The European Union and International Agreements
Member States that have developed relations with non-European countries, involve the institutions of the European Union, and entail the rights and obligations of the Union on an international level are governed by international law. On the contrary, the rules of the Union regulate the definition of the respective competencies of the Union and of the Member States, the procedures for the formation of international agreements, and their effects on the European legal order.
Precisely, one of the sectors of exclusive competence of the European Union is that of concluding international agreements. This competence derives from the title of “legal personality” mentioned in art. 47 of the TEU attributed to the European Union with the reform of the Treaties which took place in 2007 and entered into force in 2009 under the name of the Treaty of Lisbon. With this title, it can negotiate and conclude international agreements with other non-European states, become a member of international organizations, and adhere to international conventions, in compliance with its external competencies.
The European Union lays the foundations of international policy on external action and above all concerns trade policy, governed by article 207 of the TFEU, which considers it a fundamental pillar as well as a central element of its relations with the rest of the world. On architecture in international matters, the Union concludes agreements together with another entity of public international law, i.e. a state or an international organization. There is no doubt, therefore, that the category of agreements relating to the common commercial policy assumes considerable importance in practice.
In this sense, the European Union understood not only as a geographical area but also as an internal market, is endeavoring to absorb enormous volumes of commercial business as a result of a gradual harmonization of national legislation in the field of indirect taxes which has allowed the Member States to eliminate tax controls for the exchange of goods. A milestone was also set for the facilitation of international trade agreements which however imposes a common customs tariff as envisaged by the Treaties. In particular, it can promote trade with third countries and favor trade in goods and services, the commercial aspects of intellectual property, foreign direct investment, the standardization of liberalization measures, export policy, and trade protection measures, including those to be adopted in cases of dumping and subsidies and lastly, the supply of raw materials and semi-finished products.
Concerning the effects produced by agreements concluded by the Union, Article 216 of the TFEU establishes that such agreements are binding on the institutions of the Union and the Member States and mentions the cases in which the Union is authorized to conclude such agreements. Furthermore, international agreements with third countries or with international organizations are an integral part of EU law. These agreements are separate from European law (so-called primary and secondary law) and form a sui generis category.
In this legal framework, the international agreements entered into by the European Union are governed, in part by international law, by the International Trade Organization. Among the functions of the Organization, there is above all that of providing a forum for carrying out negotiations relating to multilateral trade relations and tending to the maximum liberalization of world trade, such as, for example, the principle of the most favored nation clause, relating to customs duties and other taxes and duties related to export and import.