ARENA Working Papers
WP 00/10



The Organisational Dimension of Integration in the EU (and Elsewhere)

Morten Egeberg
Department of Political Science and ARENA, University of Oslo*


To figure out what kind of polity the EU is developing into, contending approaches to European integration apply quite different criteria. This paper argues that the new institutional perspective could be strengthened considerably by specifying the organisational principles embodied in a given institutional structure. If the task is to integrate sub-territories, a highly integrated system is, in organisational terms, a system in which non-territorial organisational components have taken precedence over territorial ones at the centre. Thus, sub-territories as such are only marginally reflected in the organisational set-up at the centre. This organisational conceptualisation provides a frame of reference within which reform efforts and actual changes in the EU over time are interpreted. By examining the behavioural consequences of different organising principles it becomes relatively clear that the extent to which decision-makers might be resocialised at the EU level is highly contingent upon an institution's organisational characteristics.

Key Words:

EU polity; supranationalism; federalism.

The need for a yardstick for measuring integration

How integrated and supranational is the European Union? Most observers seem to agree that it is neither an international organisation in the classic sense of the word, nor a federal state. If it is in between, however, where should it be located on such a continuum, and which criteria should be applied? Or is the Union rather a unique system of governance in the sense that new dimensions need to be invented in order to grasp its real character? The issue is a highly contentious one, in politics as well as among scholars doing research on the European integration process. For example, pro-integration politicians with an EU-reluctant constituency may wish to portray the Union as a primarily intergovernmental arrangement under the control of the member states. Anti-EU politicians, on the other hand, tend to draw a quite different picture, pointing to what they see as an emerging supranational polity. The intergovernmental-supranational divide is also at the core of the scholarly discourse taking place among students of European integration, notably between realists and intergovernmentalists on the one side, and neo-functionalists, institutionalists and constructivists on the other. The aim of this paper is to contribute to our understanding of what sort of polity the EU has developed into, focusing on how the relationships between the member states and EU institutions have become organised.

The paper will proceed as follows: First, I will discuss briefly what kind of yardstick contending approaches to European integration apply in order to determine the EU's location on the intergovernmental-supranational axis. Second, I will present a complementary approach, focusing explicitly on the organisational dimension of integration. The basic question is the extent to which the governance structure at the central level allows sub-territorial interests as such to be expressed systematically and routinely. To exemplify, I will outline the organisational essence of the “classic” international organisation, the unitary state and the federation. Third, the organisational characteristics of the EU and their behavioral consequences will be discussed. The conceptualisation of the EU in organisational terms then serves as a frame of reference for interpreting reform efforts and actual changes over time: where are they taking the EU?

How various schools ascertain governance transformation in Europe

In the eyes of rationalist intergovernmentalists, international regimes and organisations represent ways of reducing transaction costs. They admit that in its day-to-day activities the EU has gone a bit further than compatible arrangements. However, the member states' “delegation of authority” to the Commission and the Court and “pooling of sovereignty” are seen as little more than mechanisms for reducing transaction costs in future decision situations. Both devices are considered to be clearly within the scope of intergovernmental control (Moravcsik 1993). Thus, through this lens it is hard to imagine how substantial system transformation might be able to occur at all. The basic principles of Europe's political architecture, as they have been known from the end of the 17th century, seem almost bound to prevail in the time ahead.

Like intergovernmentalists, historical institutionalists may be rooted in rational theory, and pay considerable attention to international negotiations. Due to bounded rationality and unintended consequences, though, gaps between governments' intentions on the one hand and actual institutional development at the supranational level on the other may emerge. Such gaps may be difficult to close because supranational institutions, like other institutions, consist of procedures, routines, people and other resources (Pierson 1996). Thus, within this perspective, it follows that relatively autonomous EU institutions could arise, and that system transformation can then be said to have taken place to the extent that such “autonomisation” has occurred. Classic institutionalists in political science would confine themselves to focusing on formal and legal aspects, and only rarely engage in empirical studies of the actual impacts of these traits. The degree to which integration has taken place would from this perspective depend on the existence and formal position of supranational institutions, or “institutions of nonterritorial politics” such as the European Commission or the European Parliament. “Institutions of territorial politics” such as the Council of the European Union could, however, also reflect supranationalism, provided that qualified majority voting is permitted (Sbragia 1993). Classic institutionalism and rational choice institutionalism are akin to each other in the sense that both rely heavily on formal structures and procedures. Rationalists often make their main judgement by considering the behavioral consequences that can be derived logically from formal rules like the co-operation, co-decision and comitology procedures (Aspinwall and Schneider 2000).

