Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Normalization of the European Commission: Politics and Bureaucracy in the EU Executive/The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

The Normalization of the European Commission: Politics and Bureaucracy in the EU Executive/The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

ANCHRIT WILE: The Normalization of the European Commission: Politics and Bureaucracy in the EU Executive, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, 243 pp.

HUSSEIN KASSIM, JOHN PETERSON, MICHAEL W. BRAUER, SARA CONNOLY, RENAUD DEHOUSSE, LIESBET HOOGHE, ANDREW THOMPSON: The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, 381 pp.

Ahead of the nomination of new College of Commissioners that will follow the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament, both Anchrit Wille's The Normalization of the European Commission: Politics and Bureaucracy in the EU Executive and Hussein Kassim et al., The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century, are timely lectures. Both also offer a comprehensive insight into the Commission as a whole, the first by showing the most important reforms and the shape of the Commission's organisational structure that they led to, the second by providing a detailed picture on how the Commission functions today, with an in-depth account of Commission staff views.

Anchrit Wille's research concentrates around the thesis that the European Commission is becoming "normalised," meaning that it has evolved from a technocratic international organisation to a core executive that, in its structure, deeply resembles national ones. The most prominent feature of the "normal" national model is a clear division between politics and administration, in which politicians and bureaucrats plays different roles and are subjected to different recruitment procedures, codes of conduct, and models of accountability. Thus, the research is focused on the rules, patterns of behaviour and self-perception of (i) Commissioners, (ii) heads of cabinets, (iii) directors-general and (iv) the relations between them. Wille shows clearly how the Commissioners path from "technocrats to politicians" was stimulated by an increase in the European Parliament's legislative powers and greater control over Commissioners, by strengthening of the role of the Commission's president ("presidentialisation") and by need for engagement with public opinion. The opposite happened with the administration, which become largely depoliticised due to the reforms that based recruitment and career paths on merit, as well as because of use of the New Public Management approach in adopting its working rules. As for cabinet members, whose role has grown substantially with a widening of the Commissioners' portfolios, Prodi's reforms helped the process of the denationalisation and personalisation of their choice. What emerges from the research on the relations between Commissioners, their cabinet members and their DG's staffs, is a picture of pragmatic cooperation between clearly separated political and administrative levels, and under strengthened accountability patterns. Of utmost importance, as a number of interviews showed, this model has also been deeply internationalised by all players.

The strength of Anchrit Wille's account of the Commission lies in a clear line of argument that carries the reader gently through the complexity of Commission structure and a history of its reforms. Most important findings are summarised in the form of tables and graphs. By identifying tensions underpinning Commission functioning from the very beginning, namely inevitable struggles between professionalism and politicisation, Europeanisation and nationality, and autonomy and accountability, Wille gives his "normalisation" thesis a proper background and identifies the most acute difficulties in defying the most desirable model (pp. 37-42). References to political contexts and citation of interview highlights make the reading more vivid and interesting. A great advantage of the book is also that the author pays attention to accountability mechanisms, an issue of the great importance in current debates.

The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century is the result of the EUCIQ research project, the central point of which was the scale (almost 2,000 respondents) of its online survey that asked policy-related Commission staff a series of questions on their background, education, career path, motives and beliefs, views on the Commission organisation, and vision of the European Union, administrative reform and enlargement. …

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