Subsidiarity: The only way forward

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Poland's Carpathian Region is one area where local authorities could tackle local challenges better than the EU, according to Tomasz Poreba. [Przemyslaw Kozuch/Flickr]

The principle of subsidiarity should be understood as a means to strengthen regional and local political power. Tomasz Poreba discusses the problem of the misinterpretation of this key EU provision.

Tomasz Poreba (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc) is a Polish member of the European Parliament (ECR group) and the president of New Direction, the Foundation for European Reform.

People are asking for more democracy, transparency and accountability in Europe. To that end, there is a need to ensure the full implementation of subsidiarity. In light of the recent decisions taken by the European Commission to address this principle, we are calling for subsidiarity checks in order to ensure the EU is delivering for its citizens.

Decisions taken as closely as possible to the people” is the meaning of the subsidiarity principle once created by Saint Thomas Aquinas and consolidated in modern times by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. Today, the biased definitions of subsidiarity in the EU Treaties and the introduction of the creative principle of binding targets constitute permanent challenges to national, regional and local authorities. To restore this primary understanding of the subsidiarity principle, it is crucial to reinforce checks and balances through the empowerment of national parliaments and the use of territorial impact assessments of EU legislation.

Those provisions are merely a flexible basis for legitimising the exercise of a new EU power detrimental to decentralisation or devolution. Strengthening the capacity of local and regional councillors to deliver on policy by advancing a true understanding of subsidiarity and localism are firm parts of the New Direction reform agenda. Localism is far from being an EU invention. It has at least one root in the 1815 Vienna Congress and started with a very local challenge: the management of Rhine River traffic.

Greater localism should be pursued by advocating the exercise of power as closely as possible to the people, in order to not exceed the necessary level of intervention. Concretely, local and national authorities should be seen as the first key actors, above the European institutions in the decision-making hierarchy. Therefore, we call for a strict implementation of the subsidiarity principle in a wide range of areas from energy to agriculture and transport.

If we take the issue of energy, the European Commission is trying to set up a one-size-fit-all action plan at the expense of European local regions. It is crucial for the future of the European economy and energy security to promote a tailor-made action plan taking regional characteristics into account. A well-balanced approach based on EU member states’ energy sources will enable us to avoid carbon leaks and will help towards removing our reliance on external suppliers.

In the same vein, I am actively promoting the macro-regional strategy for the Carpathian Region which will firmly and actively involve all local and regional stakeholders in decision-making. Only through a bottom-up approach can the EU promote a coherent strategy for preserving the Carpathians’ cultural and regional heritage and boosting its economy.

There are two concrete examples of what can be achieved through decentralisation and devolution to local and regional actors.

To support this political programme effectively through a firm institutional framework, the ECR group set up a unique tool in the Brussels EU institutional landscape: a Joint Policy Group on Subsidiarity and Localism. It is a coalition of the Conservatives and Reformists’ political family to pool the experience and resources of local and regional mandate holders from the Committee of the Regions with the daily work of members of the European Parliament.

In doing so, the Conservatives and Reformists working in supra-national decision making and consultative institutions in Europe set up their own standing platform for the exchange of best practices, and develop their own toolbox for close cooperation in parliamentary business on ongoing policy challenges of common interest. This is part of the larger EU reform strategy which New Direction supports through its analysis and advice on small government, private property, free enterprise, lower taxes, family values, individual freedom, strong defence and a Europe of nation states. Only by combining different levels of political power will we be able to face current and future challenges. A central and homogenous solution cannot be the silver bullet as assumed by other political parties.

It is crucial to improve the functioning of subsidiarity, to advance further decentralisation and empowerment of local and regional government. As US Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously put it: “All politics is local”.

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