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DG Interpretation

Regulations and Directives


So that it can play its role as guardian of the Treaties and defender of the general interest the Commission has been given a right of initiative which empowers and requires it to make proposals on the matters contained in the Treaty, either because the Treaty expressly so provides or because the Commission considers it necessary.

This power of initiative is exclusive in respect of Community matters, the principle being that the Council takes decisions only  " on a proposal from the Commission", so that there is a coherent framework for all initiatives.
Under the common foreign and security policy the Commission may make proposals, as may the Member States. On the other hand it has no such right in certain matters relating to justice and home affairs.
The Council and the European Parliament may also ask the Commission to put forward a proposal if they consider it necessary.

The right of initiative is regarded as a basic element in the institutional balance of the Community.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has extended the Commission's right of initiative to the new policies (health and employment), to matters relating to the free movement of persons, and to the third pillar. In the case of the third pillar, the Commission shares the right of initiative with the Member States.

See: Glossaryexternal link


Regulations : They have general application, are binding in their entirety and are directly applicable in all Member States. As ‘Community laws', regulations must be complied with fully by those to whom they are addressed (individuals, Member States, Community Institutions). Regulations apply directly in all the Member States, without requiring a national act to transpose them, on the basis of their publication in the Official Journal of the European Community.

Regulations serve to ensure the uniform application of Community law in all the Member States. At the same time, they prevent the application of national rules the substance of which is incompatible with their own regulatory purpose. National laws, regulations and administrative provisions are permissible only in so far as they are provided for in regulations or are otherwise necessary for their effective implementation. National implementing provisions may not amend or amplify the scope and effectiveness of regulations (Article 5 (10) ECT).

Directives : They are binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to whom they are addressed. However, the national authorities are left the choice of form and methods to achieve their objectives. Directives may be addressed to individual, several or all Member States.

In order to ensure that the objectives laid down in directives become applicable to individual citizens, an act of transposition by national legislators is required, whereby national law is adapted to the objectives laid down in directives. Individual citizens are given rights and bound by the legal act when the directive is incorporated into national law.

Since the Member States are only bound by the objectives laid down in directives, they have some discretion, in transposing them into national law, in taking account of specific national circumstances. Transposition must be effected within the period laid down in a directive. In transposing directives, the Member States must select the national forms which are best suited to ensure the effectiveness of Community law (Article 10 (5) ECT, ‘ effet utile'). Directives must be transposed in the form of binding national legislation which fulfils the requirements of legal security and legal clarity and establishes an actionable legal position for individuals. Legislation which has been adapted to EC directives may not subsequently be amended contrary to the objectives of those directives (blocking effect of directives).

See : European Parliament Fact Sheets 1.2.1. Sources and scope of Community lawexternal link