Local Governments as Subjects and Objects of EU Law

Forthcoming in E. Fahey, S. Bardutszky (eds.), Objects and Subjects of EU Law (Edward Elgar, 2017)

15 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2016

Date Written: August 13, 2016


The European Union’s multi-level governance system allows for the involvement of a broad range of actors, including non-state actors and individuals, which have been excluded from traditional forms of international law. This book chapter focuses on a group of actors that, while central to the operation for the EU and its Member States, lacks legal status under EU law. Local governments remain firmly within the exclusive sphere of competence of the Member States, as underlined in the European Treaties, and therefore depend on national law for their place within the EU’s legal system.

The idea that arrangements pertaining to local government are, and should, be outside the scope of EU law has gone largely unquestioned by EU legal scholars. Notwithstanding this legal vacuum, local governments are routinely affected by, and affect, EU law in their roles as public service providers and conduits for political participation. Some EU involvement pertaining to the service provision by local governments has been overwhelmingly positive, for example through investment in local infrastructure and development. The net effect on the democratic role of local governments is less clear. While some localities have been hugely successful at increasing their influence by bypassing the Member State and forging their own relationship with Europe, others have seen their domestic positions eroded through EU membership and centralization of democratic processes to the national level. The discrepancy between the legal and factual status of local governments under EU law can also be seen to contribute to the disconnect felt between EU citizens and the EU institutions, and raises important questions regarding the application of the subsidiarity principle within the EU and its ability to safeguard the rule of law.

Keywords: EU, subsidiarity, local government, democracy

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K33

Suggested Citation

van Zeben, Josephine A. W., Local Governments as Subjects and Objects of EU Law (August 13, 2016). Forthcoming in E. Fahey, S. Bardutszky (eds.), Objects and Subjects of EU Law (Edward Elgar, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2822813 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2822813

Josephine A. W. Van Zeben (Contact Author)

Wageningen University and Research ( email )

Hollandseweg 1
Wageningen, 6706KN

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