With the upcoming elections for the European Union, there are claims that most local laws are dictated by the European union these days.

Picture of UKIP banner Image source: Buzzfeed

It has always been my understanding that the EU issues directives and it is up to the individuals parliaments of the member states to implement these into laws. Personally I don't see any undemocratic issue with the working of the European Parliament (EP) and its interaction with local parliaments. Although I consider these claims mostly pre-election rhetoric, the claims voiced are quite numerous.

So I am just wondering if the EP impose new laws on member states without any opposition from the local parliaments? If this is so, did they do that on the majority of local laws?

  • The headline says "Up to half of British laws...". The amount could be zero and the headline would still be correct.
    – billpg
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 9:51
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    Also, discussing the fraction of laws that come from this or that source is a meaningless way of measuring their overall effect on public policy. If 1000 laws were passed, and 999 of them were made in Brussels and dealt with cooking standards for Brussels sprouts, and the remaining 1 was made in London and ordered all citizens of Wales to be shot, would it still be reasonable to conclude that Brussels had the most impact on the legal environment in the UK? Commented Apr 26, 2014 at 19:44
  • Yesterday Czech newspaper DNES ran a story about this, quoting several sources including a member of EU parliament and former member of Czech parliament (unfortunately I can't find it on their web, so just comment instead of answer). The wording is however so that EU initiates 75-80% of laws (talking about major laws that need parliament approval only). The directives usually leave a lot of leeway for local parliaments and the screw-ups are more often problem of the implementation than the directive itself, support for renewable resources being probably the most significant case.
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 14:50

5 Answers 5


Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends on definitions but on most sensible definitions still no.

I'm summarising the excellent analysis by UK fact checkers Full Fact as presented here. This analysis primarily relates to the UK (where the debate about EU influence is probably more contentious than anywhere else) but the key issues apply in other countries as well.

The core problem in getting to any meaningful answer is how and what counts as a law. If we just count acts of parliament then major bills (like the 500 page Health and Social Care act which completely reformed the NHS) count equally with the three page act clarifying the rules on VAT fraud.

But acts of parliament are not the only things that count as law:

The figures depend on which UK law is included in the calculation, and the extent of ‘EU influence’ that we look at. There is no single interpretation of UK law, it can include: Acts put in place by the UK Parliament; rules and regulations drawn up by Ministers; and regulations produced by the EU which apply here in the UK.

Because of this:

The House of Commons Library warned that “there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU.”

Full Fact used the House of Commons Library analysis to produce three estimates in decreasing order of significance and impact:

1: Acts put in place by UK Parliament with EU influence – accounts for 10-14%

2: Regulations influenced by or related to the EU – accounts for 9-14%

3: EU regulations and regulations influenced by or related to the EU – accounts for 53%

But they also warn that the broader the definition, the less relevant to any estimate of real EU influence is (my emphasis):

Aside from problems of definition, these calculations are based on a search of national law databases and the EU’s EUR-Lex database and therefore have immediate problems in terms of how robust the search terms were and whether all ‘laws’ were inputted to the database. Incorporating or excluding EU regulations – some of which relate to things such as olive growing regulations and therefore will not directly impact on the UK – are likely to either overestimate EU influence or underestimate it. Counting these things alone does not tell us enough about where the power lies.

So, even on the most relaxed definition, the numbers are far short of claims from EU critics that >75% of our laws are written in Brussels.

On a stricter, more natural interpretation the ratio could be <15%.

It is also worth noting that similar problems apply to calculations in other (less EU skeptical) countries:

There has also been a figure of 85% floated, which seems to originate back to a calculation made in relation to Germany, based on figures provided in the German parliament in 2005. Aside from issues with the calculation itself (which has similar problems to the ones we discuss here), Germany is a federal country whose individual states have significant law-making powers that are not taken account of in calculating the 85%. This makes it very hard to relate the figure to the UK.

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    "where the debate about EU influence is probably more contentious than anywhere else" - I think Greece and Ukraine gotcha beat there.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 12:35
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    @mxyzplk Maybe. But Ukraine isn't in the EU and even Greece is still in the Euro zone not just the EU unlike the UK. and the UK debate is about whether the country stays in the EU.
    – matt_black
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 12:59
  • The poster says 'laws made in Brussels', and your 2 + 3 = 62 - 67%. That's not 75%, but it's not 'far short'.
    – Benjol
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 12:16
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    @Benjol The numbers don't add. The broadest definition of law gives the highest number which already includes the narrowest definition. Mind you, that might be how UKIP does maths.
    – matt_black
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 12:34

No. The 75% claim that UKIP and other sceptics band around is based on a widely debunked German report that claimed 86% of German laws came from the EU. UKIP figured that because the UK wasn't in the Euro zone they would subtract 11%, with no justification for that figure, and arrive at 75%.

The real figure is probably closer to 15%, but as matt_black pointed out it depends how you calculate it. Most of the higher estimates include UK legislation that is compliant with EU rules, rather then being the result of it. For example, back in the 90s there was the classic "straight bananas" nonsense story about the EU. In actual fact the rules on banana ripeness and quality didn't change at all; the UK had already agreed the same limits with banana producing countries many years before.

Additionally the EU can't force laws on anyway. It can only ask member states to pass laws that come into compliance with the rules it decides on, and try to punish them for not doing so. There is considerable leeway allowed when implementing EU rules in a country's local laws. For example, EU rules require a 2 year warranty on all electrical items, but in the UK we go much further by requiring that products last "a reasonable length of time" (Sale of Goods Act), which for something like a computer or washing machine is typically 6 years.

