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European Union Law: Secondary legislation

EU secondary legislation: how to find it

Official sources on the free web

EU legislation is freely available on EUR-Lex, and this data forms the basis of the content of some of the subscription databases.  The EUR-lex simple search screens offer searches by word, document number, date, OJ reference, CELEX number, and more.

For draft legislation try Prelex, a Commission database for monitoring the decision making process in the EU, or the European Parliament's Legislative Observatory (click the Procedures tab to search).

Subscription sources for holders of an Oxford SSO.

The Bodleian Library subscribes to legal databases that include coverage of EU primary and secondary legislation, in particular Justis, Lexis®Library and Westlaw.

Citation construction

OU students are required to provide a full citation the first time they cite to a piece of EU legislation.

Update to OSCOLA 2.6.1

From 1 January 2015 onwards, the numbering of EU legislation changed. Since then EU legislation has been given a unique, sequential number. This number should be cited in the form: (domain/body) YYYY/no. For example:

Council Regulation (EU) 2015/159 of 27 January 2015 amending Regulation (EC) No 2532/98 concerning the powers of the European Central Bank to impose sanctions [2015] OJ L27/1

Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/236 of 12 February 2015 amending Decision 2010/413/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Iran [2015] OJ L39/18


CELEX citations

You may encounter a citation in the form of a CELEX number.  This can be used in EUR-Lex to retrieve legislation thanks to a dedicated search screen.

EU secondary legislation: what it is

EU secondary legislation is made by the EU institutions.  The five EU legal instruments specifically provided for in the Treaties are:  Regulations, Directives, Decisions, Recommendations and Opinions.

The binding legal instruments

The binding legal instruments that make up the secondary legislation of the EU are Regulations, Directives and Decisions.  As set out in Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

  • 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.
  • A Decision shall be binding in its entirety. A Decision which specifies those to whom it is addressed
    shall be binding only on them.


The non-binding legal instruments

Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union also provides for non binding legal instruments.

  • Recommendations call upon the party to whom they are addressed to behave in a particular way without placing them under any legal obligation
  • Opinions issued by the EU institutions give assessments of situations or developments in the Union or in the individual Member States. They may also also prepare the way for subsequent, legally binding acts, or be a prerequisite for the institution of proceedings before the Court of Justice

Recommendations and Opinions have moral and political significance, without being legally binding

The three other main forms of actions that shape the EU legal order without having legally binding effect are Resolutions, Declarations and Action programmes.