February 25

The External Dimension of EU Agencies and Bodies

Edited by Herwig C.H. Hofmann, Ellen Vos and Merijn Chamon

review by

Dolores Utrilla

In the first book ever edited about the topic, Herwig C.H. Hofmann, Ellen Vos and Merijn Chamon (eds.) explore the external action of European Union agencies and suggest paths for a future research agenda in that field. This pioneering book brings together the first results from the Academic Research Network on EU Agencies and Institutional Innovation (TARN), an initiative launched in 2015 by senior scholars from different academic institutions in Europe to promote targeted research on EU agencies in the fields of political and legal science.

Functional decentralisation of EU executive governance began more than four decades ago and is now a fundamental feature of the EU’s institutional structure. There are around 40 decentralised agencies operating in various policy fields and performing heterogeneous tasks that include inter alia the adoption of binding acts, the formulation of soft law standards, the coordination of national authorities, the provision of scientific advice, the collection of information, or assistance in the implementation of EU law and policy. This has given rise to an important collection of positive law and academic research that, nevertheless, focuses mainly on issues internal to the EU legal order, insofar as agencies were created to contribute to a more proper and uniform implementation of EU law within the EU. This ‘classic’ normative and research approach has tackled fundamental matters concerning agency accountability, how they fit into the EU’s constitutional framework, the mechanisms for delegation of powers, or the relationship between EU agencies and the Commission.

However, EU agencies are becoming increasingly active at the international level. Their mandate involves an ever more frequent interaction with third countries, international organisations, and other non-EU bodies. Their current practice on the international stage includes, for example, setting standards, ensuring mutual recognition and incorporation of international best practices, developing common procedures, or collaboration in training matters. In view of a as of yet incomprehensive legal framework and academic literature on the ‘outward function’ of agencies, the relevance of this academic work is apparent.

The structure of the book clearly reflects its interdisciplinary nature. It is composed of 11 chapters divided into four sections. After a brief introductory chapter by the editors, Section I of the book explores the legal framework of the EU agencies’ external action. This part includes three chapters, namely on the constitutional limits to the EU agencies’ external relations as enshrined in positive law and deduced from the case law of the Court of Justice of the EU (Chapter 2, by Merijn Chamon and Valerie Demedts), on Frontex’s legal framework (Chapter 3, by Florin Coman-Kund), and on the legal regime of Europol and Eurojust’s relationship with external partners (Chapter 4, by Chloé Brière). In turn, Section II of the book approaches the subject-matter from a political perspective, focusing on the action of Frontex from the perspective of fundamental rights (Chapter 5, by Helena Ekelund) and on the role of agencies as agents of EU policy promotion beyond the EU’s borders (Chapter 6, by Sevasti Chatzopoulou). Section III addresses the issues of legitimacy and accountability taking three different approaches: how EU agencies treat financial soft law standards set by international bodies (Chapter 7, by Maurizia De Bellis), the procedures used by EU agencies to assess the equivalence of the legal regimes of third countries (Chapter 8, by Pieter Van Cleynenbreugel), and the influence of the European Ombudsman in securing good administration in the external relations of EU agencies (Chapter 9, by Marco Inglese). Finally, Section IV looks at the external action of EU agencies from the perspective of third countries, addressing how agencies can export the EU acquis (Chapter 10, by Dovilè Rimkutè and Karina Shyrokykh) and also how third countries can influence the EU acquis (Chapter 11, by Marja-Liisa Öberg).

These contributions allow existing gaps in the current legal framework and in academic literature on EU agencies to be identified. The contributors provide invaluable hints to both policymakers and academics. First, the book demonstrates the existing need to adapt the law governing agencies to the diversity in their relations with external partners, as well as the need to ensure an appropriate balance between efficient cooperation and protection of fundamental rights. Second, the book outlines a further and ambitious research agenda on this area. Issues in urgent need of clarification concern inter alia the organisational structures of EU agencies, their behaviour on the ground, their legitimacy and accountability, and their patterns of cooperation with external actors. It now remains to be seen how the European institutions and academics undertake these demanding tasks.


Dolores Utrilla is Senior Lecturer of Administrative Law at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain.


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