Subsidiarity in Global Governance

24 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2015

See all articles by Markus Jachtenfuchs

Markus Jachtenfuchs

Hertie School of Governance

Nico Krisch

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies; Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals - IBEI

Date Written: October 10, 2015


Subsidiarity has become increasingly prominent in the theory and practice of global governance and international law. It responds to a need for a principled distribution of tasks between different layers of governance and expresses a general commitment to lower-level decisionmaking at a time when many fear that international authority might be expanding too fast. The symposium which this paper introduces interrogates the prospect and limits of the subsidiarity principle in the global context, focusing on different issue areas – regional economic integration, trade and investment, human rights, and international security, as well as cross-cutting empirical and normative aspects. This framing paper situates subsidiarity among competing principles, evaluates its appeal from a normative perspective and develops a number of conjectures about its prevalence, potential and limitations based on insights from comparative politics as well as the case studies of the project. The picture that emerges from this inquiry is not a homogeneous one. Subsidiarity is not present or desirable in all contexts, and empirically we find significant variation across issue areas and institutional settings. But the principle is beginning to shape different areas and institutional contexts, and it holds significant promise as normative and legal guidance for institutional design and the exercise of authority in the global realm. The landscape of subsidiarity is bound to remain variegated, but the concept is gaining ground and for many actors holds much appeal as a principled way of balancing the need for strong global cooperation with a continuing emphasis on the value of local self-government.

Keywords: Global governance; subsidiarity; distribution of powers; self-government; globalization; international law

Suggested Citation

Jachtenfuchs, Markus and Krisch, Nico, Subsidiarity in Global Governance (October 10, 2015). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 79, 2016, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Markus Jachtenfuchs

Hertie School of Governance ( email )

Friedrichstr. 180
Berlin, 10117


Nico Krisch (Contact Author)

Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies ( email )

PO Box 136
Geneva, CH-1211


Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals - IBEI ( email )

Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27
Barcelona, Barcelona 08005

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