Despite its role supporting the Council of the European Union and the European Council, the General Secretariat of the Council is a well-kept secret. It stays out of the public eye and has attracted limited scholarly attention. As a result, little is known about its internal operation, or about the people who work for it.
Ours is the first project on the Council Secretariat to be conducted by independent researchers. In keeping with the wider ambitions of our research on the EU administration, it aims to advance knowledge of the Council Secretariat. At a time when public administrations face severe challenges and increasing demands for transparency, it puts accepted wisdoms about ‘Brussels’ and ‘Eurocrats’ to the empirical test.
The project asks a series of important questions:
- Who are the people who work for the GSC? What are their educational and professional backgrounds? What are their values and beliefs?
- How do personnel rate their career prospects and to what extent do they feel supported in their career development ambitions?
- What do staff think about the GSC’s organizational culture? Do they believe that the different parts of the organization work effectively together?
- Do staff feel well-managed? Do managers think that they have the right tools and resources to carry out their responsibilities?
- What, if anything, do staff think needs to change about the GSC’s organization or working methods? Do staff have confidence in the GSC’s change management capacity?
Our findings draw on telephone interviews, a large-scale online survey, two rounds of interviews with staff across the organisation, and several focus groups.
The Project Team
Professor Hussein Kassim, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, University of East Anglia, Principal Investigator
Professor Sara Connolly, Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia, Principal Investigator
Professor Michael W. Bauer, German University of Administrative Science, Speyer
Professor Renaud Dehousse, President, European University Institute, Florence
Professor Brigid Laffan, Director, Robert Schuman Centre, European University Institute, Florence
Professor Andrew Thompson, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Dr Pippa Lacey
Ms Becky Attoe, NBS, UEA
Ms Libby Firth, PPL, UEA
Ms Liane Ward, NBS, UEA
Research assistance and supportMs Francesca Vantaggiato, PhD candidate, UEA
Dr Nicholas Wright, Teaching Fellow, UCL
Dr Graeme Crouch, research assistant, EUI
Mr Antoine Mandret, PhD candidate, Sciences Po Paris
Mr Luke Jackson, UEA graduate
Ms Maeva Bouda, UEA graduate
Ms Marie-Isabelle Louis, UEA graduate
Dr Vanessa Buth, research assistant, UEA
University of East Anglia
Sciences Po Paris
European University Institute
Data Collection and Fieldwork
- background interviews with staff from across the organization (n=27)
- an online survey, which enables us to solicit views of staff from all parts of the organisation (n=1356/3190, 42%);
- a small round of interviews to help us interpret responses to the online survey (n=40, AST and AD staff);
- a more extensive programme of interviews, which allow us to explore key themes in detail (n=77, 42 Heads of Unit, 23 Directors and 12 Directors or Deputy Directors General);
- focus groups, which engage employees from the same staff grouping in discussion of their experience of the organisation (Ads, ASTs, Lawyer linguists, Translators, Logistics).
We used data for the entire GSC staff to calculate weights which ensure that our survey sample is representative by gender, role, and DG type.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why a study of the General Secretariat of the Council?
The GSC is an important part of the EU civil service, but relatively little is known about what it does or the people who work for it. The idea behind the project, which is supported by the Secretary General, is to increase understanding of the organization and its personnel. The study will examine the educational and professional backgrounds of staff, their career trajectories, beliefs, values and attitudes, their experience of the GSC as a workplace and their views on the working culture of the GSC.
Who are you?
The research team includes specialist EU scholars from Universities in France, Germany, Italy and the UK, and is led by Professor Hussein Kassim, UEA and Professor Sara Connolly, UEA. They are: Professor Michael Bauer, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer, Professor Renaud Dehousse, Centre d’Etudes Européennes, Sciences Po. Paris, Professor Brigid Laffan, European University Institute Florence and Professor Andrew Thompson, University of Edinburgh. All members of the current research team -- with the exception of Professor Laffan -- were involved in two similar survey-based projects on the European Commission: The European Commission in Question; and the European Commission: Facing the Future.
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, 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 simple click of the keyboard button. It is also safe and secure.
Who has been asked to complete the online survey?
The online survey has been circulated to all personnel in the GSC.
Has the survey been tested?
Yes, the survey has been piloted. It is long and wide-ranging, but piloting confirms that it can be completed in 30 minutes.
Why should I complete the online survey?
We appreciate that completing the online 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 of the GSC that we present in our publications to be genuinely representative of the organization and the people who work for it. Second, the higher the response rate, the greater the statistical power of the survey and the more robust the findings that we ultimately report. Third, the survey offers an opportunity for everybody in the GSC to describe their experiences and express their views.
How will the data be collected and stored?
