The European Commission has a central role in the European Union, influences the daily lives of EU citizens, and is active in global regulation.

In this project, we – a team of multinational researchers based at five universities – collected primary material to answer key questions about the organisation and the people who work for it.

The European Commission in Question (EUCIQ) aims to improve understanding of the Commission among researchers, practitioner communities and the public. In so doing, it tests widely held myths about the organisation and contributes to debates in the scholarly literature.

"The European Commission in Question will help us make the Commission a more efficient and effective administration that better serves European citizens."

José Manuel Barroso, EC President

Read the monograph: The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, published by Oxford University Press, June 2013.

Origins and project funding

 

The project originated at an EU Consent workshop, convened by John Peterson at the University of Edinburgh in February 2006.

Myth #1: 'Commission officials have little experience of the world outside the Brussels'

Finding #1: 96 % of officials worked elsewhere before joining the Commission, 37 per cent in the private sector

Hussein Kassim proposed the idea of a large-scale survey of Commission officials as a way to capture the perspectives of officials from across the organisation. It was carried out by a multinational team, which included: 

  • Michael Bauer (University of Konstanz), Renaud Dehousse (Sciences Po. Paris)
  • Liesbet Hooghe (Free University of Amsterdam and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Andrew Thompson (University of Edinburgh), later joined by Sara Connolly (University of East Anglia).

The team secured endorsement for both the survey and a follow-up programme of interviews from the Commission.

Although the research team has benefited from close cooperation with the Commission, the project has been conducted with full academic independence. Funding has come from three main sources:

  • The UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grant no. RES-062-23-118 (£250k)
  • EU Consent (€38k), a project funded under the European Union Sixth Framework Programme
  • A private donation ($75k)

We are grateful to the School of Political, Social and International Studies at UEA and to the Centre d'Etudes Européennes, Sciences Po, Paris for additional financial support.

Myths and accepted wisdoms about the Commission

 

A key aim of the project was to test widely held views about the Commission and its staff. 

Myth #2: ‘The Commission is an administration of lawyers'

Finding #2: The Commission employs more economists and more scientists than lawyers

These included the notions that: 

  • the Commission is populated by federalist officials, who want always and everywhere to extend EU competencies and thereby their own power
  • the Commission is an administration of lawyers; it lacks the expertise to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century
  • Commission staff are career bureaucrats with no experience of life beyond the public sector
  • rigid hierarchies force officials to rely on personal networks
  • the Commission is a deeply fragmented organisation of baronial fiefdoms, where the cabinets and the services are in perpetual conflict
  • the Commission Presidency is weak; strong Presidencies are the exception, not the rule
  • the Commission is an antiquated continental bureaucracy, resistant to reform
  • enlargement has made the organisation even more difficult to manage and has exacerbated divisions within the Commission.

We found little evidence to support many of these beliefs.
 

A new approach to the study of the Commission

 

Although the Commission has attracted considerable scholarly attention and its role, status and composition have long been contested, a number of fundamental questions remain unresolved.

Myth #3: ‘Cabinets are national enclaves in a supranational organization'

Finding #3: Cabinets are multinational and are more concerned with portfolio management than advancing the interests of their Commissioner's home state

EUCIQ asks about the backgrounds, beliefs and careers of officials, the internal operation of the Commission, and attitudes to reform and enlargement.

EUCIQ has several unique features. It:

  • investigates the Commission as an administration rather than as a political actor
  • is based on primary source material collected by the research team rather than assessing its influence in EU decision making
  • examines the whole organisation of the Commission rather than individual structures
  • where possible, approaches the Commission from a comparative public administration perspective.

 

The project team

 
  • Professor Michael W. Bauer, Professor for Public Policy and Administration, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Dr Sara Connolly, Reader in Personnel Economics, University of East Anglia
  • Professor Renaud Dehousse, Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the Centre d'Etudes Européenes, Institut d'Études Politiques in Paris ("Sciences Po")
  • Professor Liesbet Hooghe, Professor in Multilevel Governance, Free University of Amsterdam, and Zachary Taylor Smith Professor in Political Science, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill
  • Professor Hussein Kassim, Professor of Politics, School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia, Principal Investigator
  • Professor John Peterson, Professor of International Politics and Leader of EU Consent Research Team, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Andrew Thompson, Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh

Support team

  • Ms Vanessa Buth, Research Administrator and PhD Candidate, School of Political, Social and International Studies, University of East Anglia
  • Ms Louise Maythorne, Administrator, EU Consent Research Team 7: The Commission and the European Civil Service, and PhD Candidate, School of Social and Political Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Mr Mark Odell, PhD candidate, Birkbeck, University of London, part-time research assistant on EUCIQ
  • Ms Ines Mosgalik, Masters candidate, Sciences Po. Paris, part-time research assistant on EUCIQ
  • Ms Marina Shapira, Fellow in the Centre for Educational Sociology, University of Edinburgh.
     

All members of the research team, including research administrators and assistants, as well as Jerome Schafer, Jörn Ege, and Bart Bes, signed a written declaration where they undertook to observe data protection rules applying to Commission officials, to respect the confidentiality of all respondents and interviewees, and to preserve the anonymity of the source of any direct quotations.

Impact

 

The EUCIQ team is committed to ensuring that the findings from the project have an impact beyond the academic community through presentations to practitioners and other channels.

Professor Kassim presented findings to an historic gathering of 400 senior Commission officials on 13 September 2012. The meeting was addressed by the Commission President, the Commission Vice President, and the Secretary General of the Council.

In January 2010, the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, observed that the project: ‘has produced the largest and richest data set on attitudes of Commission officials ever uncovered. The project's findings will help us make the Commission a more efficient and effective administration that better serves European citizens. I am also proud of the fact that we have actively assisted an independent and purely scientific study without fear of the results and with a genuine desire to learn more about the overall feelings and motivation of the people that work for this unique organisation.'

