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Division of competences within the European Union



Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – categories and areas of EU competence

The European Union (EU) only has the competences (powers) conferred on it by the treaties (principle of conferral). Under this principle, the EU may only act within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the EU Member States in the treaties to attain the treaties’ objectives. Competences not conferred upon the EU in the treaties remain with the Member States.

The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the division of competences between the EU and its Member States. These competences are divided into three main categories:

  • exclusive competences of the EU
  • shared competences and
  • supporting competences.

Three main types of competences

The EU has an exclusive competence for the conclusion of international agreements under certain conditions.

Special competences

The EU can take measures to ensure that Member States coordinate their economic, social and employment policies at EU level.

The EU’s common foreign and security policy is characterised by specific institutional features, such as the limited participation of the European Commission and the European Parliament in the decision-making procedure and the exclusion of any legislation activity. That policy is defined and implemented by the European Council (consisting of the heads of states or governments of the Member States) and by the Council of the European Union (consisting of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level). The President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy represent the EU in matters of common foreign and security policy.

Exercise of competence

The exercise of EU competences is subject to two fundamental principles laid down in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union.

  • Proportionality. The content and scope of EU action may not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaties.
  • Subsidiarity. In the area of its non-exclusive competences, the EU may act only if – and in so far as – the objective of a proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, but could be better achieved at EU level.


Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – Part one – Principles – Title I – Categories and areas of Union competence – Article 2 (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 50).

last update 24.02.2022