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FAQ on the EU competences and the European Commission powers




EU Competences

  1. What are the competences of the EU? Where are they defined?

    The competences of the Union are defined in the EU Treaties (Articles 2-6 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union – TFEU).

    Exclusive competence
    (see Article 3 TFEU)
    Shared competence
    (see Article 4 TFEU)
    Competence to support, coordinate or supplement actions of the member states
    (see Article 6 TFEU)
    Competence to provide arrangements within which EU member states must coordinate policy
    (see Article 5 TFEU)
    • customs union
    • the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market
    • monetary policy for the member states whose currency is the euro
    • conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy
    • common commercial policy
    • concluding international agreements
      • when their conclusion is required by a legislative act of the EU
      • when their conclusion is necessary to enable the EU to exercise its internal competence
      • in so far as their conclusion may affect common rules or alter their scope.
    Legally binding EU acts in these areas cannot imply the harmonisation of national laws or regulations.

    The Treaty on European Union also gives the EU competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.

    NB: In most policy areas where the EU can act, the Commission is empowered to submit a proposal for a legal act. However, in some of them - like the common foreign and security policy - the Commission does not have this power.

  2. What are the different categories of EU competence?
    The competences of the EU are divided into three categories:
    • the EU has exclusive competence (Article 3 TFEU) (only the EU can act)
    • competences are shared between the EU and the member states (Article 4 TFEU) (The member states can act only if the EU has chosen not to)
    • the EU has competence to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states (article 6 TFEU) – in these areas, the EU may not adopt legally binding acts that require the member states to harmonise their laws and regulations.
  3. What does "shared competence" mean?

    "Shared competence" means that both the EU and its member states may adopt legally binding acts in the area concerned.

    However, the member states can do so only where the EU has not exercised its competence or has explicitly ceased to do so.

  4. In the areas where the EU can carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement action by the member states, does the EU have competence to harmonise legislation in force in the member states?

    NO - legally binding acts of the Union relating to these areas shall not entail harmonisation of national laws or regulations.

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European Commission powers to propose a legal act of the Union

  1. What is a legal act of the Union?

    EU legal acts are legislative or non-legislative acts adopted by the EU institutions.

    The EU institutions may adopt five types of acts.

    Legally binding acts
    • regulations
    • directives
    • decisions

    Non-binding acts
    • recommendations
    • opinions

    For more details see Article 288 TFEU.

  2. What is the role of the Commission in the EU legislative process?

    In the EU legislative process, the Commission makes the proposal for a legal act of the Union. To become law, it must be adopted by the legislator. In most cases, the legislator is both the European Parliament and the Council. In some cases, it is only one of them.

    A citizens' initiative invites the Commission to propose a legal act. If the Commission decides to put forward a proposal, it will have to be adopted by the legislator to become law.

    For more information on the EU decision-making process, see How EU decisions are made.

  3. Can the Commission propose a legal act in every area where the EU has competence?

    NO – for example, the EU has competence for common foreign and security policy but the Commission does not have powers to propose a legal act in this field.

  4. In which cases can the Commission submit a proposal for a legal act?
    • In all cases where an EU legal act is adopted by a legislative procedure (ordinary or special), unless the Treaties provide otherwise
    • AND
    • in all cases where the Treaties explicitly state that the Commission is responsible for proposing a legal act.
  5. What is the ordinary legislative procedure? Is the Commission in charge of submitting a proposal under this procedure?

    This is the standard decision-making procedure for most EU policy areas.

    It is also known as co-decision because it involves joint adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of regulations, directives or decisions (see Article 294 TFEU). Neither institution (European Parliament or Council) may adopt the legislative act alone.

    The Commission is in charge of submitting the proposal for the legislative act to the European Parliament and the Council.

    More on the ordinary legislative procedure

  6. What is a special legislative procedure? Is the Commission in charge of submitting a proposal under this type of procedure?

    Special legislative procedures apply in specific cases explicitly mentioned in the Treaties, where a regulation, directive or decision is adopted by the European Parliament with the participation of the Council, or by the Council with the participation of the European Parliament (Article 289(2) TFEU).

    Special legislative procedures differ according to the matter concerned.

    The Commission is in charge of submitting the proposal for the legislative act to the legislator (Parliament/Council), except where the Treaties provide otherwise.

  7. Are there other (non-legislative) procedures which can lead to the adoption of a legal act of the Union (other than a legislative act) on a proposal from the Commission?

    YES – the procedure for their adoption is defined on a case-by-case basis in the Treaties.

    These acts are adopted on the basis of a Commission proposal only where the Treaties so provide.

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