The European Commission occupies a central position in the European Union and influences many aspects of our daily lives.
In earlier research, we tested myths about the organization against empirical data. In this new project, we assess in the light of recent challenges how well the Commission is equipped to face the future.
In the research, we ask:
- Does the Commission have a workforce appropriate to its mission?
- Can the organization attract well-qualified recruits in an increasingly competitive labour market?
- Ten years after the ‘big bang’ enlargement, how similar are staff from ‘old’ and ‘new’ member states?
- How do Commission employees regard the 2014 reform of the Staff Regulations?
- How highly do staff rate coordination, management and leadership in the Commission?
- Do staff think that the Commission’s communication is effective?
- The project draws on fieldwork conducted by the research team in 2014. The first project conducted by independent researchers to be based on a representative study across all categories of staff, our findings draw on several sources, including responses to an online survey administered to all Commission personnel, face-to-face interviews, and focus groups.
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Two academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA) have been named among the UK’s most promising and exciting early career researchers.
Professor Hussein Kassim, Professor of Politics, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication, University of East Anglia. Principal Investigator
Professor Michael Bauer, Professor of Public Administration, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer
Professor Sara Connolly, Reader in Personnel Economics, Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia
Professor Renaud Dehousse, Director of the Centre d'Etudes Européennes, Sciences Po. Paris
Professor Andrew Thompson, Professor of Public Policy and Citizenship, Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh
The research assistants are:
• Dr Henry Allen, PhD School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia
• Mr Stefan Becker, PhD Candidate, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer
• Dr Vanessa Buth, PhD School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia
• Ms Suzanne Doyle, PhD Candidate, Professor of Politics, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication, University of East Anglia
• Ms Helen Fitzhugh, PhD Candidate, Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia
• Ms Timea Suli, DPhil candidate, University of Oxford
• Ms Francesca Vantaggiato, PhD Candidate, Professor of Politics, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication, University of East Anglia
Data for the project was collected from four sources:
1. An online survey
A link to the survey was circulated to 31,280 members of staff on 21 March 2014. The survey was completed by 5,545 respondents, a response rate of 17.7 per cent. The achieved sample was benchmarked against the Commission population. The resulting weighted sample (ECFTF weighted sample) is representative of the Commission workforce (EC population) by staff category, location, gender, cohort and EU15 or EU13. See graphs below.
Cohort – year joined the Commission
2. Interviews – part I (self-selected sample)
A first round of follow-up interviews was conducted mainly in the spring and early summer of 2014 with 83 respondents, out of the 232 who volunteered their participation when completing the online survey. The breakdown by staff category was: assistants 5; contract agents 4; non-management administrators 58; deputy heads of unit 5; heads of unit 6; cabinet members 2; seconded national experts 3. The interviews were semi-structured and different templates were used for seconded national experts, non-managers, managers and members of cabinet. The templates included closed and open questions.
3. Interviews – part II (stratified sample)
A second round of interviews was conducted among a stratified sample of members of the Commission and their cabinets, middle and senior managers. Invitations were sent to all chefs de cabinet and through them to all Commissioners, to all Directors General and to a random sample of Directors and heads of unit. One-hundred-and-sixty-two respondents were interviewed in total in this second round. The breakdown was as follows: Commissioners 9; Directors General 17; deputy Directors General 1; Directors 52; head of unit 50; deputy head of unit 3; assistant to the Director General 1; chef de cabinet 13; cabinet member 12; non-management administrator 3; seconded national expert 1. The interviews were semi structured and different templates used for Commissioners, chef de cabinets, members of cabinet, Directors General, and middle managers and (other) senior managers. As with the first round of interviews, the templates used both closed and open questions.
4. Focus groups
Focus groups -- one meeting per staff category: temporary agents, contract agents, assistants, non-management administrators, and seconded national experts -- were conducted involving a small number of randomly selected individuals in May and September 2014.
