European Law Monitor

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What is aN EU Directive?

An EU Directive is a form of legislation that is "directed" at the Member States. It will set out the objective or policy which needs to be attained. The Member States must then pass the relevant domestic legislation to give effect to the terms of the Directive within a time frame set in the directive, usually two years.

Directives are often used to help enforce the free trade, free movement and competition rules across the EU.   They can also be used to establish common social policies, and thus can affect employment issues, labour law, working conditions, and health and safety. They can therefore they can significantly affect businesses.

For example, directives which directly affect businesses, enacted through domestic legislation in the UK, include:

  • The Working Time Regulations, which implement the Working Time Directive.

  • The Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which implements the Equal Pay Directive.

  • The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which enacts a Directive.

Directives can be used to set minimum EU standards to be applied at national level, but also leave member states free to apply more stringent national measures, provided these do not conflict with free movement and free market rules.

For example, the Waste Water Directive sets out minimum standards for the treatment of water and sewerage, but member states can, and often do, apply higher standards than those minimum requirements set out in the directive.

EU Directives, once adopted and passed into EU law can also have legal force even when not yet enacted in national legislation.