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PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review

Unraveling the Paradox: Competence and the Failure of Subsidiarity in the European Union

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Abstract

The experimental means by which bureaucrats and members of civil society attempt to manage policy making within the European Union (EU) are often guided by the EU's cherished principle of subsidiarity, a principle demanding that EU policy decisions be made at the most appropriate geopolitical level possible to respect and preserve European cultural diversity. I examine subsidiarity within the EU, not as a mere principle but also as a practice, investigating bureaucratic conceptions and bureaucrats’ embodied experiences with subsidiarity as it influences perceptions of culture, policy, and integration. What is borne out of attempts to manage subsidiarity, often discussed by EU bureaucrats as well as members of civil society, are three discursive modes—the cultural, the moral, and the temporal—that both promote and confuse how “Europe” is conceptualized via policy production. These discursive modes shed light upon how subsidiarity, in fact, limits diversity via the notion of competence within the EU. I argue that subsidiarity, understood in terms of competence, has become a pragmatic endeavor employed more to organize, manage, and govern culture than to create cultural inclusion, further promoting a more exclusive conceptualization of community and diversity.

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