Number of laws

There are now more than 37,000 legal acts in the EU. There are also 13,000 Court verdicts and 52,000 international standards, all of which must be respected by citizens and companies in the EU. 

It is very difficult to define the exact number of valid legal acts in the European Union. No institution publishes official tables. Here we assemble numbers from several different sources.

Some acts are legally binding, such as regulations, directives, decisions and international agreements. Some are not, such as white papers, green papers and communications. Recommendations sometimes can have legal effects. Resolutions of the European Council and the European Parliament can be used to understand and give new interpretations to legally binding acts.

Verdicts of the EU Court can change European law and the interpretation of the treaties.

Standards from European standard organisations such as CEN, Cenelec and ETSI can bind member states, companies and citizens in the same way as regulations. Standards from  United Nations specialised bodies such as Codex Alimentarius for food become part of EU law when the EU enters these agreements. They become binding supranationally rather than internationally.

A technical standard referred to in a directive or regulation can be legally binding in the same way as the mother legal act. A standard from Codex Alimentarius permitting hormones in beef must also be respected by countries that have voted against that standard,  unless the EU choosees to pay a fine to the World Trade Organisation as they did in this case. An issue such as hormones in beef demonstrates that even sensitive political matters are decided in the form of a "technical" standard.

A decision by a Commission official in the name of and on behalf of the Commission is just as binding on member states as treaty articles. There is no hierarchy of laws in the EU. The number of more or less binding acts is over 108,000 if these different types of acts are counted together. 

See the table below and see under Democracy, Accountability, Transparency and Subsidiarity for how decisions are made in the EU.





A directive binds member states to implement its content, leaving it to them to decide how. For example the EU chemical directive, REACH,  comes partly into force  on 1 July 2009, after the European elections.

Thus a member state is unable to ban a particular chemical on its own, not even if it believes it  causes cancer. Only the non-elected Commission can propose a change in the relevant EU legislation. Not a National Parliament ... not the European Parliament ...Not the voters.

Environmentalists want to forbid 267 chemicals. The Commission will only investigate 7 of them. The 260 unwanted  chemicals cannot be banned by voters in any member state by means of any election.

Even if these additives may cause allergies, cancer, diminished fertility, hormonal effects.



These are directly binding on all member states throughout the EU, without the need for being applied through national Governments or Parliaments. They are directly applicable and come legally into force from the date mentioned in them. It is illegal for a member state to change EU regulations when putting them into national laws. 



These are binding  on those to whom they are addressed, but not on all EU members or citizens.



Recommendations are formally non-binding legal acts. A recommendation  from the Commission on the music industry has been used to change the market for copyright for authors and composers. The European Parliament was almost unanimous in opposing this Recommendation and asked the Commission to withdraw it. Again, it is the non-elected who decide. . . Not the elected.


Court Verdicts

An EU Court verdict binds everyone directly. If the Court establishes a new interpretation of a treaty article or law the law can be changed ... But only if a proposel to that effect comes from the non-elected Commission. If a court verdict makes an unwanted interpretation of the treaties, it can only be changed through an amendment of the treaties themselves –which must be agreed by all 27 governments and ratified  by all member states. Again voters are sidelined.

The 2007 Laval case limited the right of trade unions to embark on industrial action for higher salaries than the state minimum or prevailing applicable salaries where foreign workers in a host countrry were concerned. This was based on an interpretation of the treaty principle of free movement of workers. Therefore only a social protocol in a new treaty – as proposed by the European Trade Unions in ETUC – can change the law.  Citizen voters can change nothing in normal elections, whether for their national parliament or the European Parliament.



A standard laid down in the international Codex Alimentarius which has been agreed by the EU, is binding as EU law in all member states. If hormones in beef or additives in milk are permitted by the Codex,voters cannot  change this in elections. That can only be done if the Commission drafts a proposal and has it agreed in the Codex Alimentarius – or breaches its international obligations. Voters, MPs and MEPs have no say and cannot have any influence unless they are backed up by the non-elected Commissioners.


The Democratic Solutions

EU Commissioners could be elected and kept accountable either indirectly by the European Parliament or directly by the voters in each member state.


The number of laws, other acts, verdicts and standards for the EU 

Regulations 10569
Directives 1838
Decisions 17184
Other acts 3088
Agreements with non-Member States or international organisations 1647
Agreements between Member States 100
Acts of bodies created by international agreements 3474
Recommendations 341
Communications 4661
White papers 32
Green papers
CEN (European Committee for Standardization)4 14498
CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization)5 6004
ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute)6 26847
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS (WHO&FAO food standards system)7 4783


[1] Eur-lex search results as of February 20, 2014 (simple search – legislation; acts in force,

[2] Pre-lex search results as of February 20, 2014. Search by type of file.

[3] Eur-lex search results as of February 20, 2014. Judgments from Court of Justice and General Court.

[4] CEN web page: CEN in figures, Data refers untill end of December 2010.

[5] CENELEC Facts and figures Data refers untill end of 2011.

[6] ETSI Annual report 2010, published April 2011, Page 17, Data refers untill end of 2010.

[7] WHO&FAO (2006): Understanding the Codex Alimentariusm, third edition,  Page 11, Data refers untill end of July 2006. The number includes Special reports, technical reports and ETSI guides.