Update: The BBC covered this topic recently on the Radio 4 programme More or Less, which you may be able to listen to on iPlayer. The 75% claim is apparently based on something a Germany MEP said. He indicated that 75% of EU laws were created by the European Parliament, i.e. directly elected officials from member states. UKIP mis-interpreted that to mean 75% of member state's laws, but that is categorically not what he said. His point was merely that the EU was getting more democratic (this was around 5 years ago).

So at best it seems UKIP is confused.

Direct link to MP3 of BBC programme: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/moreorless/moreorless_20140502-1700c.mp3

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    Please provide some references to support your claims.
    – Jamiec
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 15:35
  • 'the EU can't force laws ... try to punish them for not doing so'. By that definition, the police can't force laws on individuals either...
    – Benjol
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 12:18
  • An earlier check with the same infer as the More or Less Program is at blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/… and another article referencing House of Commons Library figures. These figures are parliament.uk/briefing-papers/RP10-62/… and say the counties from 15% to 50% depending on how you count it
    – mmmmmm
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 23:00

Regarding your first question: Yes, in certain areas the European Union can impose laws on member states without requiring the consent of the local parliaments. The relevant part is Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (emphasis mine).

To exercise the Union's competences, the institutions shall adopt regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.

A regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.

A directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods.


Your understanding about directives is correct: They need to be put into law by the member states. Regulations, on the other hand, are applicable without requiring the consent of the national legislative bodies.

Regarding your second question: That depends on how you count them. EUR-Lex search reports that 663 regulations came into force in 2013¹, which might or might not be a lot, depending on how many laws are passed by your national legislation (and how you count them). As others have said, a purely numerical comparison is probably not useful without comparing the importance and impact of the individual laws.

¹ Domain: EU law and related documents, Subdomain: Legislation, Type of document: Regulation, Document type: R, Exclude corrigenda: True, Limit to basic acts: True, Limit to legislation in force: True, Type of act: Regulation, Date: Date of entry into force, From (or exact date): 01/01/2013, To: 31/12/2013, Search language: English


Others have discussed the claim about “most local laws” so I am going to add a few remarks about the other things you mentioned in your question.

First, one minor disposition in the 2004 Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe (a mouthful!) would have renamed “directives” to call them EU “framework laws”. But it would not have changed much so you should not be too focused on the terminology. It's true that in general a directive only defines objectives or a framework and needs to be implemented by a statute in each member state so local parliaments do have a say. But the implementation is monitored by the Commission, which can do many things if it's not satisfied with it so the content of the local laws are certainly not entirely up to the respective national parliaments. Furthermore, regulations don't need to be implemented to come into force and the EUCJ also developed a doctrine under which directives sometimes have direct effects and can be invoked in the court system so it's not really true that the EU merely gives general orientations and leaves the rest to the local parliaments.

The most important thing to keep in mind however is that the EU legislative process is quite complex. You asked if the European Parliament can impose new laws on member states and the answer is a big, unconditional “no way”! The Parliament has no initiative and cannot vote a proposal into a directive or regulation alone. The Commission, another pan-European institution, is very important because it's really drafting the directives and is also in charge of overseeing their implementation. But the third main actor in this process, the Council has a very big role too.

And the key thing is that the Council represents the governments of the member states. In some cases, it's perfectly possible for the whole process to produce something that national parliaments will be more-or-less forced to accept even if a few of them don't like it. But when you hear about “the EU”, you should also consider that what is coming from there is often something that your government wanted or at least consented to (possibly in a bargain about something else). That's another way in which quoting a proportion (high or low) of laws “made in Brussels” is misleading.

In a sense, the problem is not only or mainly whether the states or the EU are in charge but how this framework changes the balance of power within each member state. In general, governments certainly seem to have gained influence at the detriment of their respective national parliaments and once something has been made into EU law, it can be more difficult to roll back than national policies.

It also remains to be seen how the nomination of the Commission will play out this time (with official EU-wide leaders and all that) but traditionally the member states and their governments had a big role in that too (e.g. the president of the Commission was a figure picked in a negotiation between the member states, not the leader of the majority in the Parliament, and each state nominated a commissioner based on local politics).


The best place to start with for understanding how the EU works is http://europa.eu/index_en.htm

Here is a short explanation about how EU decisions are taken: http://europa.eu/eu-law/decision-making/procedures/index_en.htm

and here is something about how the EU law works http://europa.eu/eu-law/application-eu-law/index_en.htm

About local laws: it depends what you mean by local laws: national laws (UK, French) or local (Parisian, Roman, etc).

I know it may look facetious, but it is not - there are many distinctions. Briefly: the EU has its own treaties; the moment a country is a EU member it has to adhere to those treaties: implicitly those treaties are "imposed" on it. It's the EU way or the high way. After that, each country has a say in all EU directives (not laws), and each national law has to satisfy the "constitutionality" requirement of EU law -- so to speak.

I hope this clarifies your question a bit ..

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    It clarifies, but does it answer it?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 1:45
  • Tell me what you are looking for and I'll give it another try. If you can be more specific, it will help.
    – edn13
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 14:34
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    That's an odd way to put it. A country becomes a member by adhering to the treaties, that's not a consequence… In fact, the treaties must be explicitly accepted (signed and ratified), usually after long debates and negotiations and with a big celebration. There is nothing implicit about that. It's the rest (the acquis, the role of the EUCJ, the need to implement decisions taken after the country became a member, the sanctions for breaking EU law, etc.) that sets the EU apart from other treaties and could to some extent be conceived as something that's “imposed” on member states.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 8:15

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