Politics of the European Union, Competencies

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The Politics of the European Union are different from other organisations and states due to the unique nature of the European Union (EU). The EU is similar to a confederation, where many policy areas are federalised into common institutions capable of making law; however the EU does not, unlike most states, control foreign policy, defence policy or the majority of direct taxation policies (the EU does limit the level of variation allowed for VAT). These areas are primarily under the control of the EU's member states although a certain amount of structured co-operation and coordina


The states of the EU retain the powers not explicitly handed to the Union, as in most federations. In some areas the EU has exclusive competence, where member states are unable to act independently. If they want to act in these areas, they must agree through the institutions of the EU to change the laws. In other areas, the EU only plays a supporting role and the Member States are free to act. The majority of competencies are 'shared', meaning that member states may legislate only when the EU has not, or they may elaborate the laws of the EU provided their elaborations do not harm the objectives of the EU law. Thus, if the EU legislates in an area, all national laws that contradict the EU law are nullified when the EU law comes into force. Different competencies may also be used in different ways. For example, on foreign and defence issues the Parliament has a smaller role and the Council decides by unanimity rather than by majority.

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External Links

  • WikipediaOfficial EU website: EuropaEuropean NAvigator: The three pillars of the European UnionEuropean Institute for International Law and International RelationsCommon Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

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