|glossary - Subsidiarity Principle|
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The principle of subsidiarity was established in European Union (EU) law by the Maastricht Treaty. It covers areas, which do not fall within the EU’s exclusive competence. Article 5(2) declares that “the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of scale and effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community”. One of these policy areas is culture.
Hence, the Member States and the EU have shared competences in the field of culture. The Community can only intervene, if certain objectives set out for cannot be reached by the Member States and if it can guarantee greater efficiency. The EU has no mandate to lead or control policies in the cultural sector, but - as laid out in Article 151 - is only required to encourage cultural cooperation and exchange, and to supplement the actions of Member States “if necessary”.
However, the Treaty lacks a clear division of competences between the Member States and the EU, and a constraint understanding of the principle have served for some all too well to avoid a serious debate about possible EU policies regarding culture. Together with the constant and severe under-funding of culture and the requirement for unanimity voting in the Council, those principles acted for the last 15 years as a brake on European cultural action.
Without limiting or infringing the division of competences as defined by the subsidiarity principle, it is still possible for the EU to play an active role in the cultural field as it has been recently demonstrated with the adoption of a European Agenda for Culture which shall open the way to more and better cultural actions at EU level.