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Summaries of EU Legislation

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International agreements and the EU's external competences

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International agreements and the EU's external competences

 

SUMMARY OF:

Article 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

Article 216 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

WHAT DO THE TREATIES SAY ABOUT THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) AND ITS EXTERNAL COMPETENCES?

With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU acquired legal personality. The EU is therefore a subject of international law which is capable of negotiating and concluding international agreements on its own behalf, i.e. it has competences (or powers) in this field conferred on it by the treaties.

These international agreements have legal effects in the internal law of the EU and of the EU countries. Moreover, the founding Treaties of the EU lay down the procedures by which the EU can conclude international agreements.

Definition

International agreements are the result of a consensus between the EU on the one hand and a non-EU country or third-party organisation on the other hand. These agreements create rights and obligations for both the EU institutions and EU countries. They become part of EU law on the date of their entry into force or on another specified date.

Legally, international agreements are secondary conventions and agreements and must therefore comply with the founding Treaties of the EU. However, they have greater value than ‘unilateral’ secondary acts, i.e. acts adopted unilaterally by the EU institutions (regulations, directives, decisions, etc.).

External competences of the EU

The external competences of the EU are defined in Article 216 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The EU may conclude international agreements:

  • in the cases provided for by the founding treaties;
  • where provided for in a legally binding act;
  • where the conclusion of an agreement is necessary in order to achieve one of the objectives of the EU, even in the absence of internal EU legislation;
  • where the agreement may affect common rules adopted in internal EU law. This means that where the EU has adopted common rules for implementing a policy, EU countries may no longer enter into agreements with non-EU countries affecting those rules.

In addition, Article 207 of the TFEU governs the EU’s trade policy — a key external competence of the EU and a central element of its relations with the rest of the world.

Exclusive competence and shared competence

The distribution of competences between the EU and EU countries is also expressed at international level. Where the EU negotiates and concludes an international agreement, it has either exclusive competence or competence which is shared with EU countries.

Where it has exclusive competence, the EU alone has the power to negotiate and conclude the agreement. Moreover, Article 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU specifies the areas in which the EU has exclusive competence to conclude international agreements, including trade agreements.

Where its competence is shared with EU countries, the agreement is concluded both by the EU and by the EU countries. It is therefore a mixed agreement to which EU countries must give their consent. The areas in which competences are shared are defined in Article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

MAIN DOCUMENTS

Article 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 51)

Article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 51–52)

Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 140–141)

Article 216 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 144)

last update 08.08.2016

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