Development Cooperation Handbook/Definitions/Subsidiarity

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Definitions  


Subsidiarity is generally defined as the "organizing principle stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively". While this is the standard way by which the word "subsidiarity" is used in institutional governance, its concept is more relevant and refers to the way that different authorities interact so that they reciprocally recognize and empower each other avoiding that "the bigger" is put higher in the hierarchical order then "the smaller". Subsidiarity means that each level of authority requires the others in a process that all are reciprocally "subsidiary". The "smaller" in a geographic sense may actually be "higher" in a "ethical" sense and may have much more relevance to the life of the individuals then the far away "big powers". At the same time it is the peaceful and synergistic coordination of the "smalls" into widely coordinated "bigger" authorities that enable the smalls to be really autonomous authorities that really recognized and protect the rights of the individual persons.


The EU subsidiarity model[edit]

Subsidiarity is a fundamental principle of the European Union law, established in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 5), and signed Feb 7 1992. It is described in the Treaty as the principle whereby “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.

Catholic social teaching[edit]

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching. The concept or principle is found in several constitutions around the world (see for example the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution). The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. The principle was further developed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, and Economic Justice for All by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of communism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. The principle was further developed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, and Economic Justice for All by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

European Union law[edit]

Subsidiarity was established in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht, signed on 7 February 1992 and entered into force on 1 November 1993. The present formulation is contained in Article 5 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (consolidated version following the Treaty of Nice, which entered into force on 1 February 2003):

"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.
A more descriptive analysis of the principle can be found in Protocol 30 to the EC Treaty.

Article 9 of the proposed European constitution states

Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.

Formally, the principle of subsidiarity applies to those areas where the Community does not have exclusive competence, the principle delineating those areas where the Community should and should not act. In practice, the concept is frequently used in a more informal manner in discussions as to which competences should be given to the Community, and which retained for the Member States alone.

The concept of subsidiarity therefore has both a legal and a political dimension. Consequently, there are varying views as to its legal and political consequences, and various criteria are put forward explaining the content of the principle. For example:

  • The action must be necessary because actions of individuals or member-state governments alone will not achieve the objectives of the action (the sufficiency criterion)
  • The action must bring added value over and above what could be achieved by individual or member-state government action alone (the benefit criterion).
  • Decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen (the close to the citizen criterion)
  • The action should secure greater freedoms for the individual (the autonomy criterion).

The European Union, however, has as part of its phraseology a call for "an ever-closer union." What restraints upon the progress of centralised decision making would be brought about by strict reference to the principle of subsidiarity have yet to be proven by major constitutional clashes.

See also[edit]

Othr chapters in this handbook
Ezra Cornell's first book.jpgThe participatory approach
Ezra Cornell's first book.jpgLocal Authorities and Civil Society
Ezra Cornell's first book.jpgEmpowerment
Issues icon.jpgHow can local policy actors contribute to the achievement of MDGs and other global policy objectives?

External links[edit]