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European Union legal acts

INTRODUCTION

The Treaty of Lisbon makes several changes to the types of European Union legal acts. For the sake of clarification and simplification, it firstly reduces the number of legal instruments available to the European institutions.

In addition, it enables the Commission to adopt a new category of act: delegated acts. It also strengthens the competence of the Commission to adopt implementing acts. These two changes aim at improving the efficiency of European decision-making and the implementation of these decisions.

EU legal acts are legislative or non-legislative acts adopted by the European institutions. Depending on their nature, these acts may have a legally binding effect.

REDUCING THE NUMBER OF LEGAL ACTS

Before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, there were fourteen types of legal act which could be adopted by the European institutions. This multitude of acts was due, in particular, to the old EU pillar structure: each pillar had its own legal instruments.

The Treaty of Lisbon puts an end to this pillar structure. In addition, it introduces a new classification for legal acts. From now on, the European institutions may adopt only five types of act:

According to Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, regulations, directives and decisions are binding acts. However, recommendations and opinions are not legally binding upon those to whom they are addressed.

Moreover, a decision no longer necessarily needs to specify an addressee. It thus has a broader remit and replaces, in particular, all the instruments formerly used in the area of the CFSP.

DELEGATED ACTS

The Treaty of Lisbon creates a new category of legal act: delegated acts. The legislator delegates the power to adopt acts amending non essential elements of a legislative act to the Commission.

For example, delegated acts may specify certain technical details or they may consist of a subsequent amendment to certain elements of a legislative act. The legislator can therefore concentrate on policy direction and objectives without entering into overly technical debates.

However, this delegation of power has strict limits. In effect, only the Commission can be authorised to adopt delegated acts. Furthermore, the legislator sets the conditions under which this delegation may be implemented. Article 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU specifies that the Council and the Parliament may revoke a delegation or limit its duration.

IMPLEMENTING ACTS

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the implementing powers of the Commission. The implementation of European law on Member States’ territories is, as a matter of principle, the responsibility of Member States. However, certain European measures require uniform implementation across the EU. Therefore, in these cases, the Commission is authorised to adopt implementing acts relating to the implementation of such measures.

Until the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, implementing power was held by the Council, which delegated the adoption of implementing acts to the Commission. From now on, Article 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU recognises the competence of principle of the Commission. Therefore, European measures which require uniform implementation in the Member States directly authorise the Commission to adopt implementing acts.

At the same time, the Treaty of Lisbon increases the powers of the Parliament with regard to monitoring the implementing powers of the Commission. The modalities of this monitoring were previously determined by the Council. From now on, these modalities shall be adopted by the ordinary legislative procedure, within which the Parliament is on an equal footing with the Council.

Last updated: 29.06.2010
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