A directive is a legal act embodying EU decision making.
Regulations bind directly when decided in Brussels. Directives must first be transferred into national law through the member states' parliaments and governments within, for example, a specified period such as 18 months.
If a country refuses to adopt a directive, it may become law in that particular country anyway. If the rules are sufficiently precise, they may be looked upon as directly applicable.
Over the years the EU Court has proclaimed many directives to be directly applicable and even declared that countries are liable to pay compensation if they have not implemented a directive in time.
Directives are normally transformed into national laws by the national parliaments or most often by the national governments through delegated acts.
The EU Constitution proposed renaming directives 'framework laws'. A framework law should require the Member States to achieve certain targets, but not be directly binding as regulations which would be renamed 'laws'. This simplification was deleted from the Lisbon Treaty.
The Democracy-Forum proposes to scrap all directives and change them into non-binding recommendations. When a binding effect is desired a real law has to be adopted.
See Numbers of laws and Legal acts