares authority over the EC budget.

The legislative and supervisory roles are based on the European Parliament's democratic legitimacy. Its members are directly elected every five years by the citizens of the EU member states.

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4.4 The Council of the European Union

The Council represents the interests of the individual member states and is seen as the legislative arm of the EU. It is composed of active representatives of the governments of the member states. Usually, these representatives are the departmental or junior ministers responsible for the matters under consideration at a specific Council meeting. This means that the Council itself, unlike the Commission, has no stable membership. Its membership varies depending upon the issues tabled for discu
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4.3 The European Commission

The European Commission is the political body that represents the EU as a whole. It is politically independent and can propose legislation, policies and programmes of action. It is also responsible for implementing the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

The European Commission is made up of a team of Commissioners (appointed by EU member states) and their support staff. Commissioners are chosen ‘on the grounds of their general competence
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4.2 The European Council

The European Council brings together heads of state and government in order to decide on issues of common interest and overall EU policy and to review progress. In principle the European Council must meet at least twice a year but usually meets four times a year. The meetings are known as Summits. The European Council is the highest level policy-making body of the EU:

The European Council shall provide the Union with t
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4.1 Overview

The institutions of the EU work towards objectives related to the three pillars and the creation of a body of Community law that applies

  • uniformly

  • in all member states.

The institutions having legal rule-making powers include the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission. Finally, there is the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which has the power to settle
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3.6 Summary of Part B

In Part B you have learned that the EU arose from the need for post-war regeneration in the economic and social spheres.

The EU is a comparatively recent political and legal institution. It has developed and grown over the past six decades. This development and growth is marked by a series of intergovernmental treaties which bind the member states together in a close political and legal entity.

The relationship between the EC and the EU

The words ‘European Economic Community’ (EEC), ‘European Community’ (EC) and ‘European Union’ (EU) have already been used in this unit, and many texts and journal and newspaper articles use them interchangeably. It is important that you are clear on their relationship and what they mean. This unit will always refer to the current position as the EU, but what is the relationship between the EC, the EEC and the EU?

As mentioned earlier, the Maastricht Treaty (19
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3.4 How does the EU operate?

The EU operates through institutions created in the treaties. These institutions can have decision-making powers, law-making powers or may act as part of a checking and consultation procedure.

The institutions include:

  1. The European Parliament (represents the people of the EU).

  2. The Council of the European Union (represents the member states of the EU).

  3. The European Commission (represents the interests of the EU).
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