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Glossary of Policy terms

Community legal instruments: The term Community legal instruments refers to the instruments available to the Community institutions to carry out their tasks under the Treaty establishing the European Community with due respect for the subsidiarity principle. They are:

  1. Regulations: these are binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States;
  2. Directives: these bind the Member States as to the results to be achieved; they have to be transposed into the national legal framework and thus leave margin for manoeuvre as to the form and means of implementation;
  3. Decisions: these are fully binding on those to whom they are addressed;
  4. Recommendations and opinions: these are non-binding, declaratory instruments.

In addition to these instruments listed in Article 249 of the EC Treaty, practice has led to the development of a whole series of sui generis documents: inter-institutional agreements, resolutions, conclusions, communications, green papers and white papers.

Green Paper: Green Papers are documents published by the European Commission to stimulate discussion on given topics at European level. They invite the relevant parties (bodies or individuals) to participate in a consultation process and debate on the basis of the proposals they put forward. Green Papers may give rise to legislative developments that are then outlined in White Papers.
Green Papers on entrepreneurship in Europe (2003), on demographic change and a new solidarity between the generations (2005) or, more recently on a European strategy for sustainable, competitive and secure energy (2006) are examples of topics discussed.

White Paper: Commission White Papers are documents containing proposals for Community action in a specific area. In some cases they follow a Green Paper published to launch a consultation process at European level. When a White Paper is favourably received by the Council, it can lead to an action programme for the Union in the area concerned.
Examples are the White Papers on Completion of the Internal Market (1985), on Growth, Competitiveness, Employment (1993) and on European Governance (2001). More recently, the White Paper on Services of General Interest (2004) and that on a European Communication Policy (2006) have also moulded the development of Community policies.

Additional Documents published by the Commission include:

COM documents: covering proposed legislation and other Commission communications to the Council and/or the other institutions, and their preparatory papers;
SEC documents: representing internal documents associated with the decision-making process and the general operation of Commission departments;
Decision: An EU decision is binding on the persons, companies or Member States mentioned in the decision. It is not generally binding, as is the case with a regulation.
Directive: Directives are to be transferred into national law through the member states' parliaments and governments within 18 months. Through 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 governments through delegated acts.
Recommendation: A non-binding decision, which only urges Member States to comply. A Member State cannot be fined for the breach of recommendations.

Regulation: An EU decision that directly binds all Member States and citizens in the whole of the EU. Whereas directives need to be "transformed" into national law, regulations are directly applicable. It is therefore forbidden to change EU regulations when putting them into national laws.

Resolution: A resolution is a non-binding statement, which defines objectives and makes political declarations. The European Council's resolutions set out the direction of future policy initiatives. Resolutions may be used by the EU Court to interpret laws. They may be referred to as a form of "soft law".

Treaty:
1. a formal agreement between two or more states in reference to peace, alliance, commerce, or other international relations. 
2. the formal document embodying such an international agreement.