Many federal states have a division of powers between the national, regional and local levels, or the national and supra-national levels in the case of international federations.  

Some powers (competences) rest with the federation, others with the participating  member states. There may also be "mixed" or "shared" competences and rules to determine who will control these "shared" competences.  

The Lisbon Treaty provides for a, partly new, division of EU competences in Art. 3-5 TFEU:

- exclusive EU competences -  member states have no right to legislate on their own.

- shared competences - member states can legislate as long as the Union has not legislated. When the Union does legislate, EU law has primacy over national law.

supporting, coordinating and supplementing competences: the EU cannot harmonise laws, but it can adopt legally binding rules all the same. 

In areas in which the EU has no clearly defined competence, the competence should remain with the member states according to the principle of conferred powers. This does not mean that the EU cannot interfere. Officials of the Danish Government when asked have not been able to mention a single area of Danish law which cannot be affected in some way  by the Lisbon Treaty.  

 The Lisbon Treaty contains a catalogue of competences to be divided into:

- Art. 3 TFEU for the exclusive competences

- Art. 4 TFEU for the shared competences 

- Art. 6 TFEU for the areas for supporting, coordinating and complementary action

The EU Court can reach all areas of national legislation if they find a national decision to be against the treaties.  



The Lisbon Treaty contains these  different categories of competence.

Exclusive Competence

Art. 3 TFEU defines as exclusive competences: competition rules within the internal market, the customs union, common commercial policy, monetary policy for Euro countries, the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fishing policy and - under certain circumstances - the conclusion of international agreements. In these areas the member states have no right to legislate on their own.

Shared Competence 

Art. 4 TFEU defines as shared competences: the internal market, agriculture and fisheries, transport, trans-European networks, energy, certain areas of social policy, economic, social and territorial cohesion, environment, certain areas of public health, consumer protection and the area of freedom, security and justice.

In these areas the member states lose the right to legislate when the EU legislates. If there is any dispute as to the boundary between what the EU does and what the member states can do, it is the Court of Justice which decides.  

For research, technological development, and space, both the EU and the member states may decide on programmes and take action. For development co-operation and humanitarian aid the Union will have the competence to take action and conduct a common policy without preventing the member states from exercising their competence.

Other competences

Art. 5 TFEU gives the EU co-ordinating powers for economic, employment and social policies and allows specific provisions to be decided for the Euro countries.

Art. 6 TFEU defines industry, education, vocational training and youth, culture, sport, civil protection and improvement of human health as “areas for supporting, coordinating and complementary action”.

Art. 10-12 TEU empower the EU to act in the field of foreign and security policy. Paragraph 2 obliges the member states to give active and unreserved support to the the Union's common foreign and security policy"in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity"

The specific legal bases are inserted in the respective titles of the TEU and TFEU parts of the Lisbon Treaty.



See Number of laws and Subsidiarity

See the Reader-Friendly edition of the EU Constitution with highlights, remarks in the margin, plus a great index to help you move around: