International cooperation has become a salient feature of EU agencies triggering important legal questions regarding the scope and limits of the agencies’ international dimension, the nature and effects of their international cooperation instruments, and their legal status within the EU and on the global level. This article examines the international dimension of EU agencies by advancing a legalanalytical blueprint linking EU law to international public law. The principle of institutional balance and the Meroni doctrine are used as EU law parameters for assessing the agencies’ international cooperation mandate, powers and actions, whilst the concepts of ‘international agreement’ and ‘international legal personality’ serve as standards for clarifying the legal nature of EU agencies’ international cooperation instruments and their legal status as global actors. Case studies on the European Aviation Safety Agency, Frontex and Europol ‘test on the ground’ the legal-analytical framework advanced and offer fresh insights into the EU agencies’ international cooperation practice.
Whilst the institutional balance in EU external relations does not prohibit entrusting certain international cooperation tasks to EU agencies, the application of the Meroni requirements suggests a limited role for these EU bodies as global actors. Next, the international cooperation instruments concluded by EU agencies can be legally binding agreements which, as a specific category of technical-administrative agreements, could still be accommodated within the EU legal framework. Albeit EU agencies could acquire in theory a derived and functionally limited international legal personality, none of the three agencies examined has such a legal status entailing that their international cooperation actions are in principle attributable to the Union.European Foreign Affairs Review