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How much UK national law is based on EU law?

May 13th, 2014

The percentage of UK or other Member States’ law which is based on or influenced by EU law is a complex and technical question, with no definitive answer.

The vast majority of EU legislation is jointly decided by MEPs – directly elected by citizens to the European Parliament – and by national Ministers sitting in the Council of the European Union, on proposals from the European Commission.

Once EU law is agreed by MEPs and national Ministers, all Member States apply it in accordance with their own national tradition – provided the law is properly applied, how that is done is a matter for each Member State to decide.

Each Member State has a different constitutional, governmental and legal system with a different balance between the different levels of authority – for example, France is a relatively centralised state, Germany a federal one and the UK operates devolved government for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So the figures for the proportion of overall national legal texts derived from EU law would be different everywhere. That is why the European Commission does not itself collect information or evidence on the proportion of national legislation linked to EU law.

But there have been various attempts at national level in a number of Member States to calculate some approximate figures.

In the UK, the best-known is the paper, “How Much Legislation Comes from Europe?” published by the House of Commons library in 2010. It concludes that over the twelve-year period from 1997 to 2009:

– 6.8% of primary legislation (Statutes) and 14.1% of secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) had a role in implementing EU obligations (P1 of the paper);

– somewhere between 15 and 50 % of other administrative regulation that does not pass through the British parliament is either directly applicable EU regulation or UK administrative regulation applying EU rules (P2-3 of the paper). Most of this is detailed technical provisions.

Meanwhile, a 2012 London School of Economics article summing up other existing research across Europe concludes: “The striking finding is that most of these studies showed rather low shares of Europeanized national legislation: 15.5 per cent for the UK, 14 per cent for Denmark, 10.6 per cent for Austria, between 3 and 27 per cent for France, between 1 and 24 per cent for Finland, yet 39.1 per cent for Germany.” It goes on to say that – for the reasons explored briefly above, including the fact Germany is a federal state where less domestic legislation is national and more laws are made at regional level – “these figures can tell us very little about the impact of EU-policy-making”.

It is, however, safe to say that they do tell us that the claim that “75% of UK law is now made in Brussels” is demonstrably incorrect.

Finally, it is worth reiterating that, despite the frequent misleading portraits and stereotypes in parts of the British media of “Brussels bureaucrats”, “EU diktats” and British business being “strangled by red tape”, where UK laws ARE derived from EU ones, those EU laws have not been imposed on the UK by anonymous officials but voted on – and in the vast majority of cases supported – by British MEPs and Ministers.

It is a top priority of the European Commission, shared by the UK government, to make those EU laws work as efficiently as possible for citizens and businesses, enabling them to make use in particular of the vast single market that is a cornerstone of the European Union.

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EC in the UK

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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