Subsidiarity and Community Competence in the Field of Education

1 Colum. J. Eur. L. 1 (1994)

Koen Lenaerts. Judge of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities; Professor of European Law, Catholic University of Leuven.

One of the outstanding features of the Treaty on European Union (hereinafter TEU) is that it formally recognizes a Community competence in the field of education. According to Article 3p, the activities of the Community include, “as provided in this Treaty,” “a contribution to education and training of quality.” The words “as provided in this Treaty” refer to the new Articles 126 (“education”) and 127 (“vocational training”), which together form a “Chapter” within the “Title” of Part Three of the EC Treaty (“Community Policies”) devoted to “Social Policy, Education, Vocational Training and Youth.” It may seem astonishing that precisely at a time when several Member States contest the steady expansion of Community powers, education is added to the list of subject matters in respect of which the Community is to assume a certain number of responsibilities. Indeed, education is one of those areas which appear to be particularly sensitive to the national or subnational identity of the peoples of Europe. This is undoubtedly why some Member States have entrusted to their constituent entities (such as the  Belgian “Communities,” the German “Länder” or the Spanish “Comunidades Autónomas”) the power to deal with educational matters.

However, the truth is that Articles 126 and 127 of the EC Treaty do not extend the scope of Community powers to an entirely new domain; they instead essentially consolidate the acquis communautaire (safeguarded by Article C of the TEU) as this principle relates to Community legislation in the field of education. This body of legislation thus acquired a more solid constitutional basis than that provided by the former Article 128 of the EEC Treaty (repealed by the TEU), which concerned vocational training, but which had been interpreted by the Court of Justice in an unusually wide manner so as to cover major aspects of education in general. This dimension of the acquis communautaire will be examined in Part I.