Since the Maastricht Treaty (1993), subsidiarity has guided the political process surrounding the distribution of competences between administrative layers in the European Union (EU). The EU’s subsidiarity regime affects the politics and governance of the EU, because the notion of subsidiarity allows for continuous negotiation over its practical use. The constant battle over subsidiarity implies that the notion changes its meaning over time and alters the power relations between different actors within the EU. Since the Lisbon Treaty (2009), subsidiarity has mainly strengthened the position of member states at the expense of the Commission.
Kees van Kersbergen and Bertjan Verbeek
Since the end of World War II a key question that successive U.K. governments have faced is what position the country should occupy in global affairs. Such a question stemmed from the legacy of Empire, which both offered global connections and at the same time financial demands in terms of the need to maintain a global footing. These issues came to a head when the United Kingdom applied (unsuccessfully) to join the European Community (the forerunner of the European Union (EU)) in the 1960s when the country was reappraising its position in the world. And while the United Kingdom eventually joined the Community in 1973, there remained an underlying skepticism about membership within the public at large as well as within sections of the Conservative and Labour parties. This suspicion gained more traction from the 1990s onward as the then EU appeared to be moving to a deeper level of integration in the wake of the Maastricht Treaty. This spurred on Euroskeptics in the United Kingdom to campaign for independence. To put a lid on this pressure for reform, David Cameron held a referendum on U.K. membership in 2016. His gamble that this would once and for all seal the United Kingdom within the EU by closing down the issue of withdrawal did not actually materialize, as the electorate voted to leave, which in turn set the country on a path to depart the EU in 2020. Yet, despite these developments, just as was the case in 1945, the United Kingdom is in many ways still searching for a role in the world in 2020.
Energy policy has been considered as a “special case of Europeanization,” due to its tardy and patchy development as a domain of EU activity as well as its important but highly contested external dimension. Divergent energy pathways across Member States and the sensitivity of this policy domain have militated against a unified European Energy Policy. And yet, since the mid-2000s cooperation in this policy area has picked up speed, leading to the adoption of the Energy Union, presented by the European Commission as the most ambitious energy initiative since the European Coal and Steel Community. This dynamism has attracted growing scholarly attention, seeking to determine whether, why and how European Energy Policy has consolidated against all odds during a particularly critical moment for European integration. The underlying question that emerges in this context is whether the Energy Union represents a step forward towards a more homogenous and joined-up energy policy or, rather a strategy to manage heterogeneity through greater flexibility and differentiated integration. Given the multilevel and multisectoral characteristics of energy policy, answering these questions requires a three-fold analysis of (1) the degree of centralization of European Energy Policy (vertical integration), (2) the coherence between energy sub-sectors (cross-sectoral integration), and (3) the territorial extension of the energy acquis beyond the EU Member States (horizontal integration). Taken together, the Energy Union has catalyzed integration on the three dimensions. First, EU institutions are formally involved in almost every aspect of energy policy, including sensitive areas such as ensuring energy supplies. Second, the Energy Union, with its new governance regulation, brings under one policy framework energy sub-sectors that had developed in silos. And finally, energy policy is the only sector that has generated a multilateral process dedicated to the integration of non-members into the EU energy market. However, this integrationist dynamic has also been accompanied by an increase in internal and external differentiation. Although structural forms of differentiation based on sectoral opt-outs and enhanced cooperation have been averted, European Energy Policy is an example of so-called “micro-differentiation,” characterized by flexible implementation, soft governance and tailor-made exemptions and derogations.