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English Translation Style Guide for EU – SECONDARY LEGISLATION

English Translation Style Guide for EU

The various legal acts adopted under the Treaties form the European Union’s ‘secondary legislation’. As specified in Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, they comprise chiefly:

  • Regulations
  • Directives
  • Decisions

Regulations and decisions are directly applicable and binding in all EU Member States. Directives on the other hand are binding but not directly applicable: they set out the objectives to be achieved and require the Member States to incorporate them into their national legislation. This incorporation is termed transposition. Consequently, only directives are transposed into national legislation, but all three types of legal act are implemented or applied, i.e. given practical effect.

Where such acts are adopted following a legislative procedure, they are termed ‘legislative acts’. ‘Non-legislative acts’ are accordingly those where no legislative procedure is required, for example where power is delegated to the Commission to adopt acts or where the Commission adopts an act to implement a legislative act. In the latter cases (since the Treaty of Lisbon), the act has to include the adjectives delegated or implementing in its title.

Legal acts also include recommendations and opinions, but these are non-binding.

For matters coming under what were the second and third pillars of the European Union before amendment by the Treaty of Lisbon, the original Treaty on European Union also introduced framework decisions, joint actions and common positions. Following the Lisbon Treaty, however, they are obsolete.


Legislative procedures have been overhauled by the Treaty of Lisbon: there is now an ordinary legislative procedure and special legislative procedures.

Ordinary legislative procedure (Article 294 TFEU). Under this procedure, originally introduced as the ‘codecision procedure’ by the Treaty on European Union, Parliament jointly adopts legislation with the Council. It is described in detail in Article 294 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and is used for all EU legislation except in cases specifically defined in the TFEU as coming under a ‘special legislative procedure’.

Special legislative procedure (Article 289 TFEU). In cases specifically defined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Council or another institution may adopt legislation on its own. This may involve consulting the European Parliament or obtaining its consent.


Draft legislation. In relation to EU legislation, the word draft denotes that the act in question has not yet been formally approved by the Commission. In the simplest case, it is used to qualify Commission acts (e.g. a draft Commission Regulation) before they are adopted by the Commission. For acts that are proposed by the Commission for adoption by other EU institutions, there is an additional stage in the procedure: Commission departments prepare a draft proposal (e.g. draft proposal for a Regulation of the Council and of the European Parliament), which the Commission approves, whereupon the designation draft is dropped and the proposal is sent to the Council and the European Parliament for discussion and possible adoption.

Draft Commission legislation is accompanied by a Memorandum to the Commission (FR: Communication à la Commission) while draft proposals for non-Commission acts also include an Explanatory Memorandum (Exposé des motifs), which is sent with the proposal to the legislator.

All unadopted acts have attached to them a financial statement (FR: fiche financière) detailing the budget implications and an impact assessment (FR: fiche d’impact) setting out more general implications.

Numbering of acts. Legal acts are numbered by year and serial number. The serial numbering restarts at the beginning of every year and is separate for each type of act. Since 1999, the year has been written with four digits rather than two. However, this is not retroactive: numbers before 1999 keep the two-digit year.

The number of an act normally constitutes part of its title, but the form this takes differs depending on the type of act. For acts where the serial number comes before the year, the contraction No precedes the number. See the following sections for more details.

Regulations. The number of a regulation is an integral part of its title and follows the pattern [Institution] Regulation (EC) No ##/year. The citation form is therefore as follows:

  • Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings

Until 1967, EEC and Euratom regulations were numbered separately, in cumulative series from 1958 to 1962, and then annually. Since 1 January 1968 they have formed a single series, numbered annually:

  • (before 1963) EEC Council Regulation No 17
  • (before 1968) Council Regulation No 1009/67/EEC
  • (since 1968) Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1234/84

Directives. Directives are issued mainly by the Council and European Parliament and less frequently by the Commission. Since 1 January 1992 the number of a directive has formed an integral part of its title, in the pattern [Institution] Directive year/number/entity. The citation form is therefore as follows:

  • Commission Directive 2004/29/EC on determining the characteristics and minimum conditions for inspecting vine varieties

Decisions (See also 16.11 below). Decisions comprise acts adopted under Article 288 TFEU (formerly 249 EC). Except for joint decisions (see 16.11 below), they bear no formal number forming part of the title, but are assigned a ‘publication number’ by the Publications Office. The full citation form is therefore as follows:

  • Council Decision of 30 July 2003 on the conclusion of the agreement between the European Community and Canada on trade in wines and spirit drinks (2004/91/EC)

Although it is not formally part of the title, the publication number is regularly used in citing such acts: Council Decision 2004/91/EC. Unpublished decisions are identified by date only.

Until the Treaty of Lisbon, there were different words for decisions with an addressee and decisions not addressed to anyone in Danish (beslutning and afgørelse), Dutch (beschikking and besluit), German (Entscheidung and Beschluss) and Slovenian (odločba and sklep). The second form in each case is now used for all decisions.

Joint acts (Council and Parliament) (See also 16.4). However unwieldy it may appear, and whatever variants you may see in circulation, the ‘of the … and of the …’ formulation below is the only correct one for the titles of joint acts:

  • Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs

Decisions are numbered along the same lines as regulations, e.g.:

Decision No 649/2005/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 April 2005 amending Decision No 1419/1999/EC establishing a Community action for the European Capital of Culture event for the years 2005 to 2019

ECSC decisions. ECSC general decisions were equivalent to EEC and Euratom regulations and were given an official serial number that was an integral part of the title (e.g. Commission Decision No 891/92/ECSC of 30 March 1992 imposing a provisional anti-dumping duty …).

