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European Union Documents: Legislation



Legislative Process

Five EU institutions are involved in the legislative process: the Commission, the Council of the European Union, the Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, and the Economic and Social Committee. The Commission, the Council and the Parliament are primarily involved in enacting legislation. The Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions serve in a consultative role.

There are four methods for enacting legislation in the EU (listed below in order of importance): 

  1. Co-decision;
  2. Cooperation; 
  3. Assent; and
  4. Consultation.

Co-decision has become the principal manner by which legislation is adopted in the EU. For a more detailed discussion of the legislative process, see the PreLex summary.   For details on the co-decision procedure, see Co-Decision Guide.

There are four types of EU legislation: 

  1. Regulations, which are directly applicable to Member States and require no further action to have legal effect.
  2. Directives, which are addressed to and are binding on Member States, but the Member State may choose the method by which to implement the directive. Generally, a Member State must enact national legislation to comply with a directive.
  3. Decisions, which are binding on those parties to whom they are addressed.
  4. Recommendations and opinions, which have no binding force.

Official Journal of the European Union

The Official Journal (O.J.) of the European Union (formerly the Official Journal of the European Communities) publishes the text of legislation and other official acts of the European Union. It contains treaties, all four types of legislation mentioned above, working papers, judgments of the European Court of Justice, proposals for legislation, and other official communications between EU institutions. Prior to 1973 when the United Kingdom and Ireland joined the EU, the O.J. was not published in English. Currently, the O.J. is published daily in each of the eleven official languages of the EU. To the U.S. researcher, the O.J. is a combination of the Statutes at Large, the U.S. Treaty series, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register and the Congressional Record.

There are six components to the Official Journal: 

  • Legislation – L Series contains regulations and directives adopted by the Commission or the Council alone or jointly with the European Parliament. Prior to 1968, the Official Journal was not divided into the L and C series. 
  • Communications – C Series contains non-binding decisions of the EU institutions such as communications of the Commission on various topics, Court judgments, opinions of the Committee of the Regions or the Economic and Social Council.
  • Communications – CE Series contains Commission proposals since July 1999. It is only available in an electronic version on EurLex, Westlaw, or Lexis. A table of contents of the electronic CE series is published in the C Series.
  • Communications – CA Series contains principally employment notices for EU institutions.
  • Annex-Debates contains verbatim reports of the plenary sessions of the European Parliament. The Annex-Debates ceased publication after the May 1999 parliamentary session.
  • Supplement – S Series contains notices of invitations to bid on EU funded contracts.

Many EU legislative documents are available in an electronic version, but the EU considers only the print version to be official.

For an overview of European Union legislation, see Research Guide: European Union Law Materials (Columbia University Law School).  For call numbers and locations at Princeton, please use the Main Catalog.

Electronic Versions

The Official Journal is also available in electronic form from 1952 forward.

How to Find a Document When You Have a Citation to the OJ

A regulation is generally cited by its number, then its year.  In contrast, a directive is cited by its year first, then its number.

Example: Council Regulation No. 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, 2001 O.J. (L 12) 1. 

This Regulation is in the L Series of the OJ in the 2001 volume containing issue 12 for that year at page 1.

How to Find a Regulation or Directive When You Have Only the Year and Number of the Document

Example: First Council Directive 77/780 on the coordination of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the taking up and pursuit of the business of credit institutions, 1977 O.J. (L 322) 30.

Assuming you do not have a citation to the Official Journal, but only the year and number, search: 

  • In Lexis Nexis Academic, the document segment Title with "77/780"
    • Example: Title (77/780)
  • In EurLex, search the Legislation database by Document Number

The Chronological Index of Volume II of the Directory of Community Legislation in Force ("CLIF") located in Social Science Reference Center and Firestone Library stacks (Oversize KJE 920.5 D57q ) can also help find an OJ citation to an EU official document. In the Chronological Index, documents are organized by document sector, by year and then by CELEX number. By cross-referencing to Volume I of CLIF, you can locate the specific OJ citation.

