By Henri Vogt Hartmut Mayer


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As remarked above the mere fact that an agent is capable of performing a duty cannot automatically mean that the agent ought to perform that duty. First, several agents may have that capability and thus be equally well-positioned to perform the given duty. Moreover, second, the agent may have more pressing duties. Thus the ability to do X is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having the duty to do X. This is a trivial point. A more debatable point is this: It could be argued that even if the duty in question is more pressing than any of the agent's other duties, the agent will not necessarily incur that duty.

Saying that we are dealing with a distributive problem should not be taken to imply, however, that there is some kind of supreme institution in place which in fact assigns special duties to various institutional or individual agents. Nor does it automatically follow from the discussion in this section that such a supreme institution for the allocation of duties should be created. The conclusion that having distributive institution(s) of this kind would be a good thing does not necessarily follow, even if we could unambiguously identify the requisite distributive principles (which I think we cannot as will be seen below).

Equally often, it is unclear who or what is really capable of doing that job at the first place. So it has been argued, for instance, that the EU does not incur certain responsibilities because there are others better positioned to look after the given problem. And it is said even more frequently that the EU is simply not capable of performing certain duties and hence incurs no responsibility to do so. This is of course not to say that once all the conceptual work is done we can draw up an unambiguous list of special duties to be discharged specifically by the EU, let alone hold court over EU policies of the past and the future.

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