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Proportionality regulates how the European Union exercises its powers. It works in much the same way as the principle of subsidiarity. The proportionality principle means that, to achieve its aims, the EU will only take the action it needs to and no more. The principle is enshrined in the Community Treaty under Article 5, which states: "The Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein."

This approach to responsibility and decision-making is applied as part of Cohesion Policy. For the 2007-13 programming period, the Commission has used the proportionality principle to reduce the level of bureaucracy facing those administering Operational Programmes by streamlining rules and regulations. For example, eligibility rules are now decided mostly at national rather than EU level.

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