3 principles

3 principles determine how and in what areas the EU may act:

  • conferral – the EU has only that authority conferred upon it by the EU treaties, which have been ratified by all member countries
  • proportionality – the EU action cannot exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaties
  • subsidiarity – in areas where either the EU or national governments can act, the EU may intervene only if it can act more effectively

Only EU can legislate

In certain areas, the EU alone is able to pass laws. The role of member countries is limited to applying the law, unless the EU authorises them to adopt certain laws themselves. In these areas, the EU has what the treaties call exclusive competences:

EU or national governments can legislate

In certain areas, both the EU and member countries are able to pass laws. But member countries can do so only if the EU has not already proposed laws or has decided that it will not. In these areas, the EU has what the treaties call shared competences:

Member countries legislate, EU helps

In certain areas, the EU can only support, coordinate or complement the action of member countries. It has no power to pass laws and may not interfere with member countries’ ability to do so. In these areas, the EU has what the treaties call supporting competences

EU plays special role

In certain areas, special competences enable the EU to play a particular role or to go beyond what it is normally allowed under the treaties:

  • coordination of economic and employment policies
  • definition and implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • the ‘flexibility clause’, which under strict conditions enables the EU to take action outside its normal areas of responsibility