New institutionalists in political science have a richer conception of institutional life. Institutionalised organisations contain formal and informal rules, roles, codes of meaning and reasoning and resources (March and Olsen 1989). Structures and procedures are infused with value beyond the technical requirements of the task at hand (Selznick 1957: 17). Institutions matter; they may shape strategies, preferences, interests and identities (March and Olsen 1989; Bulmer 1993; Checkel 1999). Within this perspective, Europe will be more integrated the more say EU-level institutions actually have in relation to national institutions, and the more the interests and identities of domestic decision-makers can be endogenously moulded and moved at the European level. In addition, the degree of integration will depend on the extent to which shared meanings are present in society, or might be developed (Olsen 2000). Shared meanings are often associated with a homogeneous culture, but could also relate to particular institutions and procedures. Since institutions buffer and regulate conflict of values and cognition, they may become substitutes for a homogeneous culture (March and Olsen 1995:34-35).

Neo-functionalists would probably determine the degree of integration primarily by considering how many, and which, governmental functions or issue areas are dealt with at the European level (Lindberg and Scheingold 1970; Schmitter 1996a). Under most circumstances, a well integrated system is associated with a highly multi-functional one. What IR scholars call “high-politics”, foreign and security policies, have often been seen as the most difficult to harmonise and thus among the last functions to be “de-nationalised”, as in the EU case. There is a certain logic to this “functional order”, since physical control of a given territory is a crucial and state-defining task. Interestingly, however, in other cases, like in the US, Belgium and the UK, sub-territorial entities seem more willing to hand over foreign and security policy than “domestic” policies to the centre. Their attitude might indicate that “low politics” arenas sometimes are perceived as having a more system-defining and integrative potential than those of “high politics”.

What organisation tells as about integration

The above shows that most theoretical schools applied to European integration suggest some criteria by which the degree of integration might be assessed. As already pointed out, the organisational focus presented here is not meant to replace other approaches in this respect. Rather, it may add some insights on governance transformation by elaborating on certain dimensions that could easily be subsumed into a new institutionalist perspective if one prefers to do so. Succinctly expressed, the idea is to focus on institutions' basic organisational principles and their behavioural consequences. Current organisational configurations are outcomes of previous political processes, and thus reflect, although not in any perfect sense, actual power relationships. For example, in the EU the co-existence of the Commission's external relations units and the Council's foreign policy spokesperson may be interpreted as reflecting the current stand of supranational versus intergovernmental forces in this particular arena. Organisational structures are also supposed to impact on the policy processes that flow through these structures. Thus, if, for example, an institution is internally specialised in relation to the geographical areas served, it is expected to function differently from an organisation structured according to function, purpose (sector) or clientele (Gulick 1937). Whereas institutions based on a purpose principle are supposed to foster sectoral horizons among decision-makers and policy standardisation across territorial units, organisations structured according to geography may induce spatial perspectives and encourage policy-makers to pay attention primarily to territorial concerns and needs for intra-local policy coherence.

The extent to which sub-territories are politically integrated into a larger system is reflected in the extent to which the interests of these sub-territories are expressed organisationally at the centre. Thus, in a highly integrated political system, non-territorial principles of organisational specialisation have taken clear precedence over the territorial principle at the centre. The institutional set-up at the centre does only marginally reflect the territorial composition of the system. Social, cultural, economic and sectoral interests are supposed to become systematically privileged at the expense of sub-territorial concerns as such. On the other hand, in a weakly integrated system the overarching governance structure is geographically specialised at the top level, thus assigning an extraordinary weight to sub-territorial interests in the decision process. In this case the organisational structure at the centre focuses conflict mainly along territorial lines of cleavage. Notice that institutions that are formally “institutions of non-territorial politics” (cf. “classic institutionalism”) could in fact contain organisational components that privilege sub-territorial interests. For example, the role of national governments in Commission committees and appointments of Commissioners, as well as the national quota system, has led some observers to conclude that the Commission is permeated by national interests and “acts as an important forum for competition between them” (Peterson 1999:59). Correspondingly, “institutions of territorial politics” may have developed sub-structures that bring to the fore non-territorial concerns when it comes to actual policy-making. For instance, given the sectorally specialised working party arrangement of the Council, its meetings have been described as businesslike and technocratic (Wessels 1998:209).