The survey will be conducted using Qualtrics software and the responses analysed in SPSS v22. The raw survey data will be anonymised and stored (and backed-up) by Qualtrics in their EU data centres in Ireland for the duration of the data collection. All data held by Qualtrics will be destroyed at the end of this phase of the project. Anonymised data which is downloaded for analysis will be password protected and encrypted. Data will be stored on the University centrally managed facilities backed up on a 24hr basis with access restricted to authorised individuals only. For futher information, see our Data Management Plan.
How will the data be used?
The data collected from the survey will be analysed for scientific purposes. It will be used to inform a series of articles on aspects of the GSC 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. We will also prepare a report, informed by the data, that we will submit to senior management.
Will my responses be anonymous?
Absolutely. You can answer the survey with our full assurance that your personal data will not be disclosed and that your anonymity is guaranteed. The data will only be reported in aggregate form, so it will not be possible to identify individual respondents in any of the publications that report the findings. For futher information, see our Data Management Plan.
What if I agree to participate in the follow-up interviews?
Your anonymity is guaranteed. Although we will cite comments from interviews, it will not be possible to identify the individuals concerned in the published work. Where quotations from interviews are included in any text, the attribution will be no more specific than the following: ‘as one Senior Manager remarked . . . ‘, ‘a head of unit from a smaller member state commented . . .’, etc.
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 to, any unauthorised individuals or parties. Third, the responses to the survey will only be viewed by the two statistical specialists members of the research team -- Professor 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, all information gathered is subject to a request submitted pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Any personal data obtained by the research team will be exempt under release from the Freedom of Information Act. All other data received will be exempted on the grounds that it was obtained in confidence. For futher information, see our Data Management Plan.
Who will have access to the dataset?
Access to the dataset will be restricted to authorised individuals and their researchers only: Professor Hussein Kassim, UEA, Professor Sara Connolly, UEA, Professor Michael Bauer, German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer, Professor Renaud Dehousse, Centre d’Etudes Européennes, Sciences Po. Paris, Professor Brigid Laffan, European University Institute Florence and Professor Andrew Thompson, University of Edinburgh.
What is your data protection policy?
Our data protection policy is set out in our Data Management Plan. The Plan has been approved by the Data Protection Unit of the General Secretariat of the Council and by the University of East Anglia's Ethics Committee. The software for the online survey is provided by Qualtrics. Please click here for the Qualtrics Security White Paper.
Who is funding the research?
The fieldwork is funded by the Universities at which we are based. They are: the University of East Anglia; the German University of Administrative Sciences, Speyer; Sciences Po. Paris; the European University Institute Florence; and the University of Edinburgh.
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. In due course, key findings will be presented in policy briefings that can be downloaded from the project website. We also plan dissemination events in Brussels, where we will present and overview of our findings. Details will be posted on the project website.
You are invited to contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org or to leave a voicemail on the project hotline +44 (0) 1603 593626 if you have any questions or queries concerning the research.
Papers presented at conferences and workshops
1. ‘One civil service or many’, presented by Sara Connolly and Hussein Kassim at TARN lecture at ARENA, University of Oslo, 30th May 2017
Abstract: Scholarship on the EU bureaucracy has focused overwhelmingly on the European Commission. Though the Commission is larger than other institutions and it plays a central role in the EU system, it forms only one part of the EU administration. Drawing on new empirical data from research on the Commission and on the General Secretariat of the Council, this paper compares EU civil servants from the two. It finds that, despite similar backgrounds and profiles, staff from the two bodies differ in terms of their beliefs, values and attitudes. The paper argues, first, that the differences can be explained by different socialising impacts exerted by the two bodies and, second, that the comparison has important implications for the existing literature on socialization in EU institutions.
2. ‘Putting silos to the test. The case of the EU civil service’, paper presented at the Paper prepared for presentation at the EUSA Fifteenth Biennial Conference, Miami, Florida May 4-6, 2017, by Francesca Pia Vantaggiato, Sara Connolly, and Hussein Kassim
Abstract: Although, according to insiders and outsiders alike, bureaucracies are typically fragmented into ‘silos', such claims have rarely been tested empirically. The range and the frequency of employees’ interactions both within and outside their teams and departments, or the extent to which the pattern of such interactions reflect the tasks, roles or values of staff in different parts and levels of the organization, have seldom been the object of systematic investigation. This paper draws on new empirical data from recent research on the European Commission (2014 survey achieved sample n=5545, interviews n=244, focus groups n=5) and on the General Secretariat of the Council (2016 survey achieved sample n=1356, interviews =117, focus groups=5) to examine the ways in which EU civil servants interact among themselves and with stakeholders. Using the technique of blockmodeling, the paper maps out these two parts of the EU civil service in positional and relational terms. Identifying for whom, with whom and where contacts are more extensive or frequent and where working patterns are most insular, it challenges both the general image of bureaucracies as ‘stovepipes’ and the more specific depiction of the Commission and Council Secretariat as irrevocably fragmented administrations.