On bureaucratic centre formation in government institutions

Jarle Trondal has published the article 'On bureaucratic centre formation in government institutions: lessons from the European Commission' in International Review of Administrative Sciences 78(3).


Identifying and explaining bureaucratic centre formation within government institutions – such as the European Commission (Commission) – is essential for understanding political order and the potential and limitations for public sector governance. Benefiting from a new body of interview data this article adds two key observations: First, bureaucratic centre formation in the Commission does not profoundly penetrate the Commission as a whole. Comparing officials from the Secretariat General and DG Trade, this study suggests that bureaucratic centre formation is primarily happening within the Secretariat General and only marginally penetrating DG Trade.

Two behavioural logics tend to coexist within the Commission administration, albeit embedded and layered within different organizational sub-units. Variation in bureaucratic centre formation is associated with two key variables: (i) the accumulation of relevant organizational capacities at the bureaucratic centre, and (ii) the vertical and horizontal specialization of the Commission administration.

Third, these findings hold when ‘controlling for’ recent managerial reforms inside the Commission. The article illustrates that despite recent Commission reforms, some core behavioural logics among Commission officials are not profoundly transformed.

Points for practitioners The administration of the European Commission is seen as increasingly steered from the executive centre – that is from the President and the Secretariat General. This study, however, makes two main observations: First, it shows that the strengthening of the executive centre inside the Commission administration (the Secretariat General) is not echoed throughout the services of the Commission. The ambition to make the Secretariat General the service centre for the Commission President is currently not greatly penetrating and transforming the everyday activities of the Directors General (DGs). Second, the study shows that despite historic administrative reforms of the Commission, the everyday behaviour of Commission officials remains basically unaffected.

Full info

Jarle Trondal
'On bureaucratic centre formation in government institutions: lessons from the European Commission'

International Review of Administrative Sciences
September 2012 vol. 78 no. 3 425-446
doi: 10.1177/0020852312445021

Published Oct. 3, 2012 10:31 AM - Last modified Oct. 3, 2012 10:36 AM