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The European Union’s external responsibilities

The European Union’s (EU) external responsibilities are defined in accordance with whether they are conferred on the EU or on the Member States. These responsibilities are called “exclusive” where exercised entirely by the Union (for example, the common agricultural policy) and “shared” where they may be exercised either by the Union or by Member States (for example, transport policy).

The distinction has been defined in Court of Justice case law and is based on the principle of implicit powers, whereby external competence derives from the existence of explicit internal competence. This case law is established by Article 216 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU which sets out that the Union is competent to conclude an agreement where:

  • the Treaties so provide (exclusive competence);
  • the conclusion of an agreement is necessary in order to achieve one of the objectives referred to in the Treaties;
  • the conclusion of an agreement is provided for in a legally binding act;
  • the conclusion of an agreement is likely to affect common rules or alter their scope.

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