Impact activities include:

  • Presentation of selected findings to a Senior Management Meeting in the European Commission by Professor Kassim on 13 September 2012
  • The unique gathering of 400 top officials, which included chef de cabinets, senior managers, and heads of Commission representations, was addressed by the Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, and the Secretary General of the Council, Uwe Corsepius. Professor Kassim was the opening speaker
  • The presentation of provisional findings by Professors Hussein Kassim and Liesbet Hooghe to a high-level meeting of Commission officials on Wednesday 30 June 2010 and to Directors General at their weekly meeting on 1 July 2010.
  • Presentation by Professor Hussein Kassim and Dr Sara Connolly at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 22 August 2012
  • Professor Hussein Kassim has made presentations at the European Commission lunchtime seminar, and to the Secretariat General of the European Commission (with Professor John Peterson), to top management teams in seven Directorates General (with Dr Sara Connolly), and the Commission Training Network (with Dr Sara Connolly) 2009-2011

News and events

 

Myth #6: ‘The Commission is populated by federalist-inclined officials, who always want "more Europe"'

Finding #6: Commission officials differ on the form of EU governance that they prefer.

'I see the Commission as Europe's future government' - 36%

'The Commission should be policy initiator and guardian of the treaties' - 30%

'The member states should be the central pillars of the EU' - 14%

News

New monograph: The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, published by Oxford University Press, June 2013.

Past events

Dissemination event

The European Commission in Question', British Academy, 10 Carlton Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH, September 2010 (Kassim, Peterson, Thompson, Hooghe, Bauer and Dehousse). Attended by representatives from central government, the House of Lords, embassies, interest groups, Universities and other organisations.

EUCIQ panels at international conferences

  • The European Commission of the twenty-first century, Council for European Studies Conference, Barcelona, 24-26 June 2011 (Bauer, Connolly and Kassim; Connolly and Kassim; Peterson)
  • The European Commission in Question, EUSA 12th International Biennial Conference, Boston, 2-3 March 2011 (Bauer, Hooghe, Kassim, Peterson)
  • The European Commission in Question, ECPR Fifth Pan-European Conference, Porto, 23-26 June 2010 (Bauer, Kassim, Thompson)
  • European Commission in Question, Council for European Studies Conference, Montreal, 15-17 April 2010 (Hooghe, Kassim)
  • The European Commission in Question, PSA, University of Edinburgh, 1 April 2010 (Bauer, Kassim, Peterson) 

Other EUCIQ interventions at conferences and workshops

  • A Man's World? Gender and the European Commission, Council of European Studies International Conference of Europeanists, Amsterdam, 25-27 June 2013 (Connolly and Kassim)
  • Presentation of The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, at Book Panel on the European Commission', Council of European Studies International Conference of Europeanists, Amsterdam, 25-27 June 2013 (Kassim)
  • A Man's World? Gender and the European Commission, EUSA Biennial Conference, 9-11 May 2013, Baltimore (Connolly and Kassim)
  • One House or Many? Revisiting Socialization in the European Commission, EUSA Biennial Conference, 9-11 May 2013, Baltimore (Connolly and Kassim)
  • A New Model Presidency? Barroso's leadership of the European Commission, ISA 2013 Convention, San Francisco, 3-6 April 2013 (Kassim)
  • The European Commission and administrative reform, BISA, University of Edinburgh, 22 June 2012 (Bauer, Connolly and Kassim)
  • The European Commission and its personnel, (BISA, University of Edinburgh, 22 June 2012 (Connolly and Kassim)
  • A New Era? Centralisation Under the Barroso Commission, ISA Convention, 2 April 2012 (Kassim and Peterson)
  • The European Commission in Question, Workshop on Public Administration in the Multilevel System, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, organised by the Chair of Politics and Administration of the Humboldt University in Berlin, in cooperation with EGPA Permanent Study Group on EU Administration and Multilevel Governance and the Konstanz Center of Excellence for the Study of Public Administration and Management 23-24 June 2011, (Kassim)
  • The European Commission in Question, Freie Universitat Berlin/Kolleg-Forschergruppe, 7-8 February 2011 (Kassim, Bauer, Dehousse, Hooghe, Peterson, Thompson)
  • The European Commission in Question: A Provisional Overview, keynote address, 32nd EGPA Conference, Toulouse, 8 September 2010 (Kassim)
  • The European Commission of the 21st Century, EU-CONSENT plenary session, Brussels, 26 March 2009 (Peterson)
  • Invited lectures:
  • The European Commission in Question, UCL, 18 October 2012 (Kassim)
  • The European Commission in Question, College of Bruges, 29 March 2012 (Kassim)
  • The European Commission in Question: Inside the "black box", Department of Government, University of Manchester, 26 March 2011 (Kassim)
  • The European Commission in Question, EXACT Marie Curie international training network training study visit, Edinburgh, 9 December 2010 (Peterson)
  • The European Commission in Question: Inside the "black box", King's College London, 21 November 2010
  • New perspectives on accepted wisdoms: The European Commission in Question, University of Pavia, 29 June 2010 (Kassim)
  • Images of Europe: How Commission officials conceive their institution's role in the EU, ARENA Research Seminar, University of Oslo, 8 June 2010 (Hooghe)
  • A silent transformation: leadership and coordination in the European Commission since 2005, ARENA Research Seminar, 10 May 2010 (Kassim)

 

Contact us

If you have any queries or would like more information about the project, please contact Vanessa Buth, EUCIQ Research Administrator, Political, Social and International Studies (e: v.buth@uea.ac.uk).