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subsidiaritythe idea that functions that can be exercised at a lower level of organization should so be rather than being taken over by a higher level organization. The idea appears within the Roman Catholic Church in the encyclicals Rerum Novarum (1891) and the Quadragesimo Anno (1931). Its present importance, however, is as a relatively new principle within the legal system of the EUROPEAN UNION. The Treaty on European Union embodies the concept in various places, most notably in the Preamble, where the parties intend to create an ever closer union in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It has been questioned whether, save in the narrow area of cooperation on justice and home affairs, the concept is sufficiently ‘legal’ to be subject of decisions by the courts. Rather, it maybe a political directive or at most an aid to interpretation. The applicability of the doctrine is made more difficult by the fact that the precise role of the European Union is not specifically defined, and it acquires and has acquired functions over time. However, the Treaty of Amsterdam formalized the doctrine in a protocol to the treaties. Accordingly community legislation is scrutinized to try to ensure it complies with the principle and, generally, the least binding option should be taken in legislating. Finally, if the superior body is to exercise a function it should be proportionate - appropriate to the scale of the problem addressed.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006