Being in favour of subsidiarity is like being against sin: easy to agree with the general principle, but harder to agree on the details.
Subsidiarity, for anybody still blissfully unaware of this grotesque piece of jargon, is the idea that decisions should be taken at the lowest level of government at which they can be efficiently taken and implemented. Subsidiarity in relations between nation states and the EU was enshrined in EU law by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty:
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.
So what should be done where?
The principle of subidiarity is often invoked to assert the rights of the governments of nation states. But the more I think about this, the less I can see a role for a Westminster Government if the principle of subsidiarity is strictly applied.
I think of myself as a Londoner, and as a European. This may be unusual, but I do not feel that I have more in common with the people of Barrow or Bath than the people of Barcelona. Most public services should be delivered by government at a lower level than Westminster – services such as education, transport and health are much too centralized. But for external relations, such as defence and security and international economics, Europe would be stronger and more effective in the world community if we took those decisions collectively as Europeans.
Here is my initial suggestion for a division of labour. Comments welcome, as ever.
Best done by local or regional government
- education policy and management of schools
- delivery of health services
- delivery of social services (care for the elderly etc)
- oversight and funding of police, fire services, ambulance
- local transport
- local environment issues (eg protection of areas of natural beauty)
- sport, culture etc
- court and prison administration
- tax collection
- welfare payments
Best done by the Westminster Government
Best done at the European level
- defence policy
- foreign policy
- trade policy
- competition policy
- monetary policy
- fiscal redistribution
- border security, immigration and customs
- regulation of financial services, food safety, drugs etc
- cross border environment issues (eg climate change)
- criminal justice, human rights
- international development policy
One issue I find difficult to place is the decision on the overall level and the total amount of spending that a community wants to impose on itself. My instinct is that this should primarily be a local decision, with a European-wide "solidarity levy" to enable redistribution from rich regions to poor regions.
Come to think of it, this system would not be very far from the federal system in place in the United States.