Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1997

Center/Program

European Legal Studies Center

Abstract

The notion of subsidiarity in European federalism labors from all manner of burdens. It seems elusive by nature, commentators claiming that they do not know what subsidiarity means or, if they do, that they do not see in it anything new. At the same time subsidiarity has been presented at least in some quarters as a panacea for the Community's current malaise. It clearly is not that. Even if subsidiarity has not been oversold, it is almost certainly overexposed, a condition that the present Article is unlikely to cure.

My purpose in this Article is simply to help make some sense of subsidiarity and even to make a case for it as a Community standard. Thus, after offering a basic definition and rationale for subsidiarity (Part I), I attempt to justify subsidiarity first by reference to the legal and political circumstances that gave rise to it (Part II), and then by reference to the specific functions it may usefully perform in the workings of the Community institutions (Part III). On the other hand, precisely because it does risk being oversold, subsidiarity's chief difficulties need to be explored and understood (Part IV). This is not because these difficulties are necessarily easily overcome, but because their acknowledgment should help lower the expectations that continue to be brought to the subject.

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