One of today's most successful portmanteau terms, as the sociologists call them, is undoubtedly the principle of "subsidiarity" - a word that is now used for all manner of things, but above all in every discussion, whether European or national, of the future of our institutions and the redistribution of competencies among different levels of public administration.
If, in invoking this principle, the idea is generally to insist on the need to deal with issues as close as possible to where they have an impact (proximity principle), it is nevertheless the case that this well-known principle is, according to Yves Gaudemet, ambiguous and debatable, without real legal or practical meaning.
After showing how widely this principle is now used, especially in debates about European unification and the creation of appropriate public institutions, Yves Gaudemet argues first why the principle of subsidiarity is so ambiguous, and then why its future is so uncertain.
Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, acknowledged that "subsidiarity is the word that saves the Treaty of Maastricht". It does so because everybody can interpret it as suits them best, says Yves Gaudemet, who in the course of this article argues that affirming this principle does not resolve anything and can in no way take the place of the indispensable sharing out of responsibilities within the European Union.