Organisational settings matter because they provide relevant value and factual premises from which a decision can be reached (Simon 1965:45-60). Structures forge information networks for the development of common perceptions of agendas and alternatives, and focus conflict along certain lines of cleavage rather than others (March 1994:117-119). For example, redesigning geographically specialised organisations into sectorally structured ones could be expected to partly transform territorial conflicts into functional ones. (Notice, however, that “territorial conflicts” are not necessarily about territory. The point is that interests are organised along territorial lines, like in the classic system of nation-states.) Organisational structures are also normative structures that oblige actors to behave in a certain manner, and they provide sanctions – rewards or punishments – that managers may apply in order to achieve compliance (Scott 1995:35-40). Regrettably, though, many of the bold and potentially fertile propositions advanced in “classic works” such as Gulick (1937), e.g., on the principles of specialisation, have not been subjected to rigorous empirical testing to the extent they deserve (Hammond 1990). However, at least as far as the executive branch of government is concerned, there is a considerable amount of work which supports the basic assumptions about how different organisational structures might intervene and partly shape processes and outcomes in predictable ways (for one account, cf. Egeberg 1999b).

Recent works in organisation theory have portrayed some organisational structures as loosely coupled, ambiguous and permeable, or as based on competing principles (cf. Brunsson and Olsen 1998). This means that decision-makers may have ambiguous and multiple roles and identities; they may conceive of themselves as parts of several entities or normative settings (March 1994:68-73). Multiple role expectations and cross-cutting cleavages can facilitate conflict resolution and collective problem solving. As will be shown in the empirical part of this paper, the Council as well as the Commission seems to embody contending principles of organisational specialisation (e.g. geographical and sectoral). Thus, there is a need to appraise the ability of various organisational components within the two institutions to evoke among decision-makers either territorial or functional identities, or a combination of the two.

In modern systems of governance organisational boundaries are often transcended horizontally as well as vertically by extensive committee networks. It might be assumed that for most decision-makers such committee participation represents a rather secondary kind of organisational affiliation. After all, they spend most of their time and energy at their respective ministries and agencies. However, collegiate structures, like organisations in general, do impose expectations and obligations on the participants, who in turn become exposed to a certain set of problems, solutions and other participants. Decision-makers might find participation rewarding for several reasons: interorganisational conflicts may be resolved, crucial information may be revealed, career options may be discovered, or stimulating discourse may take place. Thus, the involvement of representatives of sub-territorial units in system-level committee networks could strengthen or partly shift pre-established role perceptions, and an overall system allegiance might develop to some extent. Arguably, such loyalty among sub-centre representatives, although of a secondary nature, would facilitate collective policy-making at the overall system level.

“Settled political orders” – the organisational dimension

The classic international governmental organisation (IGO) is obviously a type of institution that allows sub-territorial interests (i.e. national interests) to be expressed on a routine basis. The IGO's basic principle of organisational specialisation is geography, meaning that each member in the legislative body represents a particular sub-territory, i.e. nation-state. The secretariat is, in principle at least, a secretariat in the real sense of the word: anonymous and without its own will. This overarching configuration may be somewhat modified by functionally specialised sub-committees or by advisory assemblies of national parliamentarians, as in the Council of Europe. Parliamentarians can not formally represent sub-territories (only governments can), and their national identities may become blurred by transnational partisan ties.

At the other end of the continuum we find the classic unitary state in which non-territorial principles of organisational specialisation have taken precedence at the centre. The legislators have of course their local constituencies, and this fact may be of relevance, in particular regarding location decisions. In general, though, partisan ties seem to be more decisive for parliamentarians' behaviour (Damgaard 1997; Heidar 1997). As far as the executive branch of government is concerned, the supreme principle of specialisation is almost always sector or function. Thus, within the cabinet each minister represents a sector or function based ministry (and, in coalition governments, a particular political party too). When composing a ministerial team, executives often take the members' geographical background into account in order to achieve a fair regional balance. These ties can no doubt be activated in certain decision situations (cf. location issues), and thus affect policy outcomes. However, in general, party and ministry affiliation is considered to be a better explanation of cabinet members' choices than their region of origin (Andeweg 1988). In the average ministerial structure the only channel available, then, for the systematic articulation of sub-territorial concerns may be a ministry or department of regional or local government affairs. Interesting exceptions to this pattern are the Scottish and Welsh Offices in the British central government. No clear conclusions can yet be drawn, however, regarding the extent to which these entities possess sufficient autonomy to implement policies that diverge from those of the functional Whitehall ministries (Griffiths 1999).

