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Division of competences within the European Union



The EU has only the competences 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 countries in the Treaties to attain the objectives provided therein. Competences not conferred upon the EU in the Treaties remain with the EU countries. The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the division of competences between the EU and EU countries. These competences are divided into 3 main categories:

  • exclusive competences;
  • shared competences; and
  • supporting competences.

3 main types of competences

  • 1.

    Exclusive competences (Article 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — TFEU) areas in which the EU alone is able to legislate and adopt binding acts. EU countries are able to do so themselves only if empowered by the EU to implement these acts. The EU have exclusive competence in the following areas:

  • 3.

    Supporting competences (Article 6 of the TFEU): the EU can only intervene to support, coordinate or complement the action of EU countries. Legally binding EU acts must not require the harmonisation of EU countries’ laws or regulations. Supporting competences relate to the following policy areas:

Special competences

The EU can take measures to ensure that EU countries 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 EU countries) and by the Council (consisting of a representative of each EU country at ministerial level). The President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign 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 EU countries, but could be better achieved at EU level.

last update 26.01.2016