Appropriate levels

Why should something be decided at EU level rather than national level?

People have questioned what the EU should be concerning itself with and over the years this has been made clearer and clearer. In the early 1990’s the principle of subsidiarity was enshrined in new EU treaties.

Generally speaking what the EU can and cannot do is limited by its treaties. New treaties have added, deleted and made clearer what the EU is allowed to legislate on.


The word means that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible. So if an issue has no effects beyond a country’s border then it should be a national decision not an EU decision. All proposed EU laws are examined to make sure that they really are needed at an EU level and covered by the treaties before they go forward for agreement.


Even though the EU may legislate in many areas, they have recently decided to concentrate their efforts on 10 priority areas.  This should lead to fewer complaints about overstepping their competence.

10 priorities

Balance of competences

The UK government recently examined all the main areas where the EU has legislated to evaluate whether there is the right balance between national and EU legislation. Obviously some areas for improvement were found but generally it was agreed that the balance between national and EU legislation was about right. The reports are available here. Warning! Long read… but they include all the opinions, both critical and supportive.

Case study

The Common Fisheries Policy

Fishing towns have been in decline for many years and many of the fishermen accuse the EU CFP as the cause of that decline. Over the years the CFP has changed from being a one size fits all policy across the whole of the EU to a more regional based set of policies that are based on fishing areas. This will not halt the decline of the fishing industry which is happening on a global scale anyway, but it should better help to make sure that fishing stocks recover more quickly so that the EU has a sustainable fishing policy.  After all, no fish, no fishing industry. The UK is in a special position though since it has the largest potential for fishing around its coasts and this potential was pooled when it joined the EU. Even so, the fish do not respect boundaries and the UK would have to negotiate with neighbouring countries anyway to assure fishing stocks because the fish do not recognise either a 12 mile or 200 mile territorial water boundary.

You can learn more about the CFP here where you can see that politics  tends to win over science. The article makes the case for leaving the EU to ensure more efficient decision-making. Note that political also means democratic. So many complain that the EU is undemocratic but in this case it is the consultation and negotiation (ie democratic process) that slows down decisions. The CFP is still therefore one of the weakest areas of cooperation.