is a legislative act
of the European Union
which requires member states
to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. It can be distinguished from European Union regulations
which are self-executing and do not require any implementing measures. Directives normally leave member states with a certain amount of leeway as to the exact rules to be adopted. Directives can be adopted by means of a variety of legislative procedures
depending on its subject matter.
The legal basis for the enactment of directives is article 249 of the Treaty establishing the European Community
and, as such, directives only apply within the European Community pillar of the European Union
Directives are only binding on the member states to whom they are addressed, which can be just one member state or a group of them. In practice however, with the exception of directives related to the Common Agricultural Policy
, directives are addressed to all member states.
When adopted, directives give member states a timetable for the implementation of the intended outcome. Occasionally the laws of a member state may already comply with this outcome and the state involved would only be required to keep their laws in place. But more commonly member states are required to make changes to their laws — commonly referred to as transposition
— in order for the directive to be implemented correctly. If a member state fails to pass the required national legislation, or if the national legislation does not adequately comply with the requirements of the directive, the European Commission
may initiate legal action against the member state in the European Court of Justice
Notwithstanding the fact that directives were not originally thought to be binding before they were implemented by member states, the European Court of Justice developed the doctrine of direct effect
where unimplemented or badly implemented directives can actually have direct legal force. And in Francovich v. Italy
the court found that member states could be liable to pay damages to individuals and companies who had been adversely affected by the non-implementation of a directive.