Letter: Everything you wanted to know about subsidiarity

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article ('That dreaded S-word', 4 July) is absolutely right. The decision taken at Lisbon to examine existing EC rules, to determine whether they are consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, will be a highly political matter.

Environmental policy has been suggested as one area where some EC legislation could be handed back to member states, but if the purpose of the exercise is to overcome the fear of the EC as being out of touch with the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, then environmental policy is hardly the subject to choose. Environmental policy is probably one of the EC's most popular policies.

You go on to argue correctly that some EC environmental legislation - for example, that on the quality of bathing waters - has few trans-frontier implications, and you then imply that such subjects could be handed back to member states. But can you imagine this being easily achieved? The only way to do it is for the Commission to introduce a new directive repealing the relevant items and for the Council to agree to it unanimously after the Parliament has given an opinion.

Since most existing legislation was adopted unanimously, often after a great deal of argument, and nearly always with the strong support of the European Parliament, unanimity is very unlikely. The result could be the generation of a great deal of argument to no avail, and a great deal of unpopularity for the government of any country that supports repeal.

A more constructive course would be to apply the test of subsidiarity a little more consistently to all future legislation and to revise existing legislation as the need arises in the coming years.

Yours,

NIGEL HAIGH

Director, Institute for European

Environmental Policy

London, SW1

5 July

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