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The Commission in the EU Institutional System: A Citadel Under Siege


A common view of administrations is that they are eager to expand their influence by resorting to a wide range of tools, ranging from technical expertise to the budget (Niskanen, 1971). The Commission is no exception to the rule: it is often described in the press or by politicians as a bunch of power-hungry officials - 'technocrates européistes' in the words of former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine (Le Monde, 29 June 2010); "self serving bureaucracy" in those of German center-right MEP Ingebord Grässle (European Voice, 29 July 2010), and there is no shortage of works in the scholarly literature to describe it as a 'utility maximizer' eager to expand its influence (Pollack 2003), a 'purposeful opportunist' trying to draw maximum benefit of its often limited powers (Cram, 1993, Héritier, 1999), or to criticize the continuous erosion of national powers it is conducting as a form of 'integration by stealth', undesired either by its political principals (the member states) or by citizens (Majone, 2005). It is fair to say that the Commission has at its disposal a wider range of resources than the secretariat of most international organizations. The treaty invites it to act independently from external pressures; so does its official institutional ideology, the 'Community method' (CM), designed by the founders of the EU (Dehousse, 2011). Its broad formal powers include a near-monopoly of legislative initiative and the discretionary power to bring about infringement proceedings against member states that fail to comply with EU law - two important prerogatives in their own right that, when skilfully combined, enable it to play a leading role in legislative procedures (Schmidt, 2011). Unlike the Council, its members (in the college and in the services) are working full-time on European issues, and it is better equipped than either the Council or the Parliament to have a cross-cutting view on the wide range of policies conducted or affected by the Union. Last but not least, given the limited development of party politics at the European level, it is also less bothered than its domestic 3 counterparts by purely political considerations. This explains why the Community method has always been defended by the Commission leadership. Even President Barroso, often suspected of revisionist leanings, systematically pays lip service to it. Reacting to the multiplication of French and German unilateral initiatives during the financial crisis, he notably stressed that the best guarantee for "preserving the coherence" of EU action was the Community method, involving the European Commission as the guardian of the EU Treaties to prevent possible divisions (Barroso, 2011). In this chapter, we assess what is left of the Community method "myth" (Dimitrakopoulos, 2010) in the beliefs of Commission officials, after nearly two decades of an evolution characterized by a number of powerful challenges to the latter's authority. In contrast with chapter 3, we do not purport to provide the reader with an overall map of official's beliefs, but merely to analyze whether officials are still inspired by the classical view of their institution's role, and how they envisage its relationships with other institutions and actors We begin by recalling the main changes that have taken place in the governance of the EU in the period following the Maastricht Treaty (1992), as this forms the background against which we must assess officials' current views. We then analyze how large support for the Community method is in today's Commission, and discuss a number of factors that might affect it. Finally, we examine CM supporters' views on the evolution of the EU institutional system.
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hal-01070279 , version 1 (01-10-2014)



Renaud Dehousse, Andrew Thompson. The Commission in the EU Institutional System: A Citadel Under Siege. 2012. ⟨hal-01070279⟩
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