By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online
Ten new EU member states have spent the last four years ploughing through 80,000 pages of EU law and turning most of it into domestic legislation.
This huge body of paper work, enough to fill a small library, is concrete evidence of the role the EU plays in our lives, whether we know it or not.
It is estimated that about half the laws enacted in existing member states stem from EU legislation.
In Poland, about one-third of parliament's time over the last three years has been spent catching up and it is still racing to meet the deadline.
"We have passed between 220 and 240 laws," says the head of the parliament's Europe committee, Josef Oleksy.
"We have another 30 laws and 150 executive orders to do before 1 May 2004."
Laws and framework laws
There are just over 2,500 EU directives in force at the moment, most of which have been transposed into national law by the member states - the compliance rate ranges between 96% and 99%.
The draft EU constitution proposes renaming directives "framework laws" because they describe the effect national legislation must achieve, but leave it up to governments to draft and enforce their own laws.
They cover everything from waste disposal to the marketing of explosives and conditions for obtaining boatmasters' certificates, from intellectual property rights to the veterinary supervision of abattoirs.
The biggest single sub-category is health and consumer protection, followed by law governing enterprises, the internal market, energy and transport, and the environment.
The EU also passes regulations (to be known in future simply as laws) which pass directly into national law without modification, but these tend to be of a more technical nature.
All legislation is listed, as it is adopted, in the EU's official journal.
The journal for Wednesday 26 November 2003 lists a regulation governing the use of smoke flavouring in food, and a decision of the European Parliament and Council of Ministers on the use of remote sensing and aerial survey techniques in gathering agricultural statistics between 2004 and 2007.
There are also three regulations concerned with the day-to-day running of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Another section of the EU website lists deadlines for directives to be transposed into national law.
There is just one for November - an amendment to rules on maritime safety and the prevention of pollution from ships, agreed after the Prestige oil disaster - but there is a whole list of them for December.
Laws proposed by European Commission
Law adopted if position taken by European Parliament (EP) at first reading is approved by Council of Ministers
Law also adopted if position taken by Council of Ministers is approved by EP at second reading
EP can reject law or propose amendments with backing of more than half of total number of MEPs
Law adopted if Council of Ministers approves EP amendments by qualified majority, or (when the Commission opposes an amendment) by unanimity
If needed, conciliation is committee convened to find compromise, which is adopted by majority of votes cast in EP (third reading) and qualified majority in Council
Source: Draft constitution, article III-302
The EU's legislative output has slowed since the heady days of the creation of the single market, but the next few months are expected to be quite busy, with the parliament facing elections in June, and the commission due for replacement later in the year.
On some legislation the parliament and the Council of Ministers (made up of government ministers from member states) are already negotiating informally to find compromises that will speed up the process.
Up to now EU law making has been a fiendishly complicated business (though less so since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997).
The EU draft constitution, however, introduces a relatively simple "ordinary legislative procedure" intended to apply to most areas of EU activity.
The directives churned out by the EU have also tended to be extremely complicated. A "less is more" philosophy has been part of the Brussels agenda for at least a decade, but it is debatable whether it has born fruit.
Few would dispute, however, that national governments sometimes aggravate the problem of complicated directives by "goldplating" them - that is, adding extra regulation of their own invention as they draft the corresponding national laws.
Quite often the European public is unaware that laws passed by their national parliaments began life in Brussels.
In the UK, the government has begun introducing anti-discrimination legislation - most recently a plan to ban age-discrimination in the workplace - without widely advertising the fact that it all stems from an EU directive.
"When it is seen as a good-news thing, they want to claim credit for it," says Kirsty Hughes, of the Centre for European Policy Studies.
"If it is something controversial, they blame it on Brussels."
It is part of Brussels lore that governments frequently disown directives they have actually voted in favour of behind closed doors.
This is likely to become more difficult if the draft constitution is passed in its present form. It would make legislative sessions of the Council of Ministers open to the public.