How to Find EU Documents by CELEX Number

CELEX is the official database of documents used by EU officials and available to others by subscription. Each document in the CELEX database is assigned a unique CELEX number. See the section entitled "Information for Readers" at the beginning of Volume II of CLIF for more information on interpreting CELEX numbers. Because the EU databases on  Lexis Nexis Academic is derived from CELEX, the Princeton University Library does not subscribe to CELEX.

To find documents by CELEX number, search in Lexis Nexis Academic in the Document Segment called "DOC-NUMBER" and use the complete 10 symbol CELEX number

Note: A Celex number is normally a series of 10 alphanumeric symbols. 

Example: Celex number is 31989L0299. 

How to Find EU Legislation by Subject

Frequently, you will want to find EU legislation on a particular legal topic. Unlike the federal statutes in the United States, there is no official codification of EU legislation. However, there are several sources that provide subject access to EU law. Searching electronic databases such as   Lexis Nexis Academic may be "easier," but a search of print sources frequently is effective and efficient.

Electronic Databases

Similar to legal research in the U.S., legal research in European Union law can be done effectively with LexisNexis Academic. 

    • In EurLex, search multiple databases such as the OJ, Legislation in Preparation, Legislation, Treaties, and Case Law. Europa generally does not include pre-1997 documents and its search engine is not as sophisticated as the searching software in  Lexis Nexis Academic.
This web page, organized by subject area, provides summaries of EU activity in those areas. There is also an A-Z Index of the contents.

In Print

Directory of Communities Legislation in Force and other Acts of the Community Institutions
Oversize KJE 920.5 D57q 
Trustees Reading Room, Firestone Library 
Holdings: Current issue
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KJE 920.5 D57q
Holdings: 36th - 41st editions
Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 29th - 34th editions

The first volume of this set organizes legislation within the analytical structure of EU law used by the European Commission. The table of contents sets out the various subject areas. Within each subject area is listed EU legislation related to that subject area. This source is difficult to use because the researcher must be familiar with the analytical structure which is based on the text and divisions of the EU treaties in order to search the source efficiently.
The second volume contains a subject index with cross-references to the relevant page in the analytical structure set forth in volume 1.
This set is updated twice each year on January 1st and July 1st.

Community Legislation in Force is also available on Europa/ EurLex. The electronic version contains hypertext links to EU documents. Some are available in PDF.   The 42nd edition is the most recent (legislation in force as of January 1, 2004).  Volume 1, Volume 2.


How to Find Other Documents Related to the Legislative Process

COM Documents

Commission Documents, also known as COM documents, include legislative proposals, communications and reports such as "green papers" or "white papers" issued by the staff of the Commission. COM documents are numbered sequentially each year and are referenced by number and date.

Example: COM (2002) 0018, Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament towards an Integrated European Railway Area

COM documents are available in microfiche:

Documents of the European Commission
Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 1983 - current

COM documents are available in  EurLex

Most of these documents (without the useful explanatory memorandum) were published in the OJ C series until June 1999. After June 1999 selected COM documents are available in the electronic Official Journal CE series on EurLex.

Documents Catalogue
Firestone NonCirculating Z7165.E8 C639c
Holdings: 19883-1984, 1987-2000
An index to COM documents and European Parliament reports. Contains an index using EU subject classifications, alphabetical index, numerical index by COM document number and European Parliament (PE) report number.

Council Documents

Prior to 1999, Council documents typically were kept confidential. Due to provisions in the Treaty of Amsterdam and a general policy of transparency in EU decision-making, more Council documents are being made public

Parliamentary Documents and Reports

As part of the legislative process, the European Parliament generates documents such as committee reports and floor debates that are of interest to legal researchers.

OEIL the Legislative Observatory
The European Parliament has created a database that tracks parliamentary action on legislative proposals. The database can be searched by multiple criteria such as keywords, stage of legislative procedure, etc. An index of legislative action by subject is also available.

Debates of the European Parliament  (1999+)
Located in a searchable database at the European Parliament’s web site.

An index to the Debates and Texts Adopted for 1984-1999 is available.

