Subsidiarity To The Rescue?

The wrangling continues. To the world this must present a pretty unedifying spectacle of day-to-day political life here in the EU.

Italy has now threatened to use the veto, Peter Mandelson (taking time out from advising the US on how to handle China) asks Blair to think again, Blair himself is on a whilstlestop, and the whole question of how to handle Turkey admission is – like the proverbial hot potatoe – rapidly moving from one hand to the next.

Yesterday the euro – reeling from the referendum and the ECB rate crisis, went bobbing up and down like a yo-yo, and all in all we’re having a ‘very happy time of it’.

What the EU needs now is some short term success, some visible signs that things actually work, some ‘baby steps’ even.

Well one possible area where things could advance, and to everyones pleasure, might be related to the so-called ‘early warning system’ contained in the Consitution Treaty. Ian Cooper explains:

Subsidiarity, first introduced in the Maastricht Treaty, requires that, in policy areas where competence is shared between the EU and the member states, the EU should not act when action at the national level is more appropriate.

It is a political check on the manner in which the EU exercises its legal powers. In effect, it obliges the EU to think twice before legislating, and to legislate in a way that places fewest limits on the member states? freedom of action. It is an elementary principle of good governance………

The Early Warning System was devised by the Convention that drafted the Constitutional Treaty, as part of its broader mandate to bring the EU “closer to its citizens.”

As such it has a dual purpose, to promote subsidiarity compliance and to enhance the EU?s democratic legitimacy by giving national parliaments a direct role in EU politics for the first time…………..

How exactly would the Early Warning System work? The Commission, the body that initiates legislation, would send all new legislative proposals to national parliaments. Each national parliament would have six weeks to submit a “reasoned opinion” raising objections to a proposal on the grounds that it violates subsidiarity ? in other words, that the matter should be left to national governments.

If one third of national parliaments (9 of the current 25) raise objections, then this constitutes a “yellow card” and the proposal must be formally reviewed. After this review, the Commission may “maintain, amend, or withdraw” the proposal, and must “give reasons” for its decision.

This system would allow national parliaments to intervene early and vocally in the European legislative process………

Eurosceptics will complain that this amounts to smuggling elements of the treaty in through the back door. Europhiles will worry that “cherrypicking” the least objectionable elements of the treaty is a prelude to its abandonment. They should press ahead despite such objections.

There is ample precedent for such a move. In 1992, the people of Denmark voted “no” to the Maastricht Treaty. European leaders, meeting at Edinburgh, seized on that document?s new provisions on subsidiarity to prove to sceptical voters that the nascent EU would not become a federal superstate.

A number of subsidiarity-related reforms, such as the withdrawal of pending legislation, were implemented even before the Maastricht Treaty was fully ratified.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “Subsidiarity To The Rescue?

  1. There’s nothing to be gained from the treaty’s subsidiarity provision. The only reason it is in the treaty is that this token nod to an arrangement to protect “subsidiarity” was likely to have no effect on the continuing centralisation of power and mega-regulation which are the EU’s preferred policy for institutions and outputs, just like the previous creation of subsidiarity in the follow up to the Danish vote on Maastricht had zero effect on the EU’s regulatory ambitions, which in fact have grown enormously since then. The way to keep policy close to national electorates is to remove competences from the EU and to make the majority required to introduce EU laws very high (i.e. the opposite of the treaty proposals), not to persue tokenistic “consultative” involvement of national parliaments in EU policy-making.

  2. Frankly, Otto, my national government has in my memory talked about making “hoodies” illegal, legislated to make music with “repetitive beats” illegal, passed a special law on organised crime with provisions to get rid of one single specific protestor outside Parliament, brought in legislation to lock people up who specifically have not done anything against the law…and you want me to worry about the EU?

    Regarding “wrangling”. I wouldn’t worry – another word for it is “politics”.

  3. Alex

    This was a post about whether the most recent EU treaty’s subsidiarity provision was worth implementing. My comments related to the contents of the post. If you don’t think that subsidiarity (or better, preventing centralisation of policy in absence of significant cross-border externalities, cine some define subsidiarity as a demand for more centralisation) is desirable, maybe because you dont like your national government, then that’s fine. My point only is that if you do agree that subsidiarity is desirable, the treaty’s provisions are not worth bothering with, and the Treaty as a whole a big move in the other direction.

  4. The problem with that principle is that it introduces yet more veto power and no clear responsibilities. If the EU legislates too much, shrink its legislative competencies.

  5. How about setting up an EU agency (nice jobs for eurocrats, keep em happy) whose sole function is finding EU over-regulation and propsing its elimination. This body could even be set a target, like parking wardens – identify so many over-regulations a quarter, say. After all, the adversarial principle seems to work in the law courts — 😉

  6. “and the Treaty as a whole a big move in the other direction.”

    How so?

    In any case, I think the original proposal was to implement ONLY the subsidiarity portion of the Treaty. Sure, it can be strengthened (immediately, or over time) to give national parliaments something more than a “consultative” voice. But it’s hard for me to see how the implementing the subsidiarity portion of the treaty would be a step away from subsidiarity, considering national parliaments currently have zero say in EU decision making (short of recalling the national government).

    Am I mistaken here?

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