Referendum Watch: What is an EU Directive?

By Joe Young - Politics Editor

An EU Directive is a piece of legislation that says that lays down an objective that each of the 28 EU Member States must meet. It gives each Member State a period of time (at least two years) to achieve the result via a law passed through the national legislature of a country. These can be new pieces of legislation, or if a Member State already meets the requirements of the Directive, they might not need to do anything at all.

An example of an EU Directive in the UK is the 1976 Equal Treatment Directive, which required equality of treatment between the sexes in the workplace. The UK was later held to have breached it due to the UK having different retirement ages for women and men,  and also due to the policy of allowing employers to dismiss pregnant workers if the employer could prove that they would have dismissed men who were ill long-term.

Other examples are the Consumer Rights Directive, which eliminated hidden charges and costs on the internet, and extended the period under which consumers can withdraw from a sales contract, and the Working Time Directive, which, amongst other protections, limited weekly working hours so they don’t exceed 48 hours on average (including overtime), and guaranteed a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every period of 24.

EU Directives are generally uncontroversial due to the fact that they’re normally passed with the consent of all Member States of the EU.

If a Member State does not follow an EU Directive, the principle of Direct Affect comes into play, which allows an individual to take legal action against the state to guarantee the outcome of the directive. The easiest way to explain this is with a fictional Member State and a fictional Directive – it might seem odd but the fact it’s fictional means it can be kept fairly straightforward. Imagine this:


The European Union passes the fictional Directive 2014/32/EU which bans the sale of candles greater than 5 inches in height. The Directive has an implementation period of 2 years, beginning on the 1st January 2014.

The fictional Member State of Plutonia Plutonia transposes the Directive into the Candlestick Act 2015, which bans the sale of all candles more than 3 inches in height.

Mrs Mason, a candlemaker, has made a successful career selling candles of exactly 4 inches in height. Since the enactment of the Candlestick Act, the Plutonia government have stopped her from selling her candles.

She goes to court and says that she has the right from the EU to make candles up to 5in in height. She says that the Directive gave her a clear, precise and unconditional right and that it was enforceable in National Courts. She says “the implementation date has passed” as is required, and the National Court then rules that she does have the right to make 4 inch candles as the Directive says.


Of course, this is just one example of a possible outcome from not following an EU Directive, but hopefully it has shed some light onto how they function and how they affect people. They’re wordy, but not hugely complicated. If you want anything clarified, leave a comment below!


To read more in the Referendum Watch series, click here

A special thank you to Senior Law Lecturer Shaun Mills for his support in the creation of this article

About Joe Young 316 Articles
Joe Young has been involved with student media for a very long time now, holding posts within The Pulse, and Pulse Radio, as well as the predecessor of The Pulse, Pluto. He is currently Politics Editor of The Pulse, and Head of News of Pulse Radio. In 2016, he won the Media Award for Best Article for his coverage of the Fishergate Shopping Centre bomb scare.

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