The aim of the project is to examine the backgrounds, experience and opinions of the staff of the European Commission in order to improve understanding of organization and the people who work for it in the outside world. It looks at the educational and professional backgrounds of staff, their career trajectories, experience of the Commission as a workplace, and wider views on the EU, the Commission and amendments to the Staff Regulations. The project is in four parts: an online survey, which enables us to solicit views of staff from all parts of the organization; a small round of interviews to help us interpret responses to the online survey; a more extensive programme of interviews, which allow us to explore key themes in detail; and focus groups, which make it possible to pursue particular questions in depth in a deliberative context.
Why do we want study the European Commission?
There are several reasons. The first is because the European Commission is an important international administration and a major influence on policy. In carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to it under the treaties, the Commission takes actions that affect the lives of European citizens and have consequences for the governments and populations of countries far beyond its borders. Second, political debate and press coverage in some of the member states often does not portray the Commission accurately. This project will use the data it collects to test accepted wisdoms about the organization and its staff. Third, although there is a sizeable academic literature on the Commission, existing scholarship is limited in a number of important ways: it focuses on the Commission as a decision-making actor rather than an organization; it looks at particular structures or offices within the Commission rather than the organization as a whole; and it draws on thin or limited data sources rather than wide or original primary source material. Our ambition is to address the Commission as an administration, to look at structure, processes and staff experience across the whole organization, and to gather and to then draw upon the most extensive original data ever collected by a team of outside researchers.
Didn't the same team only recently complete a project on the European Commission? Is this project really ‘new'?
All the researchers and one of the research assistants were involved in an earlier project on the European Commission, entitled ‘The European Commission in Question'. That project is regarded as a milestone in the study of the Commission. It was based on an online survey administered to 4000 officials in 2008 and completed by 1901 respondents. The book, The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, published by Oxford University in 2013, which showcased the findings from that project, has been highly acclaimed. Professor Edward C. Page, Professor of Public Policy at the London School of Economics, welcomed it as ‘a landmark in developing our understanding of how policy-making bureaucracies work and how such bureaucracies should be studied', while one Commission staff member described it as ‘the first book on the Commission where I recognized the organization I work for'. The policy briefings have been especially popular.
Although the researchers have learned important lessons from the earlier project, the current project is different in at least three significant ways. First, it covers recent developments. The current project will be the first to examine staff attitudes towards the financial and economic crisis, and to the amendments that ensued from the review of the Staff Regulations. Second, it addresses new themes. It aims to learn about staff experience of the Commission as a workplace and to get a sense of what interactions with actors insider and outside the Commission staff members need to undertake in order to get their jobs done. Third, the current project investigates the backgrounds, careers and beliefs not only of ADs, but also of ASTs/SCs, temporary agents, contract agents and seconded national experts. This makes it possible to pursue questions and to examine a range of views and experience that were far beyond the earlier project.
Why an online survey?
An online survey is an efficient, flexible and versatile research instrument. It enables researchers to reach a large number of respondents, to secure a genuinely representative sample of the organization surveyed, and to collate responses quickly. It permits respondents to complete the survey at a time of their convenience, to resume the survey if they are interrupted, and to submit the finished survey with a simply click of a keyboard button.
Who has been asked to complete the online survey?
The online survey has been circulated to all major staff groupings in the Commission, including officials, temporary agents, contract agents and seconded national experts.
Has the survey been tested?
Yes, the survey has been piloted by Commission staff members. As a result of their feedback, some questions have been dropped, the phrasing of some questions has been changed, and the length of the survey has been reduced. We are aware that it is long and wide-ranging, but piloting suggests that it can be completed in a maximum of 30 minutes.
Why should I complete the online survey?
We appreciate that completing the survey takes time, but there are three reasons why we would urge you to spend the 20-30 minutes that it should take. First, we want the picture that we present of the Commission in our publications to be genuinely representative. We want to learn from the experience and hear the views of all staff members from across the organizations. Second, the higher the response rate, the greater will be the statistical power of the survey and, as a result, the more robust will be our findings. Third, this survey offers an opportunity for almost everybody in the Commission to express their views.
How will the data be used?
