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Unenthused about subsidiarity in the EU

The word subsidiarity leaves me unenthused. It makes me think of a house without a foundation subsiding in sand as the restless sea arrives.

Though I don't like the word, it describes a common sense idea that has been part of the British way of doing things for a long time. It is supposed to be a key principle of the European Union. That I was not aware of this earlier is due to my ignorance and to the EU’s phoniness.

The clearest definition of subsidiarity that I have found comes from Esther de Waal. “What someone can manage to do themselves should not be entrusted to another in the name of ‘higher authority’”. This means that you, not the nanny state, parent your own children; your local borough, not the state, manages local services; the university runs the university; and your nation, not some huge and exploitative condominium of nations, is responsible for protecting your fishing grounds. (See fishermen protest below.) This was the way Brits did things for hundreds of years.

The Brits-turned-Americans who wrote the US Constitution incorporated the idea. They were keen to protect the people and the states from a central government’s authoritarian creep. Their prose in the Tenth Amendment is clear. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.”

In Europe, the person who is said to have first propounded the word subsidiarity is Pope Leo XIII, in 1891. Some of the Pope's ideas seem doubtful to me, but I am not really capable of judging how he used the word. I am certain, however, that the EU has adopted the concept "in principle" because its major treaties refer to it.

In contrast to the candid clarity of Magna Carta or the American Consitution, the EU’s text on subsidiarity has so many subsidiary clauses you’ll find it takes a moment or two to translate it from subsidiary into estuary English.

“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.”
Article 5 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (consolidated version following the Treaty of Nice, which entered into force on 1 February 2003)

What the EU is saying is that subsidiarity is whatever the EU says it is and there are no protections to protect people or nations from its all-powerful “Community”. The “Community” will decide everything that falls within its “exclusive competence”. In subsidiary areas it will take over if it feels “by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action” that the “Community” can do a better job. In short, whatever it wills it will do. If it decides to take over UK universities, as was suggested a few days ago, it will.

I may be wrong about this, but I am afraid I am not.

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