How it works

The subsidiarity control mechanism applies in areas where the EU shares competence with member countries.

In cases where national parliaments consider that draft legislative acts do not comply with subsidiarity, they can send a reasoned opinion to the Commission within 8 weeks.

The Commission must take account of the reasoned opinions it receives.

National parliament opinions and Commission replies

Effects on the legislative procedure

The effect of the reasoned opinions on the legislative procedure depends on how many national parliaments react and how many votes they represent. Each of the 28 national parliaments is allocated two votes. If there are 2 chambers, each has 1 vote.  

When reasoned opinions represent at least one third of all the votes allocated to the national parliaments, the Commission must review its proposal. This threshold is lower for draft legislative acts related to justice, freedom and security - one quarter. In both cases the Commission can decide whether to maintain, change or withdraw its proposal. The Commission must give reasons for its decision. This is known as the 'yellow card' procedure.

When reasoned opinions represent a majority of the votes and the draft act falls under the ordinary legislative procedure the Commission must review its proposal and decide whether to maintain, change or withdraw it. If the Commission decides to maintain its proposal, it must justify its decision to the EU Parliament and Council as to why the proposal complies with the principle of subsidiarity. This is known as the 'orange card' procedure.

If a simple majority of members of the EU Parliament, or 55% of Council members, find that the proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, the proposal will not be given further consideration.

Procedures triggered so far

To date, the 'yellow card' procedure has been triggered twice and the 'orange card' procedure has never been used.

2012

The threshold of at least one third of the votes allocated to the national parliaments was reached for the first time on a proposed regulation on the exercise of the right to take collective action. The Commission reviewed its proposal but did not find it in breach of the principle of subsidiarity.

However, the Commission considered the views expressed and the discussions among the co-legislators, the European Parliament and the Council, and recognised that its proposal was unlikely to gather the necessary political support for its adoption. The Commission therefore decided to withdraw the proposal.

2013

The second 'yellow card' procedure was triggered in 2013 in relation to the Commission's proposal for a regulation establishing the European Public Prosecutor's Office. After careful review of the reasoned opinions, the Commission concluded that the proposal complied with the principle of subsidiarity and decided to maintain the proposal. The Commission gave reasons for its decision in the Communication COM(2013) 851.

Annual reports

The Commission reports on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality every year.

Annual reports on subsidiarity and proportionality

Documents

Protocol no. 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality

Letter from President Barroso and Vice-president Wallström on practical arrangements for applying the subsidiarity control mechanism