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What is the subsidiarity principle?

The subsidiarity principle is one of the central principles in the EU context, laying down that political decisions in the EU must always be taken at the lowest possible administrative and political level, and as close to the citizens as possible. Other than the areas where the EU has exclusive competence, this means that the EU can only act if it would be better to implement the legislation in question at EU rather than at national, regional or local level.

Before presenting a proposal for new legislation, the Commission must always examine whether the proposal conforms to the principle of subsidiarity, and justify this. In general terms, the principle of subsidiarity means that two conditions must be fulfilled in order for the EU to be able to legislate in areas in which both the EU and the Member States can do so:

1. the aim of a proposal could not be fulfilled to an adequate degree by the Member States drawing up their own legislation;

2. the aim of a proposal could be better fulfilled by legislating at EU rather than national level.

The principle of subsidiarity is closely related to the principle of proportionality, in accordance with which EU measures should not go beyond what is necessary to fulfil the Treaty objectives.

The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, Article 5(2) and (3), TEU

 The Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein.

In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.

Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.

The principle of subsidiarity was inscribed in the Treaties by the Maastricht Treaty, and guidelines for interpreting it were set down in a declaration. Subsequently, a protocol concerning application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality was adopted in conjunction with the Treaty of Amsterdam. Among other things, the protocol called on the Commission to carry out a systematic analysis of how proposals for legislation relate to the principle of subsidiarity and imposed an obligation, wherever possible, to use the least far-reaching EU measures.

Each year the Commission compiles a report for the European Parliament, the Council and the European Council concerning application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Sidst opdateret: 30-07-2008  - ANSJ