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Competence of the EU

The European Union can only exercise competences that the Member States have conferred on it in the Treaties. The EU, therefore, is only competent to act within the scope of the powers allocated to it by its Member States. For each policy sector, the provisions on the scope and utilisation of competence are laid down in the relevant Articles of the Treaties. In addition, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission, and after consulting the European Parliament, has the competence to implement appropriate measures necessary for the attainment of the objectives laid down in a Treaty even if the measures are not provided for in the Treaty.

A distinction is made in defining the Union's exclusive powers, the powers shared between the Union and Member States, and the Union's powers that are complementary or coordinate to those of Member States.


Exclusive powers of the EU

In policy areas that are within the scope of the Union's exclusive competence, Member States may not implement any measures that might jeopardise the efficient attainment of Union-level objectives in those areas. These include common trade policy, protection of fish resources and monetary policy. 


Areas of shared powers

In areas of shared powers, the EU's competence does not take complete precedence over the competence of Member States in the same areas. However, in areas of shared competence, any provision laid down by the Union may limit the actions of Member States and they cannot implement measures that are not in accordance with the Union's provisions. All areas that do not belong to the category of the Union's exclusive powers can in principle be categorised as areas of shared competence.


Areas of complementary competence

In areas of complementary competence, such as development cooperation, action by the Union is limited to supporting, encouraging, and coordinating action taken by Member States. Therefore, Union-level action cannot completely supersede the competence of the Member States. In certain areas of complementary competence, Treaty provisions prohibit the harmonisation of the national laws of Member States. Such areas include academic education, vocational education, youth and culture. In certain other areas, such as economic and employment policy, Union institutions may introduce measures to coordinate the action of Member States.


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Date: 28.12.2007