Research Handbook on the Law of International Organizations
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Research Handbook on the Law of International Organizations

Edited by Jan Klabbers and Åsa Wallendahl

This pioneering Research Handbook with contributions from renowned experts, provides an overview of the general doctrines making up the law of international organizations.
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Chapter 3: Reasoning on Powers of Organizations

Viljam Engström


Viljam Engström INTRODUCTION International organizations assert their influence in various ways.1 They are first and foremost fora for cooperation between (mainly) states and their task is to structure the collective action of these states in various ways. An organization may provide services, create actors, draft treaties, launch initiatives, and monitor members in various ways. Organizations can also have a more subtle impact for example through organizing information, defining concepts, striking balances between interdependent political alternatives, and by transmitting models of ‘good’ behaviour.2 The influence that organizations have on our daily lives need not hereby arise from the imposition of direct obligations upon members.3 This means that the impact that an organization has cannot be exhaustively grasped by only looking at its competences. Nevertheless, when international lawyers want to know what an organization is legally entitled to do interest is turned to ‘the law of organizations’ and particularly the issue of legal powers. The notion of legal powers does not capture any uniform set of activities. Instead, every organization possesses an individual set of powers. Whereas for many organizations the most clear exercise of a legal power may be the conclusion of an agreement with the power company at the location of its headquarters or the adoption of the organization budget, some organizations are equipped with means for restraining the sovereign jurisdiction of their members (most notably this is the case in the European Union (EU)). In addition, the powers of an international organization are rarely carved in stone but...

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