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About this book

The European Commission is at the very heart of the European integration process and, with the Council, is one of the two central institutions of the European Union. Its activist role under Jacques Delors led to a dramatic increase in its activity and influence and contributed to a crisis of confidence in its effectiveness and its lack of adequate financial controls which culminated in the resignation of the entire Commission under Jacques Santer in 1999.

What progress has the Commission made in addressing these issues under Romano Prodi? What are its prospects in face of the new challenges of Eastward enlargement? How great is its influence and how does this vary according to issues and circumstances? What are the implications of its hybrid character as a political and administrative body? How much has the Commission changed over time and how much - and how - does it need to change now?

Written by a leading authority and author of the best-selling introductory text on the EU, this major new text provides the definitive introduction to, and assessment of the Commission, its evolution, composition, organisation, character, functioning and role. Comprehensive, up to date and based on extensive original research it will be essential reading for students of European integration; politicians, policy makers and functionaries; and anyone with a serious interest in the European Union, its current character and future prospects.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Few institutions of the European Union (EU) evoke as much depth of sentiment as the European Commission. For some observers, the Commission is a faceless, hard-to-control authority bent on imposing its will on European governments and citizens. This narrative emphasizes the many functions and powers of the Commission — especially those that result in it being able to overrule national authorities on important policy matters. For other observers, the Commission represents the engine of a supranational political order that rises above fractious and narrow national interests to advance and defend the shared concerns of EU member states. This account highlights the Commission’s right to table new proposals, to adapt laws to ensure a ‘level playing field’ and to hold governments to account for breaching commonly adopted rules.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 1. An Overview of the Commission

Abstract
The European Commission is the EU’s most distinctive, and also most controversial, institution. The distinctiveness and controversiality stem primarily from three features of the nature of the Commission.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 2. The History of the Commission

Abstract
Until 1967 each of the three Communities that were founded in the 1950s had its own executive authority. These authorities were the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC). The 1965 Treaty Establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities, which came into effect in July 1967, merged the High Authority and the two Commissions into one Commission of the European Communities. This single Commission was renamed the European Commission following the creation of the European Union (EU) in the Maastricht Treaty.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 3. The President

Abstract
The President occupies the highest level of political and managerial leadership within the Commission, with all the responsibility — and increasingly, accountability — that level entails. This explains why it has become customary to label Colleges and Commissions by the names of their Presidents-in-office — as in the Delors I College/Commission, the Prodi College/Commission, and the Barroso II College/Commission.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 4. The College

Abstract
Seated at the highest political level in the Commission are the individual Commissioners, who meet collectively as the College of Commissioners. While each member state is allowed to nominate one Commissioner, and although individual Commissioners are frequently referred to by their nationality, such as ‘the Finnish Commissioner’ or ‘the Hungarian Commissioner’, Commissioners are in fact not supposed to act as national representatives. Rather, the TEU states that the Commission shall ‘promote the general interest of the Union’ and that Commissioners shall ‘neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity’ (Article 17).
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 5. Commissioners’ Cabinets

Abstract
The teams of political advisers that make up the private offices of Commissioners — which are usually referred to by their French name of cabinets — play a key role in the functioning of the Commission. These teams are not part of the Commission services but work directly for, and are answerable to, their respective Commissioner.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 6. The Services

Abstract
Beneath the political level of the College lies the Commission’s administrative apparatus, which is usually referred to as ‘the services’. The services contain the vast majority of Commission staff and are organized into departments, much as national civil services are organized into ministries. Most of these departments are called directorates-general (DGs) and are headed by a director-general. Other services are variously called general, internal or special services. (In the interest of brevity, only the term ‘special services’ will be used here.) The services are organized according to a specialization logic also found in national civil services, with most DGs covering policy-specific issues, such as agriculture or home affairs, and a few DGs and most special services providing horizontal services, such as budgeting and translation. There is a widespread perception that DGs are more ‘important’ than special services because they are mostly concerned with policy questions but, in reality, the distinction between the two is less than it seems because the difference between policy activity and support activity is often difficult to separate.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 7. Personnel

