Friday 15 October 2010

How much EU legislation in member state UK? Nosemonkey and House of Commons Library

On 13 October 2010 the European Parliament awarded its journalism prizes to for excellent media work on Europe. Among the four categories, the prize for Internet journalism went to the Euroblog pioneer James Clive-Matthews, also known as Nosemonkey.

You can read the winning blog post: What percentage of laws come from the EU? (2 June 2009)

On the very day of the award ceremony in the European Parliament, across the Channel the House of Commons Library informed subscribers about the publication of its research paper 10/62, which presents a reworked view on the role of EU laws in Britain:

How much legislation comes from Europe? (13 October 2010; 59 pages)

This fits nicely with the EU law theme, or more narrowly EU business regulation, we have been looking at on Grahnlaw, in the blog posts How much EU law is there? Smart regulation and impact assessments (13 October 2010) and Smart Regulation in the European Union (14 October 2010).

The summary conclusion of the UK House of Commons Library Research Paper 10/62 is (page 1):

Using statistics from national law databases and the EU’s EUR-Lex database, it is possible to estimate the proportion of national laws based on EU laws. In the UK data from these sources provided estimates that suggest that over the twelve-year period from 1997 to 2009 6.8% of primary legislation (Statutes) and 14.1% of secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) had a role in implementing EU obligations, although the degree of involvement varied from passing reference to explicit implementation. Sectoral studies suggest that the agriculture forms the highest area of EU influence and defence the lowest. The British Government estimates that around 50% of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from EU legislation.

Besides the indicative numbers (percentages) the study is interesting due to its discussion about the difficulties of quantitative comparisons and especially qualitative assessments of the influence of EU legislation on national law-making.

The various aspects and uncertainties covered make the Research Paper into an educational tool for those who are interested in various forms of EU level decision-making and interaction with the national level, naturally in the United Kingdom, but also elsewhere: in EU member states Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium, as well as non-EU states Norway and Iceland.

The Research Paper refers to popular (mis)conceptions and often repeated quotes, including Euromyths, as well as a host of studies which have tried to uncover both percentages and influences of EU law in the member states.


The frontlines in the debate about EU impact have not always been clear-cut. Opponents of the European Union (euphemistically called eurosceptics) have decried the “intrusiveness” of EU legislation, whereas pro-European may have exaggerated the importance of the EU.

It looks clear that the proportion of EU legislation is much smaller if we look at all areas of legislation than if we study policy sectors affecting businesses.

There are also huge differences between EU policy areas. The common agricultural policy (CAP) affects farmers and the common fisheries policy (CFP) fishermen, whereas defence is almost exempt from legislation derived from the EU.

I recommend reading the House of Commons Library Research Paper 10/62, which offers a wide range of studies and opinions on these questions.

I am going to add only a few more comments on certain details.

After Nosemonkey’s blog post and as part of the following discussion, I presented a summary of the findings of Yves Bertoncini in the Grahnlaw entry How much law is EU law? (6 June 2009). The Research Paper offers more details on Bertoncini’s study, on page 8 and pages 31-32.

The Library Research Paper refers to the European Commission’s 26th Annual Report on Monitoring the Application of Community Law (2008) (page 8):

“At the end of 2008, the rules of the Treaty were supplemented by some 8,200 regulations and just under 1,900 directives in force throughout the 27 Member States”.

There are now updated figures, because just before the publication of the Research Paper, the latest annual report was published on 1 October 2010, as noted in my 13 October blog post:

27th annual report on monitoring the application of EU law (2009); Brussels, 1.10.2010 COM(2010) 538 final (12 pages)

If we compare the reports, we can see that the numbers of regulations and directives have fallen significantly during 2009 (page 2). First the quote in question:

At the end of 2009, EU law comprised, apart from the rules of the Treaty, some 6140 regulations and just under 1820 directives in force throughout the 27 Member States.

The number of regulations has decreased by about 2060 and there are around 80 directives less than a year earlier.

Again, the pure numbers tell us little about the impact of EU legislation. The institutions of the European Union have pursued a “better regulation” agenda and a “better lawmaking” agenda. Obsolete legal acts have been taken off the statute book (acquis communautaire). Simplification exercises have resulted in recast acts, which can integrate two or more narrower acts. Some of the disappearances are more technical than substantial, even if more comprehensive acts add ease of use, as do consolidated or updated versions.

There have also been real efforts to “cut red tape”, but a more detailed look at the different simplification measures goes beyond the purpose of this blog post.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Eurogoblin, one of the editorial team of the multilingual blog aggregator, has started experimenting with a daily EU Morning Briefing, which mixes events with personal comments. Worth following.


  1. Ironically, Nosemonkey is actually cited in that very report. Search for "J Clive Matthews."

    P.S. Thank you for the plug, Ralf!

  2. Eurogoblin,

    Actually, I don't see the irony in mentioning J Clive Matthews in the report, since his blog post and the discussion contained several gems.

    Well, to deserve later plugs you will have to keep up the good effort. ;-)


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