The History of the European Union: Origins of a Trans- and Supranational Polity 1950-72

By Wolfram Kaiser; Brigitte Leucht et al. | Go to book overview

8   DG IV and the origins of
a supranational competition policy
Establishing an economic
constitution for Europe

Katja Seidel

Political scientists Michelle Cini and Lee McGowan state that ‘Competition policy is one of the least understood of all the European Union’s policies. [I]t has only recently been subjected to systematic scrutiny from a political and public administration perspective’1 and – one could add – from a historian’s perspective.2 However, this lack of attention does not reflect the importance of this policy. Also referred to as ‘the first supranational policy in the European Union’,3 competition policy is a field where the European Commission has acquired extensive powers that can have direct impact on enterprises and individuals in the member-states.

This chapter analyses the formative years of the Directorate-General for Competition (DG IV) in the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC), focusing in particular on institutionalization and socialization processes within this organization. It will demonstrate how DG IV’s evolving institutional culture and its particular outlook were decisive for the policy eventually adopted by the EEC. Discussing institutional theory, Morten Rasmussen highlights in his chapter how rational and historical institutionalist approaches completely overlook the importance of institutional and administrative cultures of European institutions for policy-making. Several sociologically inspired studies have demonstrated, however, that such cultures play a fundamental role in institutional preference formation and policy-making. Hence, institutional culture is important for understanding the relationship between the institution, the policy and the context in which this policy was created.4 The success of institutionalization depends on the ability of the organization to develop certain values and a mission and to convince actors that pursuing the goals derived from this mission are legitimate and worthwhile. The actors’ adoption and internalization of these norms, rules, values and aims could be called socialization. According to Jarle Trondal, ‘[a]ctors become norm- and rule-driven as a result of the internalization of roles and identities’.5 The formative years of an institution are crucial with regard to institutionalization and actor socialization. Cini has shown, for example, that original institutional structures, norms and values in DG IV persisted into the 1990s.6

Hans von der Groeben, the first Commissioner responsible for competition policy between 1958 and 1967, had a holistic understanding of competition. Under his leadership competition came to be, and still is considered, one of the

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