Abstract
The personnel comprising the Commission are the backbone of what might be called the ‘European public administration’. As is shown in several places in this book, it is an administration that shares characteristics with national public administrations and also displays unique attributes.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 8. The Commission’s Relations With Other EU Actors

Abstract
This chapter examines the Commission’s relations with the EU’s other main political and policy actors. A central theme of the chapter is that the nature of many of these relations has been transformed over the years in response to treaty changes, the increasingly multi-dimensional nature of the EU’s policy portfolio, and the intergovernmental spirit that has lain behind much recent policy development. Some of the changes have involved an increase in the Commission’s policy roles, powers and influence, and some have involved a decrease. The most important of the increases stem from the growing breadth of the EU’s policy portfolio, which has resulted in the Commission presenting, and being requested and pressured to present, policy and legislative proposals to the other policy actors across an ever-expanding policy spectrum. The decreases are mostly a consequence of the growing policy importance of the European Council and the European Parliament. The former has become increasingly policy proactive, which has had the consequence of weakening the Commission’s position as the principal initiator of EU policies, whilst the EP has been given increased legislative powers in every round of treaty reform since the SEA, which has resulted in the Commission having to become much more sensitive to the Parliament’s policy preferences.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 9. The Provision of Leadership

Abstract
The EU is commonly viewed as having a leadership ‘problem’ in that it has no single individual or institution with clear leadership supremacy. Rather, leadership is highly dispersed, with the consequence that the EU is seen to have — depending on the perspective taken — either a leadership ‘deficit’ or ‘surplus’.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 10. The Making of EU Legislation

Abstract
A central theme of this book is the wide range of the Commission’s powers and influence. These powers and influence are especially forceful where legislation is envisaged because the Commission enjoys a near monopoly over the right to launch and draft legislative proposals and also has very important roles to exercise as proposals make their way through legislative processes.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 11. Executive Functions

Abstract
The Commission’s executive authority is found in five general areas: rule-making, direct implementation, supervision of member state implementation, guardian of EU law, and financial management. This chapter provides an overview of the Commission’s executive functions in each area, and asks: What is the nature of the functions? What is the Commission’s authority in respect of the functions? How are the functions exercised? In addressing these questions, the chapter sheds light on the tension between policy formulation and policy implementation, a classical dilemma for political executives and one that is manifest in how the Commission operates.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Chapter 12. External Relations

Abstract
This chapter examines the Commission and the EU’s external relations. The scope of the functions the Commission exercises in this regard have increased enormously over the years. From a somewhat limited legal base in the founding treaties, in which its external relations responsibilities were largely confined to acting as the EC’s external negotiator with third countries on trade matters, the Commission now exercises a wide range of such responsibilities across a broad policy spectrum. But the precise nature of the Commission’s external responsibilities and roles, along with the power it holds and the influence it exercises, varies considerably across the particular spheres of external relations.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard

Conclusions

Abstract
For more than 60 years the European Commission and its predecessor, the High Authority, has occupied a central position in the institutional landscape of the European Union. That position reflects not only the Commission’s role in shaping policy and legal outcomes but also in facilitating how the EU operates, in monitoring compliance amongst EU members, and in representing the EU externally. Since the end of the 1990s, a number of changes has raised important questions regarding the Commission’s continuing role and influence. Is the Commission still as powerful as it once seemed to be? Has the Commission ‘lost out’ to other EU institutions? Does the Commission retain the trust and perceived legitimacy of other actors, including member states? Has the ‘high tide’ of European integration, and therefore also of the Commission’s powers and influence, now been passed? Such questions animate conversations in and around Brussels, and although they touch upon much broader questions than the prospects for the Commission per se, they do contribute to feelings of uncertainty — and amongst Commission enthusiasts, insecurity — about what the future holds for this uniquely powerful organization.
Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard
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