Principle of Subsidiarity

The principle of subsidiarity is a fundamental concept in the European Union (EU) that guides decision-making and the allocation of responsibilities between the EU and its member states. It is enshrined in the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and is meant to ensure that decisions are made at the most appropriate level of government, whether that is at the EU level or the national level, in order to achieve the best possible outcomes and promote efficiency.

Decentralisation: Subsidiarity promotes decentralisation, meaning that decisions should be made as close to the citizens as possible. It emphasises that matters should be handled by the lowest level of government (local, regional, or national) capable of effectively addressing them.

Proportionality: Decisions taken at the EU level should be proportional to the objectives they seek to achieve. This means that the EU should not take action unless it is necessary to achieve its objectives and the benefits outweigh the costs or burdens imposed.

Justification: When proposing EU legislation or action, the European Commission (the executive branch of the EU) is required to justify why EU-level intervention is necessary, taking into account the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. If national parliaments believe that an EU proposal violates the principle of subsidiarity, they can issue a subsidiarity objection.

Early warning mechanism: The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force in 2009, introduced a mechanism to strengthen the role of national parliaments in the EU legislative process. National parliaments can review draft legislation and issue reasoned opinions if they believe that a proposal violates the principle of subsidiarity. If a significant number of national parliaments object, it can trigger a yellow card procedure, requiring the Commission to reconsider its proposal.

Judicial review: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) can also review whether EU actions or legislation comply with the principle of subsidiarity. It ensures that decisions taken at the EU level are in line with the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity is intended to strike a balance between the need for collective action at the EU level and the preservation of national sovereignty and autonomy. It aims to prevent unnecessary centralisation of power and decision-making in Brussels, ensuring that decisions are made by the appropriate authority while respecting the diversity and unique circumstances of each member state.
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