Official Journal of the European Communities: Annexes – Debates of the European Parliament

Ceased publication in print in 1999
Firestone Library Oversize JN32 .O36q
Holdings: 1973 - 1984

Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 1984 - 1997

CD-ROM in Microforms, A Level, Firestone Library
Holdings: 1999-2003 COMPUTER FILE 181

Reports of the European Parliament
Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 1985 - 1997

Also available on the Web 1994+.
EuroParl provides a searchable database of reports. A parliamentary report is assigned a document number that typically begins with PE DOC A.

Example: PE DOC A4-0485/98, Report on the Communication from the Commission on the Information Strategy for the Euro. 

Session Documents / Working Documents – contain committee reports and communications from Parliament to other EU institutions.
Session Documents are divided into three series: 

  • A Series contains parliamentary committee reports, such as a report on pending legislation.
  • B Series contains motions tabled by MEP’s and other material related to plenary sessions of the Parliament.
  • C Series contains Commission proposals for legislation (COM documents referred to above) that are renumbered with European Parliament document numbers.
Working Documents [Session Documents]
Off-site, RECAP  HC240 .E8955 
Holdings:  1961/62 - 1984/85 

Documents de Séance [Session Documents]
Off-site, RECAP  HC240 .E897
Holdings:  1958 – 1973 (in French); lacks certain issues

Parliamentary documents after 1996 are available on Europarl.

Parliamentary Questions
Members of the European Parliament regularly question European Commissioners on EU policy. A searchable database of these questions and their responses is helpful.   Parliamentary Questions are also available in (1) the OJ C Series through 1999 and (2) on Lexis Nexis Academic, in database Legal Research, EU Law (CELEX), EU Parliamentary Questions.

Economic and Social Committee Documents

Many documents are available on the ESC’s official web site.

Annual Report
Firestone Library (F) HC 241.2.E292b
Holdings 1981 - 1998

Firestone Library (F) HC241.2.E292d
Holdings 1981 - 2000

Opinions and Reports
Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 1984 - present

Committee of the Regions Documents

The official web site,, contains searchable databases of opinions and resolutions of the Committee. Press releases and the Committee’s recent Activity Reports are also available.

COR Opinions and Reports
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KJE5520.A16 C67q
Holdings: 1997 - 2003

Status of Legislation

To verify the status of proposed legislation or to learn more about the steps in the enactment of a particular legislative proposal, the following two databases are useful.

A database maintained by the European Commission that collects the documents issued at each step of the legislative process. Searchable by keyword, document number, citation, etc. and includes hypertext links to relevant documents.

OEIL, the Legislative Observatory
This database maintained by the European Parliament provides a synopsis of legislative procedures taken in enacting legislation. Searchable by document number, title of document and other means.

Directory of Community Legislation in Force and other Acts of the Community Institutions (two volumes)
Oversize  KJE 920.5 D57q
Social Science Reference Center, A Level, Firestone Library 
Holdings: Current issue
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KJE 920.5 D57q
Holdings: 36th - 38th editions
Microfiche (Located off campus; Ask Documents Reference Staff for assistance)
Holdings: 29th - 34th editions 
Citations to enacted legislation will also appear here. This publication is described in more detail above

Searchable database of press releases by various EU institutions. Frequently, press releases are the quickest and easiest way to learn of new developments in EU law.

National Implementing Legislation

The enforcement of EU directives depends on enactment of national legislation to fulfill the purposes and objectives of a particular directive. In order to determine if national legislation has been enacted in response to EU legislation, the researcher has several aids.

In Lexis Nexis Academic, there is typically a section at the end of a directive entitled "Implementation." In that section are listed the national laws that were enacted in response to that particular piece of legislation.
Directives in the EurLex database do not contain this section on national legislation. However, directives in the CELEX database do contain this section.

National Provisions Implementing Directives
This Lexis Nexis Academic database contains summaries of citations to national legislation passed in response to EU laws. Coverage is from 1989 to current.
Location: Legal Research, EU Law (CELEX), National Provisions Implementing Directives