Subsidiarity

From Academic Kids

Subsidiarity is the idea that matters should be handled by the lowest competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. The concept is applicable in the fields of government, political science, cybernetics, and the management of large organizations. Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism.

The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching. It is found in several constitutions around the world (see for example the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution).

It is presently best known as a fundamental principle of European Union law. According to this principle, the EU may only act (i.e. make laws) where member states agree that action of individual countries is insufficient. The principle was established in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, and is contained within the proposed new Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

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Catholic social teaching

The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

The principle of subsidiarity was developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, as an attempt to articulate a middle course between the perceived excesses of laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the various forms of totalitarianism, which subordinate the individual to the state, on the other. The principle was further developed in Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of 1931, and Economic Justice for All by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Quadragesimo Anno

In the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius specifically said at paragraphs 79 and 80:

79. As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations. Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.
80. The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of "subsidiary function," the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.

European Union law

Subsidiarity was established in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht. The present formulation is contained in Article 5 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (consolidated version following the Treaty of Nice):

The Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein.
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.
Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty.

A more descriptive analysis of the principle can be found in Protocol 30 to the EC Treaty.

Article 9 of the proposed European constitution states

Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.

Formally, the principle of subsidiarity applies to those areas where the Community does not have exclusive competence, the principle delineating those areas where the Community should and should not act. In practice, the concept is frequently used in a more informal manner in discussions as to which competences should be given to the Community, and which retained for the Member States alone.

The concept of subsidiarity therefore has both a legal and a political dimension. Consequently, there are varying views as to its legal and political consequences, and various criteria are put forward explaining the content of the principle. For example:

  • The action must be necessary because actions of individuals or member-state governments alone will not achieve the objectives of the action (the sufficiency criterion)
  • The action must bring added value over and above what could be achieved by individual or member-state government action alone (the benefit criterion).
  • Decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen (the close to the citizen criterion)
  • The action should secure greater freedoms for the individual (the autonomy criterion).

cybernetics

In cybernetics, the principle of subsidiarity can be stated as "problems are best solved in the subsystem where they arise." Subsystems are encouraged to resolve internal conflicts themselves without reference to a higher authority, and to implement the solution they adopt. If the solution is successfully worked out at the subsystem level, then reference to higher authority is not necessary.

External links

de:Subsidiaritšt fr:Subsidiaritť nl:Subsidiariteitsbeginsel

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