Subsidiarity in Global Governance: Workshop Programme

The programme for the inter-disciplinary workshop on ‘Subsidiarity in Global Governance’, which I am convening, with Markus Jachtenfuchs, on 19 & 20 June 2014 at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin is now available here: Subsidiarity 2014- Program 2014-06-04. The idea of the workshop is below. Anybody interested in attending please contact Andrea Derichs at

Workshop Idea

Global governance is more influential than ever, but it is also under ever greater challenge. It reaches deep into domestic politics and law in a growing number of issue areas, and public discourses increasingly reflect this fact. As a result, the relationship of different layers of law and politics has gained greater salience. Global governance is not necessarily a solution any more but also a problem; as domestic contestation of global governance is growing, questions about the appropriate site of decision-making on issues with transboundary impact have become central.

One of the most common frames for these questions, both analytically and normatively, is the notion of ‘subsidiarity’. Subsidiarity is commonly seen to have at its core the principle that decisions ought to be taken at the lowest institutional level unless there are good reasons to shift them upwards. Views on what qualifies as such ‘good reasons’ differ – greater efficiency, respect for principles of justice, or the realization of cosmopolitan democracy are among the candidates. Yet the key presumption of lower-level decision-making appears as an attractive starting point for thinking about, and designing, the vertical distribution of powers in global governance – it reflects the idea that self-government is typically more meaningful on a smaller scale, and it requires any upscaling of powers to be guided by principle rather than mere political fact.

However, the conditions for subsidiarity in the international system are different from the domestic context: there is no strong central government against which subsidiarity could be evoked but often weak institutions with a low problem-solving capacity. Strengthening subsidiarity might thus strengthen national sovereignty and weaken governance, justice and democratic accountability at the global or regional level. Finally, subsidiarity at work may be difficult to identify because actors do not directly refer to it but only struggle over its key element – that power should only be exercised at a higher level if there are good reasons for it.

Against this backdrop, in this workshop we are primarily interested in four questions relating to subsidiarity:   To what extent can we identify subsidiarity as a guiding principle of global governance and law? Is it normatively more attractive than potential alternative principles for the distribution of powers? What are the potential and limitations of subsidiarity as a guideline and constraint for political action in the global realm? How is subsidiarity used in discourses and processes of contestation about vertical power-sharing in global governance and law?

The workshop brings together around twenty scholars of law, politics and political theory for an in-depth, two-day exploration of these themes.