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Glossary of summaries

Glossary of summaries


EU law is based on primary legislation and secondary legislation.

Primary legislation is made up of:

  • the EU Treaties, which are binding agreements between EU member countries,
  • the Charter of Fundamental Rights (since the Treaty of Lisbon),
  • general principles established by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Secondary legislation comprises all the acts adopted by the EU institutions which enable the EU to exercise its powers.

International agreements with non-EU countries or with international organisations are an integral part of EU law. These agreements are separate from primary law and secondary legislation and form a sui generis category. According to some judgments of the CJEU, they can have direct effect and their legal force is superior to secondary legislation, which must therefore comply with them.

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009 and the abolition of the former ‘pillar’ structure, the majority of EU policies are subject to the Community method with the exception of the common foreign and security policy. Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) defines the acts that may be adopted and provides that only acts of those types may be adopted:

  • regulations,
  • directives,
  • decisions,
  • recommendations, and
  • opinions.

In the majority of cases, the treaties detail the type of act to use. Exceptionally, Article 296 TFEU permits the institutions to choose the type of act to adopt on a case-by-case basis.

The TFEU also introduces a hierarchy of norms within the secondary legislation. It distinguishes between the following acts.

  • Legislative acts (Article 289 TFEU) are legal acts adopted by an ordinary or special legislative procedure.
  • Delegated acts (Article 290 TFEU) are legally binding acts that enable the European Commission to supplement or amend non-essential parts of EU legislative acts. The European Commission’s power to adopt this type of acts is given by the European Parliament or the Council.
  • Implementing acts (Article 291 TFEU). These acts are generally adopted by the Commission, which implement EU law in certain cases, the Council may also adopt implementing acts.