Allocation of Power

Subsidiarity (2.8) doesn’t imply a hierarchy, with world government at its apex; it is a segmentation, where each segment of decision-making is controlled at the appropriate level.  People find it easy to understand a hierarchy, which is a familiar model, but it is less easy to understand segmentation and subsidiarity.  Differences in understanding make it harder to reach agreement on how much power should be given to each layer of governance.

Despite the attractiveness of local or regional control, it isn’t possible to have political autonomy and also have economic equality of services and entitlements (3.4.5) – which is a problem that applies between all the levels of subsidiarity.

Some redistribution of tax revenues from wealthy areas to poorer ones might be thought necessary to reduce inequality, despite the imperfections in the allocation formulae and the cost of administration.  This lacks political legitimacy if people don’t feel that they belong to the same community, which is a problem that gets worse for bigger countries and for the EU as a whole.

Multinational negotiation is complicated by misunderstandings of the nature of pooled sovereignty.  Britain isn’t being ‘run by Brussels’, as some politicians allege (; it has agreed to take some decisions in concert with other countries, on issues such as trade and security where they have mutual interests.

It is, though, possible to present subsidiarity issues clearly – though politicians rarely try to do so.  The conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Arab population is a vexed problem in subsidiarity, but an article by the former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg offered a good example of clarity in Prospect Magazine in September 2018, under the heading “The one state solution”, defining three layers of subsidiarity:

  • “Every person between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is entitled to the same equal rights—personal, political, economic and social. They include the right to protection and security, equal treatment, freedom of movement, property, judicial recourse and the right to vote for, and be elected to, public office.”
  • A “logical division and separation between the two self-identifying collective groups in the form of two self-governing polities” would be possible. A diagram appended to the article showed that Arab control would be spread over a number of enclaves that would not be geographically joined together – but a constitutional right to freedom of movement would reduce the inconvenience of that.
  • “While each state will collect taxes from its own citizens and maintain its own institutions, their infrastructure will be co-ordinated [by a] federal administration …. It is also on the federal level that the co-ordination of asylum and immigration policy will have to be settled, including the rights of return for both Jews and Palestinians.”

Regardless of whether this proposal is viable, or acceptable to most of the population, this article is at least clear.  Its clarity would help to focus debate, if some future Israeli government decides to restart a peace process – but the BBC’s Profile: Hamas Palestinian movement reported in May 2017 that Hamas remains “committed to the destruction of Israel” and Israeli President “Benjamin Netanyahu remains determined to create a nation-state for Jews, rather than a Jewish democratic state”, according to Avi Shlaim in a Guardian article on 13 September 2018: Palestinians still live under apartheid in Israel, 25 years after the Oslo accord.

Comparable clarity is needed in numerous other scenarios, including governance of the European Union and resolution of the Syrian conflict.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6671a.htm