Source: Europa Nu.

The principle of subsidiarity is defined in Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union. It aims to make sure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the EU-citizen and that constant checks are made to verify action at EU level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or even local level.

More specific, subsidiarity is the principle whereby the EU does not take any action (except in areas that fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principle of proportionality, which requires that any action by the EU should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the goals of the Treaties.

The principle of subsidiarity was formally enshrined by the Maastricht Treaty (1992).

The general aim of the principle of subsidiarity is to guarantee a degree of indepence for a lower authority in relation to a higher body or for a local authority in relation to central government. When applied in the context of the EU, the principle of subsidiarity serves to regulate the exercise of the Union’s non-exclusive powers. It rules out Union intervention when an issue can be dealt with effectively by Member States at central, regional or local level and means that the Union is justified in exercising its powers when Member States are unable to achieve the objectives of a proposed action satisfactorily.

Preconditions for intervention

Under Article 5(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) there are three preconditions for intervention by Union institutions in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity:

-the concerned does not fall within the Union’s exclusive competenc

-the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States

-the action can therefore, by reason of its scale or effects, be implemented more succesfully by the Union.


National parliaments

Any national parliament or any chamber of a national parlement has eight weeks from the date of forwarding a draft legislative act to send to the Presidents of the EP, the Council and the Commission a reasoned opinion stating why it considers that the draft in question does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity. If reasoned opinions represent at least one-third (one vote per chamber for a bicameral parliamentary system and two votes for a unicameral system) of the votes allocated to the national parliaments, the draft must be reviewed.

The institution which produced the draft legislative act may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw it. If the Commission decides to maintain its proposal, the matter is referred to the legislator (European Parliament and Council), which takes a decision. If the legislators consider that the draft legislative act is not compatible with the principle of subsidiarity, it may reject the proposal.