In this article, you will find the answer to that question along with definitions for conventions and regulations in the context of EU-law.

What is a directive?

Within the context of EU-law, a directive is a legal act that is binding for the member states, if adopted in the respective countries’ parliaments. Hence, directives function as a kind of recommendation to be implemented by the individual countries. Normally, member states are given up to two years to do so, which usually happens via a law or a decree by a minister. National law should be interpreted in accordance with the directive.

The EU’s authority to issue directives is granted by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It states: “A directive is binding with regard for its intended goal for every member state it is directed at, but it leaves the method and means of implementation to the national authorities.” Additionally, directives are used to enforce treaties, the broad agreements that determine the framework for later, more specific legislation.

Previously, it was customary for international rules and laws to function as directives, thereby having to be adopted nationally. Today, in light of the strengthened EU-cooperation, more regulations are used. This makes it easier to create uniform conditions across different states, which increases transparency. At the same time, this also takes criticism into account, that advocates for more national self-determination. This, for example, was a factor that lead to Brexit.

What is the difference between a directive and a regulation?

Contrary to a directive, a regulation does not have to be adopted by the individual member states’ parliaments to be binding. A regulation directly functions as law when adopted.

A good example to illustrate the difference is the Directive: Protection of Personal Data from 1995. It contains a number of advice and recommendations to EU-countries concerning companies’ handling of personal data, which resulted in the Danish Law on Personal Data. In 2018, the well-known General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was adopted, which became valid without being voted on by the individual countries. This guaranteed for unitary rules in all EU-countries and strengthened the EU’s domestic market. For example, it makes it easier for European companies to navigate the rules on agreements, civil liberties and documentation requirements.

The principal difference between directives and regulations is not always that distinct, since the rules can vary in terms of precision.

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