Subsidiarity and Democratric Deliberation

This paper considers subsidiarity as introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty in the light of democratic deliberation and alternative notions of legitimacy.

ARENA Working Paper 21/1999 (html)

Andreas Føllesdal

The Amsterdam Treaty seeks to bring the European Union closer to the people of Europe by aligning the institutions closer to conceptions of subsidiarity and democracy. Subsidiarity may seem attractive for deliberative democrats concerned with the opportunities for decentralized decision-making. However, the Amsterdam conception of subsidiarity seems to conflict with the concern for democratic deliberation when it comes to institutional arrangements. Firstly, the Treaty does not define how Amsterdam subsidiarity is to be applied. Secondly, this conception of subsidiarity seems to grant unwarranted powers to Member States. Other entities, such as sub-state regions, might also appeal to considerations of subsidiarity, yet such applications and arguments are not recognised. Finally, Amsterdam subsidiarity may hinder the development of trans-European values and commitments necessary for a stable European political order. The first section of the paper provides a brief historical backdrop about the role of subsidiarity in the European Union. The second section sketches some relevant aspects of deliberative democratic theory; the third section surveys some competing theories of subsidiarity. The aim is twofold: to see how subsidiarity may foster deliberation, and to identify some peculiar features of the conception of Amsterdam subsidiarity. Section four considers conflicts and tensions between Amsterdam subsidiarity and deliberative democracy.

A later version of this paper was published in E. O. Eriksen and J. E. Fossum (eds) (2000) Democracy in the European Union. Integration through deliberation, Routledge.

Tags: deliberative democracy, subsidiarity, Amsterdam Treaty , democratization
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM - Last modified Apr. 26, 2011 2:19 PM