When officials are recruited to the central administration in unitary states, the geographical background of the candidate is probably not very much emphasised. Studies show that this attribute is not significant in explaining officials' decision behaviour compared with for example ministerial affiliation and educational background (L�greid and Olsen 1984; Egeberg 1999b). Finally, one could argue that non-territorial components at the central level are further underpinned by interest group representation that is mainly functional in character.

At the centre of the federal state we would expect the territorial principle of organisational specialisation to co-exist with non-territorial principles in a more balanced way. Such juxtaposition is perhaps most clearly expressed in the two- chamber system that characterises the legislature of the union state. Concerning the composition of the second chamber, there seem to be three main variants. First, the electorate can be represented directly, as in the US Senate. Second, representatives to the second chamber can be elected by regional parliaments, as is the case in Austria. And third, the second chamber may consist of representatives of the regional governments like in Germany. Since one purpose of this paper is to locate the EU in organisational terms along a continuum ranging from the IGO to the unitary state, German federalism is of particular relevance because it embodies a genuine intergovernmental component, i.e. the second chamber Bundesrat (cf. Sbragia 1992). In the discussion below, therefore, I will deal with federalism in its German configuration.

At first sight territorial interests seem to enjoy greater privilege under the third (German) type of federalism than under the two others. This is due to the fact that only the constituent governments are entitled to speak on behalf of the component regions in a strict sense. Parliamentarians and members of Congress normally don't have a mandate to represent a state. However, a valid comparison of federalisms has to take into account that sub-territorial agents in the US probably don't need to be present in the capital to the same extent as their German counterparts in order to defend their interests. While a lot of policy areas are under the control of the states in the US, this is significantly different in Germany. In Germany, most taxes are raised in a unitary system and most legislative powers are vested in the federal parliament (Bundestag), while the constituent states (L�nder) are responsible for policy implementation in most areas (Mayntz 1999). As regards policy decisions, however, the consent of the L�nder in the second chamber (Bundesrat) is required for all legislative proposals that might affect the interests of the L�nder. The number of votes at the disposal of each Land government depends on the size of its population. If legislative conflict arises between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, a Committee of Mediation will be convened (Leonardy 1991).

The territorial principle of organisational specialisation underlying the Bundesrat is also reflected in the regular intergovernmental conferences that are held between the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the L�nder. The principle is further underpinned by each Land having its permanent mission in the capital, serving as a liaison office between Land and federal ministries, although officials from the two levels often interact directly (Leonardy 1991). L�nder groups of the Bundestag convene regularly in their respective Land's Mission to the Federation (Leonardy 1991).

Although territorial organisation probably prevails in and around the Bundesrat, contending organisational connections merit attention. First, L�nder governments that are politically aligned convene on a routine basis ahead of Bundesrat meetings (Leonardy 1991), rendering it more likely that regional identities will become blurred by party loyalties. Second, a significant number of preparatory meetings and committees at the political and administrative level arranged along sectoral and functional lines, corresponding to the division of labour between the federal ministries, are regularly convened (Derlien 2000). The committees consist of L�nder officials, predominantly from the permanent missions, federal officials representing the federal government and sometimes ministers. The chair is assigned according to a pre-arranged pattern (Leonardy 1991). This highly departmentalised structure across territorial levels might evoke identities among decision-makers that are not necessarily consistent with their role as L�nder representatives. Thus, what has emerged has been described as a “vertical brotherhood of experts” (Derlien 2000). Arguably, some overall system loyalty among decision-makers could as well have evolved as a consequence of intensive committee work.

If we then turn to the Bundestag, Saalfeld (1997) reveals, as could be expected, that partisan ties are the most important affiliation among the parliamentarians, although much emphasis is put on the committee work as well. The Bundestag committee structure is completely congruent with the federal ministerial organisation, arranged along sectoral and functional lines (Derlien 2000). This doesn't mean that territorial linkages are completely irrelevant for policy outcomes though. For example, as mentioned, the regular gatherings of Bundestag members in their respective L�nder permanent missions may serve to remind them of their region of origin.

As far as the German federal bureaucracy is concerned, the ministerial structure, specialised according to sectoral and functional criteria, is complemented by a dense network of permanent and ad hoc committees consisting of both L�nder and federal officials. This collegiate structure is erected in order to prepare federal government bills, to draft delegated legislation in statutory instruments and to allocate federal funds (Leonardy 1991). Like the Bundesrat committees the federal government working groups can be seen as part of the “vertical brotherhood of experts” (Derlien 2000). The non-territorial features of the federal executive are further underpinned by the strong position of functional interest groups in the German system (Page 1992).