The data collected from the survey will be analyzed for scientific purposes. It will be used to inform a series of articles on aspects of the European Commission to be submitted to top academic journals in political science, public management, business studies, EU studies and personnel management, as well as a book on the EU administration.
Will my responses be anonymous?
Absolutely. The data will only be reported in aggregate form, so it will not be possible to identify individual respondents from any of the publications that report the results.
How will confidentiality be protected?
Confidentiality will be protected in several ways. First, the project will comply with the UK Data Protection Act, which implements the EU Directive on Data Protection. Second, all members of the research team have signed a confidentiality agreement, in which they have undertaken to respect the anonymity of respondents, to use the data to inform the preparation of academic articles and a book on the EU administration only, and not to share the data with, or to show it to, any unauthorized individuals or parties. Third, the responses to the survey will only be viewed by the two statistical specialists members of the research team – Dr Sara Connolly and Professor Andy Thompson – and by Qualtrics, the survey software providers. Fourth, although the team will be open to requests from researchers for specific information, it will not share the dataset with other individuals or parties. Fifth, in the event of Freedom of Information requests, the project will seek exemption under Section 40 (personal data) or Section 41 (confidentiality) of the Freedom of Information Act. Exemption for correspondence received by the research team from participants will be sought under Section 41 (confidentiality).
What is your data protection policy?
Please follow the link here to the document outlining the project's data protection policy. This document has been approved by the University of East Anglia's Ethics Committee. Please see the letter of approval. Please follow the link here to view the Qualtrics security assurance statement.
Who is funding the research?
The fieldwork is funded by a private donation from two Canadian philanthropists, based in New York. Funding for the analysis, publication and dissemination phases is sought from the UK Economic and Social Research Council, which is the main body in the UK for funding social science research.
How can I find out about the results of the study?
We will create a project website once the online survey has closed where we will post information and news about the project. Key findings will be presented in policy briefings that can be downloaded from the project website. We also plan dissemination events in Brussels and in London, where we will present an overview of our findings. Details will be posted on the project website. Podcasts will be available.
You are invited to contact us by email – firstname.lastname@example.org -- or on the project hotline – + 44 (0) 1603 593626 – if you have any questions or queries concerning the research.
- Connolly, S. and Kassim, H. (2018) ‘Still standing – The European Commission after a decade of turbulence’ (with Sara Connolly) in Jörn Ege, Michael W. Bauer, and Stefan Becker (eds) The European Commission in Turbulent Times: Assessing Organizational Change and Policy Impact, Baden-Baden: Nomos (Reihe Schriften des Arbeitskreises Europäische Integration e.V.), Baden-Baden, pp. 223-49
- Kassim, H. (2017) ‘Ch 41: The European Commission as an administration’ in E. Ongaro and S. van Thiel (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Public Administration and Management in Europe, Routledge, pp. 783-804
- Kassim (2015) ‘Revisiting the 'management deficit': can the Commission (still not) manage Europe?’ in E. Ongaro (ed) Multi-Level Governance: The Missing Linkages, Emerald, pp. 41-62
- Connnolly and Kassim (2015) ‘Ch 11 The permanent Commission bureaucrat’ in Michael W. Bauer and Jarle Trondal (eds) Palgrave Handbook of the European Administrative System, Palgrave: Basingstoke (with Sara Connolly), pp. 161-87
Zuzana Murdoch, Hussein Kassim, Sara Connolly, and Ben Geys (2018) ‘Do international institutions matter? Socialization and international bureaucrats’, European Journal of International Relations, https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066118809156
Zuzana Murdoch, Hussein Kassim, and Sara Connolly.(2018) ‘Bureaucratic Representation and the “Democratic Deficit” of the European Commission’ (with Zuzana Murdoch and Sara Connolly), Journal of European Public Policy, 25(3): 389-408, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2016.1268193
- Zuzana Murdoch, Sara Connolly and Hussein Kassim (2017) ‘Bureaucratic Representation and the ‘Democratic Deficit’ of the European Commission’, Journal of European Public Policy, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13501763.2016.1268193?src=recsys&journalCode=rjpp20
- Stefan Becker, Michael W. Bauer, Sara Connolly and Hussein Kassim (2016) ‘The Commission: Boxed In and Constrained, Still an Engine of Integration?’ West European Politics, 39:5, 1011-31, free download at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402382.2016.1181870
- Sara Connolly and Hussein Kassim (2016) ‘“Supranationalism” in question: beliefs, values and the socializing power of the European Commission revisited’, Public Administration, 94(3): 717–737
- Hussein Kassim (2016) ‘What’s new? A first appraisal of the Juncker Commission’ European Political Science, 16(1): 14–33, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057%2Feps.2015.116
- Hussein Kassim, Sara Connolly, Renaud Dehousse, Olivier Rozenberg and Selman Benjaballah (2016) ‘Managing the house: The Presidency, agenda control and policy activism in the European Commission’, Journal of European Public Policy, 24(5): 653-674, free download at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Kkfk4hZDmzpTA93Bm5hT/full
- Connolly and Kassim ‘One EU Civil Service or Many? the Commission and Council Secretariat Compared’, 25th International Conference of Europeanists, Chicago, IL, 29-31 March 2018.
