A biennial European Committee of the Regions conference devoted to subsidiarity - the European Union's guiding principle that decisions should be taken at the closest practical level to the citizen - has revealed broad political support for the European Commission's efforts to ensure that European policies better reflect the concerns of national, regional and local governments. The conference also highlighted that some mechanisms intended to integrate national and regional political feedback into European policymaking remain in their formative phases.
Speaking at the 7th Subsidiarity Conference in Brussels on 17 November, Frans Timmermans i, the European Commission’s First Vice-President, who has been tasked with streamlining and overhauling the way Brussels operates, presented one of his signature initiatives, the so-called 'better regulation' package aimed at ensuring that future - and existing - legislation proposed by the European Commission is more carefully scrutinised. Mr Timmermans stressed that "local and regional authorities are much closer to the public's perception of what politics is than the institutions in Brussels. The traditional idea that you can only increase the effectiveness of the European system and support for the European system at the expense of the national system, that way of thinking is outdated and we should leave that behind us."
The importance of strengthening the role of local and regional authorities was stressed by the Presidents of the two organisers of the conference, the Committee of the Regions, which created the Subsidiarity Conference in 2001, and this year's host, the Flemish Parliament.
The President of the Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, said of subsidiarity: "It is not simply about getting less legislation at EU level. It is about getting it at the right level, where the intended objectives can be best achieved, as closely as possible to the citizen. The effective application of the principle of subsidiarity is thus a key element in the framework of better regulation." He welcomed the Commission’s commitment to extensive scrutiny in the form of impact assessments throughout the legislative cycle, but stressed that "local and regional authorities should be consulted more closely when carrying out these impact assessments".
Jan Peumans , President of the Flemish Parliament, said: "Subsidiarity is a two-way process - it is an instrument for national and regional parliaments to influence the European legislative process and therefore it forces the parliaments to organise themselves in order to get involved in the European legislative process and to focus on European policy at an early stage. The Flemish Parliament plays a role in EU decision-making, by holding the Flemish government to account for its actions in EU policymaking, as well as by monitoring the EU institutions' compliance with subsidiarity.
The 'better regulation' agenda and the case for a sharper focus on subsidiarity has been taken up by Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which was represented at the conference by Nicolas Schmit, Minister of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy.
Nicolaas Beets , the Urban Envoy of the Dutch government, made clear that subsidiarity will be a central concern for his country when it assumes the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council in January. He said: "Better regulation is the cornerstone of the EU Urban Agenda. In our view, it should take into account the consequences for urban areas and provide room for a customised approach at the local level without unnecessary burdens or restrictions due to EU legislation. We are not asking for more Europe but for a different approach of Europe within the limits of subsidiarity and proportionality. Cities and regions should be involved better and earlier in the policymaking process."
The European Parliament was represented by Pavel Svoboda i (European People's Party, Czech Republic), Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs, Sajjad Karim i (European Conservatives and Reformists / UK), the European Parliament's rapporteur on subsidiarity, and Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann i (Party of European Socialists / Germany).
Over the course of three debates, the conference focused on the relationship between subsidiarity and the European Commission's 'better regulation' reform package, how to monitor legislation to ensure that decisions are taken at the appropriate level of government, and early experiences of efforts to implement the 'better regulation' reforms.
The Committee of the Regions also highlighted its continued commitment to subsidiarity monitoring with the creation of a CoR Subsidiarity Steering Group chaired by Michael Schneider. In October, it adopted an opinion on the EU agenda on better regulation drafted by Spyros Spyridon (EPP / Greece).
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