The concept of subsidiarity is introduced in the context of the European Union by the Maastricht Treaty [1991]. That treaty laid the foundations for the Europe of the future. However, the notion is much older as it is deeply rooted in the Christian-Democratic ideology, notably Roman Catholic religion. It has been applied to the various denominations in The Netherlands, which were institutionalized for years in pillars. The elites at the top of these pillars pursued a politics of accommodation that explains, at least partly, the relative stable political situation. The consequences were important since The Netherlands is a country in which public and private organizations contribute to the realization of the welfare state. Besides, it is also a country in which local government takes an important share in the implementation of public tasks. Ideologically subsidiarity, sovereignty in the private domain and functionally and territorial decentralization found each other. The result was a relatively small central government, a strong decentralized government and strong social organizations. The question may be raised what happened with the principle of subsidiarity since the outcome in the Netherlands is rather centralization than decentralization. In addition, one may question what can be learned from the Dutch experience for the process of European integration. In this paper we address the question to what extent the developments in The Netherlands have their parallel in the European context. We conclude that concepts like subsidiarity are a device for a strong society with a relatively weak center and decentralized governments.

European Union, Netherlands, decentralized governments, public governance, public sector, subsidiarity
Department of Public Administration

van Nispen tot Pannerden, F.K.M, & Ringeling, A.B. (2007). The Concept of Subsidiarity in a European Context: The End of National Sovereignty?. Retrieved from