More is Less: Subsidiarity-1

After the publication of their White Paper (WP) on the Future of Europe in March 2017, The European Commission (EC) set up a group, called the Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and ‘Doing Less More Efficiently’ to reflect and report on the fourth scenario outlined in the WP: “Doing less more efficiently”. [1], [2]

Task Force

This refers to the principle, established in the EU treaties, of subsidiarity: the principle that decisions should be taken at the government level which can most effectively carry them out.

One of the instructions Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the EC, gave the task force was to identify “any policy areas where, over time, decision-making and/or implementation could be re-delegated, in whole or in part, or definitively returned to the member states“.

A member of the Task Force, Karl-Heinz Lambertz (President of the EU Committee of the Regions), said, “The fundamental question is always: where is the ‘European added value’ if Europe does something? That is subsidiarity,”

The WP itself outlined the task: “In a scenario where there is a consensus on the need to better tackle certain priorities together, the EU27 decides to focus its attention and limited resources on a reduced number of areas.” A crucial proviso was, “However, for those domains regulated at EU level, greater enforcement powers [will] ensure full compliance.”

Part of the background to this scenario was the recognition that, “…many Europeans consider the Union as either too distant or too interfering in their day-to-day lives. Others question its added-value and ask how Europe improves their standard of living. And for too many, the EU fell short of their expectations…” [1]

Of course ‘Europe’ is a geographical region but not a legal entity, while the EU is a legal entity which could, through its member states, improve standards of living, though it is hard to detect any value that it adds to whatever those states do for themselves.

Active subsidiarity-2The chairman of the Task Force, Franz Timmermans, who is also a Vice-President of the EC, says in his opening remarks to the report, titled ‘Active Subsidiarity: A New Way of Working’ [3], “The White Paper on the Future of Europe has stimulated a deep process of reflection about the Europe we need.”

He continues: “The Treaties do not give the EU’s institutions a blank cheque to do what they want. Subsidiarity and proportionality are the practical tools to ensure that the Union does not do what the Member States or regional and local authorities can better do themselves and to focus the Union’s actions on where it can really add value.”

Finally, this report … is not an end in itself. It is the start of a process to open up our procedures more to the local and regional level and to make the Union’s legislation work better for its citizens.”

High hopes then. However, in the executive summary the report concludes (or confesses) that, “There is EU value added in all existing areas of activity and the Task Force did not, therefore, identify any Treaty competences or policy areas that should be re-delegated definitively, in whole or in part, to the Member States.”

This was the response to one of the three tasks the EC had set the Task Force: “The identification of any policy areas where, over time, decision making and/or implementation could be re-delegated in whole or in part or definitively returned to the Member States.”

Juncker-noJean-Claude Juncker himself clearly indicated his deep concern for subsidiarity in his State of the European Union 2018 presentation to the European Parliament: [4]

We all say in soap-box speeches that we want to be big on big things and small on small things. But there is no applause when EU law dictates that Europeans have to change the clocks twice a year. The Commission is today proposing to change this. Clock-changing must stop. Member States should themselves decide whether their citizens live in summer or winter time. It is a question of subsidiarity.”

This was his only reference to subsidiarity and he made no reference to the Tasks Force’s report, although Lambertz had expected J-C to acknowledge the work of his group and this expectation is mentioned specifically in the Task Force report.

The principle of subsidiarity is firmly embedded in the Treaty of European Union (TEU). [5] But what the EU wants is ‘solidarity’ rather than ‘subsidiarity’. [6]

The Task Force came to five broad conclusions, which we can summarise and which point up the impossibility of getting the EU to give practical recognition to its acknowledged weaknesses:

More-lessFirst, the Task Force fully recognised the need for more Union action to address important emerging challenges where it has added value, such as security, defence and migration, and the need for the Union to intensify its actions in other areas…”

In short, the Union must do more, not less (our emphasis added).

Second, the Task Force concluded that – much more than identifying areas to be re-delegated to Member States – it is essential to remedy the weaknesses in the current policymaking processes.”

Current EU policy-making does not have enough commitment from the member states; that is its weakness and it is more important than sticking to the promise of subsidiarity.

Third, the better shared understanding of the subsidiarity and proportionality principles, and a more structured and consistent application of them throughout the decision-making processes, could help to reduce some of the concerns and frustrations that feed the view that the Union is doing too much.”

Can they really believe that doing more will dissolve “the view that the Union is doing too much”? So “shared understanding” means getting those member states to accept that they are now governed, irreversibly, by a superior regime.

Fourth, the Task Force was of the view that EU legislation in some areas may have become too ‘dense’ or complex. … The Task Force was aware that there are a number of reasons why this may be the case including a lack of sufficient trust between the Member States themselves and between the Member States and the Union’s institutions.” 


So lack of trust can be acknowledged but not dealt with. Q. How does a lack of trust give rise to dense or complex legislation? A. Because if you won’t trust us then we have to make sure that you behave properly.

Finally, the Task Force believes that its findings should not be
the end of a process, but rather the beginning of a more active engagement with the issues of subsidiarity and proportionality
by all EU institutions, and national, regional and local authorities building on, and taking forward, the recommendations and actions of the Task Force presented in this report. It looks forward to the reaction of the President of the European Commission, and to further reflections on these issues…”

The President did not react; except to recommend that decisions over changing the clocks should be given back to the member states. We’ve seen, above, the non-reaction of the President; in the follow-up post we review the recommendations of the Task Force.

In conclusion, bringing the whole thing back to the White Paper, the “Task Force does not think that this aspect of Scenario 4 of the White Paper on the Future of Europe is the most appropriate way forward.”

Clock changeDespite – indeed from – the pages of guff in this report, we can conclude that the EU does not believe in subsidiarity in any sense that citizens and voters would recognise as returning sovereignty to their nations. Properly defined ‘subsidiarity’ means “the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.” (OED); it doesn’t mean that the central authority should dictate what it does and decline to consider returning any responsibilities to the proper level.

We continue our discussion of this EU document in More is Less: Subsidiarity-2

[1]       Our Commentary on the White Paper

[2]       More on the White Paper


[4]       State of the European Union 2018 – 2

[5]       Subsidiarity and Competence

[6]       State of the European Union 2018 – 1



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