There are, however, two territorial connections in the federal administration that deserve mention. First, L�nder officials participating on preparatory and implementation committees, although characterised as mainly experts, could be expected to articulate L�nder interests as well, at least to some extent. This is due to the fact they do, after all, devote most of their time and energy to L�nder bureaucracies. Second, Article 36 of the Federal Constitution states that civil servants employed in the highest federal authorities shall be drawn from all L�nder in appropriate proportion. When the attitudes and actual behaviour of federal officials are examined, however, their geographical background and the quota system appear to have no significant influence (Mayntz and Scharpf 1975:49-62). Federal ministers seem to be guided primarily by partisan and departmental ties (M�ller-Rommel 1988).

Authors have pointed to the prevalent role of the executives in relation to the parliaments in German federalism. Co-operation, co-ordination and joint policy-making are almost the exclusive preserve of the executive branch (Goetz 1995:96). It is probably the fact that the executive is also taking part in the legislative arena (the Bundesrat) that explains its privileged position.

An “unsettled political order” – the organisational dimension of the EU

We have seen that the IGO is structured in a way that basically sustains and highlights territorial identities and cleavages (although it may facilitate co-operation among participants). On the other hand, the dominance of non-territorial principles of organisational specialisation in the unitary state significantly downplays geographical lines of conflict and brings non-territorial affiliations and identities among participants to the fore. Unpacking the federal state reveals a delicate mixture and balancing of competing organisational principles at the centre, although non-territorial principles tend to take precedence.

Turning now to the EU, how should it be judged in organisational terms? To start with the Council, its basic principle of specialisation is clearly the territorial one. It is intergovernmental in the sense that the constituent governments are represented as such at all levels, from the working parties via the COREPER, the ministerial meetings and up to the European Council. To support their representational function, the member states have their permanent missions in Brussels, most commonly subject to instructions from the respective Foreign Ministries. However, territoriality meets “functionality”, most noticeably at the levels beneath the European Council. Ministerial meetings are convened along sectoral and functional lines, and even the General Affairs Council has become increasingly specialised, focusing more and more on the EU's external relations (Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace 1997:31). Although the spokespersons at COREPER meetings are the ambassadors or their deputies, several advisers provide background information and expertise on the items under discussion (Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace 1997:77).

A study of national officials attending Council working parties shows that there is indeed a match between the basic organisational principle underlying the institution and the role perceptions of the participants. The role as government representative is most frequently and most clearly evoked (Egeberg 1999a). However, they obviously have multiple identities, and the proportion who identify themselves with their own ministry, policy sector or profession is almost as large (Egeberg 1999a; cf. also Kerremans 1996). Probably this pattern reflects how the basically “territorial” institution has become complemented by a highly sectoral sub-structure. Such a “departmentalised” committee system may underpin functional orientations acquired in highly specialised agencies back home, or move intergovernmental mind-sets in a more sectoral direction.

The pivotal role played by Commission representatives is also at odds with the geographical logic. Another study reveals they (and the Presidency of the Council) comprise the very hub of the communication network in and around Council groups (Beyers and Dierickx 1998:313). It is of course also necessary for member governments to stay in frequent contact with an international secretariat of the traditional kind, for example as regards legal and translation services, the distribution of documents and so on. These tasks are taken care of, however, by the Council Secretariat. The Commission has a quite different role to play. It is present in order to defend its proposals, and is clearly an interlocutor who is really listened to (Egeberg 1999a:468). In the same study as many as 93 per cent of the national officials in Council groups felt that Commission officials behave rather independently from particular national interests (Egeberg 1999a:465). The considerable amount of attention given to what the Commission has to say may be interpreted as underlining the impact of non-territorial organisational features, but it could also reflect an evolving system-wide allegiance stemming from intensive committee work (cf. also Lewis 1998). As expected, though, considerably fewer officials express loyalty to EU-level institutions than to their national governments (Egeberg 1999a).

Also as could be expected, the territorial principle of organisational specialisation seems to be less challenged at the level of the IGC and the European Council (Moravcsik 1998). However, several scholars have given much emphasis to the role of the Commission and functional interest groups even on these occasions. (e.g., Armstrong and Bulmer (1998) on the origins of the Single European Act, Jabko (1999) on the advent of economic and monetary union, Falkner (1999) on the Maastricht Agreement on Social Policy and Sverdrup (2000) on the Amsterdam IGC.)