Framework decisions, joint actions, common positions. These were legal acts adopted in the areas of common foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs (Titles V and VI respectively of the Treaty on European Union before amendment by the Treaty of Lisbon). Their citation forms are as follows:

  • Council Framework Decision 2001/68/JHA of 22 December 2003 on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography
  • Council Joint Action 2004/523/CFSP of 28 June 2004 on the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Georgia
  • Council Common Position 2004/698/CFSP of 14 October 2004 concerning the lifting of restrictive measures against Libya

Multiple references. When referring to several acts together, follow the pattern below:

  • Regulations (EC) Nos 1234/96 and 1235/96
  • Directives 96/100/EC and 96/350/EC

Abbreviated references. Use abbreviations only in footnotes or when space is at a premium:

  • Reg. 1234/85, Dir. 84/321, Dec. 3289/75, Dec. 74/612

Amendments. Legal acts are as a rule amended by the same institution as adopted the original act, in which case the name of the institution is not repeated in the title of the amended act. The date of the original act is also omitted, but the rest of its title is quoted in full:

Regulation (EC) No 1934/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 October 2004 amending Regulation (EC) No 1726/2000 on development cooperation with South Africa


Opening text. The preambles to regulations, directives, and decisions start with a line in capitals identifying the institution and ending with a comma:


Citations. The opening text is followed by the citations (FR: visas), stating the legal basis for the act and listing the procedural steps; these begin Having regard to … and also end in a comma (here for a Regulation of the Council and of the European Parliament):

  • Having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and in particular Article […] thereof,
  • Having regard to the proposal from the Commission,
  • Having regard to the notification to the national Parliaments,
  • Having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee,
  • Having regard to the opinion of the Committee of the Regions,
  • Acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure,

Recitals. Next come the recitals (FR: considérants), stating the grounds on which the act is based. The block of recitals begins with a single Whereas followed by a colon and a new paragraph. The recitals which follow are numbered sequentially using Arabic numerals within round brackets. Each recital, including the first, begins with a leading capital and ends with a full stop, except for the last (or a sole) recital, which ends in a comma. Sentences within a given recital are separated by full stops.

References to other acts. Previous acts referred to in citations and recitals must be given their full title (institution, type of instrument, number, date, title) on first occurrence and must carry a footnote with OJ reference after the descriptive title. In less formal contexts it is not necessary to give the date of the act; this is invariably cited in French but tends to clutter up the sentence to no good purpose. There are some exceptions to the above rules:

  • amendments to the principal acts cited (type and number only):
    • Whereas Commission Regulation (EEC) No ####/## of (date) on … as (last) amended by Regulation (EEC) No xxxx/xx, provides …
  • where the title/content is paraphrased to shorten recitals:
    • Whereas the Commission has adopted, in connection with the Christmas and New Year holidays, Regulation (EEC) No 2956/84 dealing with the sale of butter from public stocks at a reduced price …

Enacting formula. Preambles close with a line in capitals continuing the enacting formula, ending with a colon:


Following the Treaty of Lisbon, the formula ‘has/have decided as follows’ is no longer used for legislative acts, but is still used for internal Commission decisions that have no addressees and do not produce legal effects for third parties.

Enacting terms. The French term Article premier is rendered Article 1. Certain acts have only one article, the Sole Article.

A reference such as Article 198a is not to a subdivision but to an article subsequently inserted after Article 198. In English, the letter is always in lower case and closed up to the number. In some languages, such articles are numbered Article 1 bis (ter, quater, quinquies, etc.). When translating, use the English form.

Regulations have a final article stating when they enter into force and, in some instances, the details of the date or dates from which they apply.

That final article is followed by the sentence:

  • This Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.

Directives usually conclude with an article giving details of the arrangements for transposition followed by one stating when they enter into force and a final one stating to whom they are addressed.

Likewise, Decisions may conclude with articles giving details of their application and their addressees.

Place of enactment. Legislation issued by the Commission is always Done at Brussels, [date], while in draft Council legislation the place name is left blank (Done at …) since the ministers may not be meeting in Brussels when the instrument is finally adopted.


The subdivisions of acts are explained in a table in the Interinstitutional Style Guide.

Recitals. Numbered recitals are referred to as ‘recital 1, 2, 3’, etc. Note that the numbers are not enclosed in brackets in such references. Any unnumbered recitals are cited as ‘the first, second, third recital’ and so on.

Numbered and unnumbered subdivisions. The rules for citing subdivisions of articles in secondary legislation are the same as for treaties.

French terminology. The French word paragraphe always means a numbered paragraph; alinéa is an unnumbered sub-unit. If an article has no numbered subdivisions, alinéa is rendered in English as paragraph (first, second, etc.). If the alinéa is part of a numbered paragraph, it is rendered as subparagraph.

Avoid abbreviating Article to Art. wherever possible. Also do not use the § sign (section mark) for EU legislation: for example, l’article 3 §1 should read Article 3(1) in English.

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