EU law, History of the EU

The growth and decline of EU legislation over time

Some of the most persistent myths about European integration concern the questions what and how much does the EU do. While the big decisions taken at inter-governmental conferences get all the media attention, day-to-day policy making remains in the shadow, so the public gets a very skewed picture of the daily activities of the EU.

To shed some light on this issue, I developed a presentation of the growth (and decline) of EU legislation over time since 1967.  I gathered all  legal acts (more than 100 000) adopted by the European Communities/European Union and graphed the developments for the last 50+ years. To understand the development of EU legislative productivity one needs to pay attention to the very different types of legal acts the EU can adopt, so the presentation takes this into account and gives a rather detailed view of the data.

The main conclusions one can get from examining the presentation are the following:

1) over the last 15 years the growth in legislative productivity has slowed and even reversed. Currently the EU adopts on average no more rules than during the late 1970s and early 1980s;

2) the decline is productivity is especially pronounced if one looks only at important legislation. Much of the legal output is Commission legislation which is more similar to government and ministerial decrees at the national level and doesn’t have the same importance as real laws.

3) even nowadays, one third of all legal rules adopted concern the agricultural sector.

You are encouraged to look at the entire presentation for details, but the overall picture that appears is hardly one of a union in uncontrolled expansion. Actually, all EU institutions with all their advisory and expert bodies, and all their internal and external consultation committees,  and all their highly-trained bureaucrats and seconded national experts, and all their conferences and conciliation have managed to produce over the last few years a laughably small number of new important legislation.  During the entire 2012 the EU adopted 6 (six) new directives!

Which might actually be a good thing, but please bear this in mind the next time you hear about these faceless bureaucrats in Brussels controlling our lives with their ever-increasing web of rules.


Did the Dutch foreign minister just invite the Commission to monitor core democratic values in the member states?

As reported by Bloomberg here, the Dutch foreign minister and his German, Finnish and Danish colleagues have sent a letter to the European Commission’s President Barroso, urging the Commission to develop a mechanism for the EU to be able ‘to react swiftly and effectively to ensure compliance’ among its 27 member states with the EU’s fundamental values. This, according to the Financial Times, was a measure prompted by the recent constitutional amendment in Hungary affecting the country’s Constitutional Court. According to the Bloomberg news report, the ministers said in the letter that: ‘There are limits to our institutional arrangements when it comes to ensuring compliance,’ …’Neither the procedures enshrined in the treaties nor the EU fundamental rights charter provide for sufficiently targeted instruments….the Commission, ‘should have a stronger role’ in safeguarding fundamental values. The proposed mechanism ‘should be swift and independent of political expediency’. 

So let me get this straight, the Dutch foreign minister and his respective and respected colleagues suggest that when the Netherlands changes its constitutional arrangements, it should be checked by the European Commission? With all respect to the democratic credentials of the Danes, Germans, Finnish and Dutch, they either seem to think that this new monitoring mechanism and the respective instruments would only ever be applied to the new member states – in which case, this would be symptomatic of the two tiered, crypto discriminatory approach to new rules in the enlarged EU (to apply to anyone but Northern Europe?). Or they expect it will apply to them too, in which case they – at least in the Dutch case – forgot to tell the electorate and their fellow politicians they propose an external check on Dutch democracy. I can think of a whole host of Dutch commentators that would be very, very upset…Or is this European integration by stealth again?