In an EU context the Council should probably be conceived of as the first chamber of the legislature as far as function and power is concerned. For the time being, the European Parliament (EP), whose consent is normally required for new legislation to be passed, seems to play the role of the second chamber. It doesn't have the capacity to exercise a fully “positive” legislative role (Nugent 1994:178). However, under the co-operation and co-decision procedures the Parliament has steadily grown in importance, a fact symbolised by the impressive buildings that have been raised in Brussels and Strasbourg. If legislative conflict arises between the Council and the Parliament, a Conciliation Committee is convened.

The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), directly elected since 1979, are organised in party groups and committees along sectoral and functional lines. The evidence on what factors best account for their behaviour is still scarce. So far, national and transnational partisan ties seem to do best. On most legislative issues, the main dimension of competition, alignment and coalition formation is left-right, where national parties and the EP party groups are more likely to vote with parties that are close to them on the left-right dimension. Pro-/anti-integration positions are increasingly correlated with left-right positions (Hix 1999).

Being in charge of policy initiation and formulation, as well as of policy implementation and implementation monitoring, the Commission resembles to a considerable degree the executive branch of a nation-state. Also, the Commission's supreme principles of organisational specialisation are those of sector and function. Thus, Commissioners are not formally representing their countries of origin. Their behaviour should be guided solely by the interests of the EU, as defined by the treaties and ongoing policy processes at the European level, and as “operationalised” by the division of work between the various Directorates General. How Commissioners actually behave, though, is a manifestly underresearched topic indeed. On the one hand it has been claimed that the Commission is permeated by national interests (e.g., Peterson 1999:59). There certainly are organisational characteristics of the College that could lead one to such a conclusion. First of all, Commissioners are nominated by national governments. And second, they have until recently been served by private offices (cabinets) mainly composed of compatriots. Others assert, however, that the extent to which nationality impinges on behaviour should not be exaggerated (Page and Wouters 1994). Formal role expectations are, after all, relatively unambiguous. Paying inappropriate attention to national interests can be expected to be partly curbed by the principle of collegiality in decision-making.

A passage in the Amsterdam Treaty may be interpreted as clearly underpinning the Commission's autonomy from the member states. While it will still be up to national governments to nominate their candidates, the President will, at least in theory, be able to reject them instead of having no option but to accept them, as in the past (cf. Spence 2000:6-8). The President will have the final say in how portfolios are allocated and even the right to reshuffle the team during the Commission's five-year term of office by redistributing dossiers.(1) A major step in “autonomising” the College vis-�-vis national governments would be to install mechanisms that render it directly accountable to the EP or, alternatively, to introduce a directly elected President. Some steps have already been taken, as illustrated by the EP's scrutiny of new candidates, its vote of confidence, and its right to dismiss the entire College. Further initiatives in the same direction have been aired in a report by the EP's Committee on Institutional Affairs (adopted as a resolution by the EP on January 13 1999) that, if realised, will bring the EU rather closer to a parliamentary system. The report advocates a strong link between, on the one hand, the choices made by Europe's citizens in the European election and, on the other hand, the nomination of the College of Commissioners and its programme for the parliamentary term (Kohler-Koch 1999).

The crisis that led up to the Santer Commission's resignation also sparked several reform efforts that may be interpreted as aiming to strengthen non-territorial components of the college structure. The Commissioners themselves are now to be housed with their respective departments instead of being located collectively in a separate building.(2) From other studies we know there is a positive relationship between the physical proximity of organisational units and the evocation of a common identity among the decision-makers within them (Egeberg and S�tren 1999). Thus, against this background, we would expect Commissioners to become more affected by the sectoral and functional frames of reference prevailing within their respective services and less exposed to territorial mind-sets. Also, President Prodi has expressed his intention to shame Commissioners who bow to domestic political pressure and try to block legal action against their own member state when it stands accused of breaking EU laws. Commissioners will be forced to explain to their colleagues openly in the College why they are voting against taking action instead of leaving it to their senior advisers to register their objection at heads of cabinet meetings.(3) The Prodi Commission has also spelled out how private offices' (cabinets') “policy creep” should be stopped. They should be down-sized and multi-nationally composed. They are to assist Commissioners particularly in policy areas outside their portfolio but avoid interfering in departmental management.(4) Thus, the power of entities that have been portrayed as “national enclaves” (Michelmann 1978), or as being apparently sensitive to national interests (Spence 1994:107-108), could become severely curtailed. At the same time a heterogeneous composition of the teams would undermine their role as promoters of particular national concerns.

