The Anatomy of Autonomy: Reassessing the Autonomy of the European Commission
The European Commission occupies a pivotal role as the key executive institution of the European Union (EU). This paper aims to re-assess the behavioural autonomy of the European Commission, as well as organisational conditions thereof.
The European Commission (Commission) occupies a pivotal role as the key executive institution of the European Union (EU). Yet, the factual autonomy of the Commission remains largely unexplored, contributing to contradictory assessments of it. The ambition of this study is to reassess the behavioural autonomy of the European Commission (Commission), as well as organisational conditions thereof. To accomplish this, this paper utilizes one under-researched laboratory of the Commission: temporary officials (SNEs). It is argued that SNEs may serve as a crucial test-bed of Commission autonomy due to SNEs’ ambiguous affiliation towards the Commission. Whereas past studies claims that SNEs have a predominant intergovernmental behavioural pattern, this study demonstrates that the SNEs foremost blend departmental, epistemic and supranational behavioural dynamics, thereby safeguarding their behavioural autonomy. It is also argued that to understand Commission autonomy, the organisational anatomy of the Commission organisation has to be carefully considered. The organisational anatomy is measured by considering the following four independent variables: (i) the organisational composition of the Commission services, (ii) organisational incompatibilities across levels of governance, (iii) recruitment procedures of Commission officials through a so-called “submarine” approach, and (iv) socialisation dynamics inside the Commission. The study demonstrates that the autonomy of the Commission is organisationally contingent and not only subject to what Lipsky (1980:19) calls actors’ conspicuous desire for autonomy. One implication of our findings is that Commission autonomy is sensitive to reforms of the Commission apparatus.
A later version of this paper was published in European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 57 (2008), pp. 467-488