Alphabetical index


Distribution of competences

The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the division of competences between the Union and the Member States. Alongside the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, it includes the principle of conferral (Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union – TEU). This principle provides that the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in specified areas.

There are three types of competences:

  • exclusive competences: they are provided for by Article 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). Only the Union may legislate in these areas. The Union may also conclude international agreements when this conclusion is provided for in a legislative act of the Union or is necessary to enable the Union to exercise one of its exclusive competences.
  • Shared competences: they are provided for by Article 4 of the TFEU. The Union and Member States may legislate in these areas. Member States may exercise their competence as long as the Union has not exercised its competence or when the Union decides not to exercise it. Member States may also request the Commission to repeal an adopted legislative act in one of the shared areas in order to better ensure compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (Declaration No 18 annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon);
  • areas where Member States remain competent, but where the Union may complete their action by carrying out supporting or coordinating actions.

These competences may be extended through the application of the flexibility clause (Article 352 of the TFEU). This enables additional powers to be given to the Union when the means necessary for achieving one of its objectives have not been provided for in the Treaties.

The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality act as power regulators so as to ensure compliance with this distribution. National parliaments shall have a role in monitoring compliance with the subsidiarity principle.


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