The EU seen as supranational

Although there is a plurality of views, a majority of European Commission staff perceive the Commission as a supranational institution, Liesbet Hooghe concludes in her paper presented at the ARENA Tuesday seminar 8 June.

(Photo: ARENA)

Liesbet Hooghe presented her paper "Images of Europe: How Commission officials conceive their institution's role in the EU" at the ARENA Tuesday Seminar 8 June. The paper is based on a large online survey among Comission officials.

In the paper Hooghe focuses on Commission employees' role perceptions and their perceptions of the EU project. To analyse them she constructs three ideal types: a supranational view of the role, a state-centred view and a view of the Commission's role best described as the "community method".

Three perceptions of the Commission

If the Commission staff see the EU as a supranational, this involves that they regard themselves as loyal to the Commission and believe that the Commission has the real decision-making authority in the EU. At the opposite end is the state-centered conception. This means that the commission staff are loyal to nation-states. The decision-making authority is thus assumed to lie in the Council.

The "community method" represents what the EU treaties say about the decision-making authority, namely that the Commission is important because it initiates policy proposals. These must be implemented by the member states. The Commission staff's role is thus to identify common needs and propose solutions that surpass national and cultural differences.

EU as supranational

Hooghe finds that 36% of the interviewed Commission staff see the EU as supranational, 29% see the EU acting in line with what is described as the community method, while 13% see the EU as state centered. National background, professional background and ideological background are important explanatory factors for the Commission staff's perception of the EU.

Want to read more? The entire paper can be downloaded here (pdf).


Hooghe's study is part of a larger ongoing project funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council. The project, called "The Commission examined: Challenge, Change and Performance", involves a quantitative study and a series of semi-structured interviews with Commission staff.

Liesbet Hooghe is Zachary Taylor Smith Professor at UNC Chapel Hill and Chair in Multi-Level Governance at the VU Amsterdam. Her research interests are the EU and Europe. She is known as one of the pioneers in multi-level governance research. Her interests also span the fields of political parties and public opinion, identity research and European integration.

By Sindre Hervig, Mathias Johannesen
Published Oct. 19, 2010 11:09 AM - Last modified May 31, 2013 9:36 AM