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Whatever Happened to EU Subsidiarity?

The principle of subsidiarity, enshrined in 1992 in the EU’s founding treaties, holds that decisions should be made locally whenever possible. But while Europe's politicians have paid lip service to the principle, in practice it has all too often been ignored.

FRANKFURT – As the end of 2015 approaches, many people may be thinking of their New Year’s resolutions for the coming year: to eat healthier, drink less, and go to the gym more often. More likely than not, however, a few weeks later, they will still be overeating, drinking too much, and wondering when they last saw their gym card.

These self-control issues, it turns out, are not unique to people. Organizations and governments can suffer from similar lapses in self-discipline. Consider, for example, the European Union’s approach to subsidiarity, the principle that decisions should be left to the most local form of government able to handle them. For more than 20 years, the EU has promised to adhere to it. But no sooner have such pledges been made than they have been broken.

The principle of subsidiarity – derived from the Latin word meaning “to aid” – was enshrined in 1992 in the EU’s founding treaties. The principle holds that assistance should be given only when and as required. Those closest to the issues know them best and are best-placed to address them. Higher levels of government, including the EU, should intervene only when it is truly necessary.

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