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Advanced Introduction to European Union Law

European Union Law

Jacques Ziller

This book explains how member states of the EU confer powers to the Union through the founding treaties and the legal frame applicable to the Union’s institutions, and the rules that apply to their functioning and the legal review of their action. It reviews the main fields of action of the EU – the internal market, area of freedom, security and justice, external action – and how law is shaping them. The interaction between the EU and its member states is also explained.
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Scope of EU law and conferral

Jacques Ziller


The EU does not possess a general power to act in any type of field. In contrast to a sovereign state under international law – whose powers to act are only limited by obligations they entered into with international agreements – the powers of the Union are limited to those which have been conferred to it by its member states, and which they may take back through treaty revision.

The principle of conferral is recalled in Articles 4 and 5 TEU and in several provisions of the TFEU. According to Article 5(2) TEU, “Under the principle of conferral, the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.” The second sentence, which recalls the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution of the USA, is only spelling out an obvious legal point. As a matter of fact, the principle of conferral – which is inherent to international treaties, especially to those establishing intergovernmental organisations – was implicit to all EC treaties long before it was included in its present wording by the Lisbon treaty.

More important from a legal point of view is the statement that the Union shall act to attain the objectives set out in the treaties. Those objectives are spelt out in Article 3 TEU with a carefully chosen wording which sets limits to the policy...

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