Explanatory Notes

The interpretation of EU law

54 When interpreting EU legislation, the starting point, as with domestic law, is the meaning of the words used. If the legislation is clearly drafted it is usually not necessary to look beyond its wording. If the legislation is ambiguous then other methods of interpretation are used. These include establishing the purpose of the legislation by looking at its recitals1, looking at the legal basis of secondary legislation to understand its aim and content2, or considering other language versions of the text.3

1 EU legislation, unlike domestic legislation, includes recitals at the beginning that explain the reasons why the legislation is being made, but which are not themselves substantive provisions of law. In Ziolkowski and others v Land Berlin, Case C-424/10 and C-425/10, EU:C:2011:866, paragraphs 37, 42 and 43, the Court relied on recitals to ascertain the purpose of the Citizenship Directive, and the structured nature of the rights contained in it.

2 See for example the case of BECTU Case C-173/99, paragraph 36-38, where the Court said that it was necessary to have regard to the context and purpose of the Working Time Directive in order to interpret the provision relating to annual leave entitlement. The Court had regard amongst other matters to the legal basis to conclude that the purpose of the Directive was to lay down minimum requirements to improve the living and working conditions of workers and that harmonisation was intended to guarantee better protection of the health and safety of workers.

3 See for example X, Case 228/87, EU:C:1988:442, paragraph 14


Prepared 13th July 2017