The Commission services, specialised according to sectoral and functional criteria, are complemented by a dense network of expert committees and advisory groups in which civil servants from national sector administrations, Commission officials (committee chairpersons) and representatives of interest groups may participate. Organised interests are for the most part functionally based (Andersen and Eliassen 1993; Schmitter 1996b:134), and, since the Commission understandably prefers to deal with Euro-associations, it has encouraged the development of a transnational community of voluntary organisations (Mazey and Richardson 1996). National officials attending preparatory committees are as a rule expected to behave mainly as policy experts. Available evidence reveals that, compared to the Council, those in Commission groups in fact identify themselves to a lesser extent with their own government. Sectoral and expert roles are, on the other hand, more frequently evoked (Egeberg 1999a; Trondal and Veggeland 2000). A large majority of the national civil servants said they give much consideration to arguments from the Commission, and an equal proportion had the impression that Commission officials behave rather independently from particular national interests (Egeberg 1999a:468; 465). Not even the Commission-chaired implementation committees, on which national officials participate in their capacity as government representatives, seems to function in an mainly intergovernmental manner. Rather, Joerges and Neyer (1997) found deliberative, collective problem-solving based on scientific principles and reasoning to be characteristic of their work. Regardless of the decision procedure applied, the Commission is very rarely overruled by a comitology committee (van der Knaap 1996:103-104).

Even though the most salient organisational principles in the Commission services are those of sector and function, the Directorates General are nevertheless marked by territorial norms as well (Christiansen 1997; Egeberg 1996). For example, national officials attending expert committee meetings may be exposed to somewhat competing role expectations. Their employers back home may claim their loyalty, and when the Commission chairperson makes a tour de table at the end of a meeting in order to anticipate Council reactions a typical expert may suddenly find herself/himself turned into a government representative (Egeberg 1999a). In light of this, it is unsurprising that national civil servants also frequently conceive of themselves as government representatives (Egeberg 1999a; Trondal and Veggeland 2000).

Another geographical norm-set in the Commission services is the national quota system. According to this arrangement, those recruited should be drawn from all member states in an appropriate proportion. Although recruitment by merit is and has been the basic norm, the policy to ensure a broad geographical balance could on certain occasions legitimate the appointment of people on the basis of their nationality rather than their ability. “Parachuting” is the practice whereby people from outside are inserted into the higher echelons of the apparatus. Rather than interpreting this phenomenon solely as a way of gaining national control, however, Page (1997) has made the observation that “parachuting” is strongly related to enlargement of the Union, obviously in order to cope with the quota system. Finally, the practice of supplementing the services with national experts and seconded personnel from the member states represents a territorial component in the organisation. Those on temporary contracts can be assumed to see their career prospects primarily within their national administration. Thus, compared to those permanently employed, their loyalty to the Union may be put to a severe test in situations where national interests are at stake.

In accounting for Commission officials' actual behaviour, how important is their national background? Available evidence is scarce. It has been shown that nationality is related to their individual beliefs and attitudes on intergovernmentalism versus supranationalism (Hooghe 1999a), on a Weberian versus a consociational Commission (Hooghe 1999b) and on socialism versus capitalism in Europe (Hooghe 2000). These private preferences are, however, of a rather general nature, meaning that they have to pass several filters (e.g., organisational roles, rules, procedures, bosses, etc.) before they eventually materialise in actual decision behaviour. Regarding behaviour, we know that Commission officials' nationality impacts on their external contacts, as officials become points of access for compatriots (Michelmann 1978; Egeberg 1996), but not on internal flows of information (Michelmann 1978). So far officials' DG affiliation seems to be the most promising single factor to explain decision behaviour (Coombes, 1970; Cram 1994; Egeberg 1996).

As is the case for the Commissioners and the College, the developmental trends and reform efforts over the years pertaining to the services all point in the same direction: territorial components in the organisational structure have become continuously weakened. In the beginning the community administration had to rely heavily on national civil servants on short-term contracts (Coombes 1970). Currently, a large majority are permanently employed (Page 1997). An increasing number of permanent posts and life-long careers have gradually loosened the grip national governments previously may have had on decisions in the services (Coombes 1970). In parallel, recruitment and promotion by merit alone have obtained mounting support from rulings of the European Court of Justice and Commission staff unions (Coombes 1970). Subsequent to the report of the Committee of Independent Experts, the current College has decided that merit and experience are the critical considerations in making appointments. While the Commission will maintain a broad geographical balance, nationality will no longer be the determinant in appointing a new person to a specific post. “The application of this principle means an end to the convention of attaching national flags to senior positions”.(5) This may, however, lead to delicate choices for personnel managers since, in order to avoid national enclaves evolving, Directors General must not be of the same nationality (even if they are the best qualified) as the Commissioners in charge of their dossier.(6)


