Is the EU overly centralized?

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Many claim that the EU has a massive bureaucracy, and that it imposes its will on all the member states from the centre, slowly eroding the power of individual states. Looking at the Treaties and how legislation and spending is actually implemented in process, however, tells a somewhat different story.

The EU is based off the principle of ‘conferral’, which is enshrined in the EU Treaties. Any power not given to the EU explicitly remains the power of the member states, much like the structure of the USA, but much more restrictive. It is also based off the principle of ‘subsidiarity’, which means decisions should be taken as close to the citizens as possible. Only those goals that can’t be better achieved at any other level should be addressed at EU level (e.g. trade, environment). When the Commission publishes a legislative proposals, national parliaments and the Committee of the Regions scrutinize it for compliance with the subsidiarity principle. National parliaments can table reasoned opinions, which can result in the proposal being eventually withdrawn or rejected, and the CoR can potentially take the issue to court. Finally, the EU also has to abide by the principle of ‘proportionality’, which means that no more action than necessary should be taken at EU level to achieve intended goals.

The EU’s bureaucracy is also comparatively small. The Commission employs around 33,000 people, which is argued to be about the size of a medium-sized city council’s bureaucracy. Most EU legislation and spending is administered and monitored by national and regional authorities, though they do coordinate their action considerably with the Commission.

Rather than being overly centralized, key principles of the EU ensure that action is only taken at EU level when it is needed, and that the EU can’t legislate in the areas it doesn’t have power. Along with the Commission bureaucracy being quite small compared to the population of the EU and EU legislation and spending being administered at local levels, it is quite clear that the EU isn’t close to ‘centralization’, especially with almost all EU legislation require the consent of the Council of the EU.