Regulations are normative acts defined by Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). They have general application, are binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States. The constitutional treaty calls acts similar to Community regulations "European laws". It formally recognises the normative hierarchy between basic regulations and implementing regulations by distinguishing between European laws and "delegated regulations".
Regulations are items of unilateral secondary legislation, i.e. they are adopted solely by the European Union authority. They are referred to in Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which stipulates that "a regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States."
A regulation has general application
It is addressed to abstract categories of persons, not to identified persons. This is what distinguishes it from the decision, defined in Article 288 of the TFEU.
The Court of Justice has indicated that regulations are aimed at general categories of persons but may nevertheless be limited to certain categories of persons. A regulation is still a regulation even when, at the time of the publication of the act, it is possible to determine the number, or even the identity of the persons to whom it applies.
A regulation is binding in its entirety
It is binding in its entirety and so may not be applied incompletely, selectively or partially. It is a legal act binding upon:
- the institutions;
- the Member States;
- the individuals to whom it is addressed.
A Regulation is directly applicable in all the Member States
This means that:
- no measures to incorporate it in national law are required;
- it attributes rights and obligations independently of any national implementing measures. This does not mean that the Member States cannot take implementing measures. They must do so if necessary, in the context of complying with the principle of sincere cooperation, as defined in Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU);
- it may be used as a reference by individuals in their relations with other individuals, with Member States or with the European authorities.
Regulations apply in all the Member States from the day of their entry into force, i.e. 20 days after their publication in the Official Journal. Their legal effects are simultaneously, automatically and uniformly binding in all the national legislations.
The European authorities may also adopt implementing measures: implementing regulations. This type of regulation is defined in Articles 164 and 178 of the TFEU, regarding the implementing regulations of the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Funds.
The validity of implementing regulations as legal acts depends on the "basic regulations". The latter lay down the fundamental rules, while the implementing regulations set out the technical provisions.