- Francesca P. Vantaggiato, Connolly and Kassim ‘The 'porous' Bureaucracy: A Comparative Analysis of EU Institutions' Interactions with Their External Environment’, 25th International Conference of Europeanists, Chicago, IL, 29-31 March 2018.
- Andrew Thompson, Sara Connolly, Hussein Kassim, Michael Bauer ‘Capturing Changing Attitudes of European Commission Officials before and after Significant External and Internal Events. Repeat Cross Sections or Pseudo Panels?, 25th International Conference of Europeanists, Chicago, IL, 29-31 March 2018.
- Kassim, Connolly, Thompson, Bauer ‘From here to eternity? Value conservatism, bureaucrats and the European Commission', 25th International Conference of Europeanists, Chicago, IL, 29-31 March 2018.
- ‘Managing Without Managerial Skills? Management in The European Commission’, Hussein Kassim, Sara Connolly, and Michael W. Bauer, paper prepared for presentation at the EUSA Fifteenth Biennial Conference, Miami, Florida May 4-6, 2017.
- ‘From here to eternity? Assessing the stability of the beliefs and values of individual bureaucrats’, Hussein Kassim, Michael W. Bauer, Sara Connolly, and Andrew Thompson, paper prepared for presentation at the EUSA Fifteenth Biennial Conference, Miami, Florida May 4-6, 2017.
- ‘Beyond the numbers: gender and careers in the EU civil Service’, Sara Connolly and Hussein Kassim, paper prepared for presentation at the EUSA Fifteenth Biennial Conference, Miami, Florida May 4-6, 2017.
- Socialisation in International Organisations: Evidence from a Two-wave Survey in the European Commission’ (with Sara Connolly and Zuzana Murdoch), SGEU of the ECPR conference, Trento, June 2016
- Beyond the Numbers: Gender and Careers in the European Commission’ (with Sara Connolly) Council of European Studies conference, Philadelphia, April 2016
- ‘The European Commission and the Financial and Economic Crisis: Views from the inside’ (with Sara Connolly, Michael W. Bauer, Renaud Dehousse and Andrew Thompson), Council of European Studies conference, Philadelphia, April 2016
- ‘Managing without Managerial Skills? Management in the European Commission’ (with Sara Connolly) Council of European Studies conference, Philadelphia, April 2016
- ‘Leadership and policy outputs in international organizations: the impact of presidential styles in the European Commission’ (with Sara Connolly, Renaud Dehousse and Olivier Rozenberg), IPA workshop II, DFG Research Unit 1745, International Public Administration, 2-3 March 2015, Speyer
- Supranationalism in question. What do European Commission Staff believe?’ (with Sara Connolly), 14th European Union Studies Association Biennial Conference, Boston, 5-6 March 2015
- ‘From house-sitting to managing the house. The evolution of the European Commission Presidency, 1957-2014’, 14th European Union Studies Association Biennial Conference, Boston, March 2015