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European Union decisions

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European Union decisions

To exercise the EU’s competence, EU institutions may adopt 5 types of legal acts. A decision is a binding legal act which may either be of general application or may have a specific addressee.

SUMMARY

To exercise the EU’s competence, EU institutions may adopt 5 types of legal acts. A decision is a binding legal act which may either be of general application or may have a specific addressee.

A decision forms part of the EU’s secondary law. It is adopted by the EU institutions in accordance with the founding Treaties.

An act that is binding in its entirety

According to Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) a decision is binding in its entirety. Like a regulation, it cannot be applied incompletely, selectively or partially.

A decision may be a legislative or a non-legislative act.

Decisions are legislative acts when they are adopted jointly by

the European Parliament with the participation of the Council, or

the Council with the participation of the European Parliament under the special legislative procedure.

In other cases, decisions are non-legislative acts. They may be adopted, for example, by the European Council, the Council or the Commission.

Non-legislative decisions may also take the form of delegated and implementing acts.

Decision with a specific addressee

A decision may have one or more addressees (one or several EU countries, one or several companies or individuals). For example, when the Commission’s decision imposed a fine on software giant Microsoft for abuse of its dominant market position, the only company directly concerned was Microsoft.

A decision which specifies to whom it is addressed must be notified to the party concerned, and it takes effect upon such notification. This notification may consist of the sending of a registered letter with acknowledgement. A decision which specifies to whom it is addressed may also be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. However, the publication does not do away with the need for notification, which is the only way to ensure the act is enforceable against the addressee.

Decisions addressed to one or several specific individuals and companies have direct effect (i.e. they can directly create rights and obligations for the addressees, who can invoke them and rely on them before courts).

However, decisions addressed to a specific EU country or EU countries as the addressee(s) may have a direct effect. Whether such decisions have a direct effect, depends on the nature, background and their wording. The Court of Justice of the EU recognises only a ‘vertical’ direct effect of decisions addressed to one or several EU countries. This means that individuals may rely on a decision only against the EU country to which it is addressed (and not against another individual).

Decisions without addressee

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, a decision no longer necessarily specifies to whom it is addressed. In particular, Article 288 of the TFEU clarifies that a decision may specify to whom it is addressed, while its predecessor (Article 249 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community) referred only to a decision specifying to whom it is addressed.

Decisions without specified addressees may be adopted by legislative procedures.

Decisions which do not specify to whom they are addressed and which are not adopted by legislative procedures, are non-legislative acts. Such non-legislative decisions have in particular become the basic legal act in the field of common foreign and security policy (CFSP). According to Article 25 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the EU shall conduct the CFSP by:

defining the general guidelines,

defining actions to be undertaken by the EU,

defining positions to be taken by the EU,

defining arrangements for the implementation of the above actions and positions.

For those purposes and on the basis of the TEU, the European Council and the Council adopt non-legislative decisions (Article 31(1) of the TEU).

Decisions which do not specify to whom they are addressed, irrespective of whether they are legislative or non-legislative acts, must be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. They enter into force on the date specified in them, or if no date is specified, on the 20th day after the day on which they are published.

For more information, see EU law on the European Union’s website.

last update 16.09.2015

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