Focusing explicitly on the organisational dimension of integration, we have found the EU to be significantly different from the IGO and the unitary state in important respects. The IGO and the unitary state are both characterised by an almost complete imbalance concerning the extent to which territorial and non-territorial organisational components are found at the central level. While the IGO systematically privileges sub-territorial concerns, the structure of the unitary state routinely focuses attention along non-territorial cleavages at the domestic level. Similar to the federal state, and unlike the IGO or unitary state, the EU embodies a certain balance between organisational principles. In contrast to the federal state, though, in the EU non-territorial elements do not seem to have taken any precedence over territorial ones so far. This is mainly due to the EU's “inverse two-chamber system” and the procedure for appointing and constituting the College of Commissioners. However, my interpretation is that, over time, reform efforts and actual changes have gradually strengthened non-territorial principles of organisational specialisation at the EU level.

A closer look at the EU has revealed enduring tension among organisational principles, not only between various institutional arenas but also within each of them. Thus, territorial interests are struggling to keep their strongholds in the Commission and functional structures are highly present in the Council, challenging the prevalent logic of this institution. However, as has been shown, the existence of contending specialisation principles between as well as within institutions is not peculiar to the EU. The same is true, for example, of the Federal Republic of Germany. Arguably, organisational structures that allow cross-cutting cleavages to be expressed and multi-level participation to take place are more conducive to compromise-minded collective problem-solving, more able to evoke an overall system allegiance among decision-makers, and thus more viable.

The argument that the EU is a unique political order (Laffan 1998; Laffan et al. 2000:215) is highly disputable. It should have become clear from the discussion in this paper that the EU polity is certainly not distinctive in the sense that completely new dimensions have to be invented in order to grasp its institutional character. Rather it is the EU's values on well-known variables that express its “betweenness”. It may also be questioned whether the EU polity is significantly more multi-tiered (Kohler-Koch 1996) or more characterised by “fusion” (Wessels 1998) than for example the Federal Republic of Germany.

As to institutional theory, we have learnt from this exercise that additional insights might be gained by specifying the basic organisational principles embodied in an institutional structure. The extent to which people's role perceptions and identities can be shifted or even reshaped seems to depend on whether a given institutional setting is compatible or incompatible with the setting from which they originate. For example, national representatives entrenched in intergovernmental mind-sets who become exposed to territorially specialised organisations at the EU level could not be expected to alter profoundly their perspectives on the world. On the contrary, they are induced to sustain their basic views, although iterative interaction might facilitate co-operation. However, if the same nationals become contextualised by EU level institutions that are arranged according to non-territorial criteria, it seems more likely that their decision horizons could be significantly affected, since the structure would then also focus conflict along other lines of cleavage.

Another lesson to be drawn for institutional theory is that it is important to distinguish clearly between decision-makers' primary and secondary affiliations. Only among those whose main affiliation is EU level institutions – for example, Commission officials – could we reasonably expect supranational role perceptions and identities to be evoked in a dominant fashion. For representatives of national governments, institutional settings at the EU level usually represent a rather secondary kind of “organisational membership”. Since they spend most of their time and energy in their national executives, nationals could be expected to shift their loyalties from the national to the supranational level only marginally. What often seems to be forgotten, though, is that this is quite compatible with a high degree of integration. From the German case we have learnt that intergovernmental arenas such as the Bundesrat, the permanent mission system and conferences comprising heads of government may co-exist with even stronger non-territorial organisational entities. Since conflicts among constituent territories as well as between centre and periphery are inherent in any large and heterogeneous system, it would be na�ve to imagine that tensions associated with geography could be (or should be) “organised out” completely at the centre.


I would like to thank Jan Beyers, Hans-Ulrich Derlien and Renate Mayntz who provided insights on federalism. I am also grateful to Hans-Ulrich Derlien, Sverker Gustavsson, John Meyer, Johan P. Olsen, Martha Snodgrass and Jarle Trondal for their valuable comments.


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[*] P.O. Box 1097, Blindern
N-0317 Oslo, Norway

[1] European Voice, 12-18 November 1998.

[2] European Voice, 22-28 July 1999.

[3] European Voice, 30 September-6 October 1999.

[4] European Voice, 22-28 July 1999.

[5] Press statement by Vice President Neil Kinnock, 29 September 1999.

[6] European Voice 30 September-6 October 1999.

[Date of publication in the ARENA Working Paper series: 15.05.2000]