A question of competences

The Lisbon Treaty clearly sets out divisions of competency between the EU and member states. In doing so, it highlights the areas of exclusive competency for the Union (where the EU acts), areas of shared competency (where both the EU acts as a whole and member states can act alone) and supporting competence areas where the EU is only tasked with providing support to member states.

Competences in the EU: Who is responsible for what?

In areas of exclusive competence only the EU may legislate and adopt legally binding decisions. However, member states may adopt legislation on these matters unilaterally if they are empowered to do so by the Union.

Exclusive competence areas are –

  • Customs Union
  • Conservation of marine biological resources (a part of fisheries policy)
  • Establishing rules for the effective functioning of the Internal Market
  • European Monetary Union
  • Common Commercial Policy

Shared competences are areas where both the EU and member states can devise legislation, but where member states can only exercise their competence when the EU has not done so.

Shared competence areas are –

  • Internal Market
  • Social Policy
  • Economic social and territorial cohesion
  • Public health
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Environment
  • Transport
  • Consumer protection
  • Area of Freedom, Security and Justice
  • Energy
  • Trans-European networks

Supporting competences are where the EU may support, coordinate or supplement the action of EU member states but where the EU cannot adopt legislation.

Supporting competence areas are –

  • Human health
  • Culture
  • Tourism
  • Industry
  • Civil protection
  • Administrative cooperation
  • Education, vocational training, youth and sport


Source:  Pris, J. (2010). The Lisbon Treaty: A Political and Legal Analysis (pp. 75-76.)