How much legislation actually comes from Brussels?

Guy Bentley
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How many of the UK's laws come from Europe? It's not that easy to work out... (Source: Getty)

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding how much British legislation has its origins in Brussels.

Ukip have claimed ad nauseam that 75 per cent of Britain's laws are made in Brussels - but are they right?

A research paper published in 2010 from the House of Commons Library may shed some light on the matter. It claims that between 1997 and 2009, 6.8 per cent of primary legislation and 14.1 per cent of secondary legislation had a role in implementing rules that came from the EU.

This is a far cry from former President of the Commission Jacques Delors' prediction in July 1988 that within 10 years, some 80 per cent of economic legislation would come from the EU.

The figures were arrived at using statistics from national law databases and the EU’s EUR-Lex database. Agriculture is the area that suffers from the largest amount of Brussels interference while defence escapes relatively unscathed.

The government estimates that in some areas, up to 50 per cent of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from Brussels.

However, while insightful, the figures come with a handful of salt: The report admits it is near impossible to achieve a "totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU".


It is not clear to what extent the figures alone indicate the degree of European influence or “Europeanisation” without a qualitative evaluation of the effect of EU output.

This might include some analysis of the purpose and relative impact of EU measures, changes or adaptations in national policy-making and government structures, parliamentary scrutiny and transposition or implementation methods.

The paper cannot accurately tot up the relative importance or salience of EU or national legislative acts. Perhaps more importantly, EU regulations are not, for the most part, transposed into legislation at national level, but instead into quasi-legislative measures. This makes the EU's impact on the UK's economic life very difficult to assess.

"To exclude EU regulations from the calculation is likely to be an under-estimation of the proportion of EU-based national laws, while to include all EU regulations in the calculation is probably an over-estimation," the paper said.

The report believes that in numerical terms the truth lies somewhere in between the two approaches, and "it is possible to justify any measure between 15 per cent and 50 per cent or thereabouts".

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