Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Panel 209: Theorising the European Commission in European Integration I
Monday, 02/Sep/2019:
1:10pm - 2:40pm

Session Chair: Mark Rhinard, Stockholm University
Location: Room 12.08


Theorising the European Commission in European Integration I

Chair(s): Mark Rhinard (Stockholm University, Sweden)

The European Commission has long been an empirical touchstone for theorising in the field of EU studies, and recent theoretical work is no exception. Whether we speak of revived neo-functionalism or the ‘new intergovernmentalism’, or ‘representative bureaucracy’ or organisational change, the Commission, its inter-institutional position, its organizational features, and its political aspirations feature prominently. This panel brings together scholars engaged in theoretically-informed as well as empirically-disciplined work on the Commission to ask two questions. First, what space exists for cross-theory dialogue in the interest of fully understanding the Commission and drawing broader theoretical patterns? Second, for those pursuing specific theoretical agendas related to the Commission, how can theorising be improved for more robust results? Our ‘widening’ and ‘deepening’ questions about theory development bring much needed attention to how we use theory in studying the Commission, how we use the Commission when evaluating theory, and what we can say to broader scholarly communities about what the Commission is and what it means. This is the 1st of 2 panels submitted.


Presentations of the Symposium


Value Reconciliation in the EU’s Supranational Bureaucracies: The Case of the Commission and EEAS Behavior in EU–Turkey Relations from 2015–2017

Kajsa Hammargård
Stockholm University

The EU’s supranational bureaucracies are characterized by multiple, and sometimes conflicting, values. In this study, the relationship between organizational behavior and the multi-value systems ruling the EU’s supranational bureaucracies is in focus, and it is suggested that the process of value reconciliation is an understudied explanatory variable in the analysis of EU politics. This endeavor proceeds using a single case study, with an in-case analysis of three time sequences of value reconciliation in EU–Turkey affairs from 2015–2017. EU–Turkey relations is an EU policy area with a well-documented plurality of values. Moreover, this is a policy area where the European Commission (and, lately, the European External Action Service, or EEAS) plays a vital role, driving the accession process as a whole and maintaining diplomatic contacts. Drawing on insights of how values are reconciled in social processes that shape organizational output from scholars of pragmatic sociology (see, for example, Boltanski & Thévenot 2006; Jagd 2011; Reinecke et al. 2017), the study explore the explanatory potential of including the analysis of value reconciliation in studies aiming at explaining the EU’s supranational bureaucracies’ behavior. The study shows that insights from pragmatic sociology may add to the mainstream understanding of the EU’s supranational institutions engagement in politics. I show that by examining the conflicts, consensus and compromises between the different value systems in flux in EU–Turkey relations, we can explain the Commission’s and the EEAS’s positions and output in all three in-case time sequences. Further, based on these findings, combined with previous studies on the value systems at work in EU-Turkey relations, further studies are proposed.


Observing Motivations for Action in Commission Decision-Making: Instrumental, Power-Maximization and Legitimacy Concerns in Organizational Action

Cleo Davies
University of Edinburgh

The paper presents a contribution to the theory of action in International Organizations (IOs) building on the empirical investigation of the European Commission’s motivations for action in reforming financial supervision in 2008-2010. Firstly, the paper reviews how instrumentalist and rational-choice

approaches to organizational behaviour (concerned with delivering a mandate or with expanding its powers and influence) would analyse of the Commission’s motivations for action in these specific reforms. This literature covers the mainstream approaches to European integration, takes into account the specificities of the policy area of financial market supervision and evaluates insights from the political economy literature, notably on regulatory governance. We conclude that the instrumentalist and rational-choice approaches to organizational behaviour provide a valuable but truncated platform for exploring the motivations for action inside the Commission: they tend to black

box Commission preferences and don’t take into account the cognitive dimensions in decision-making, thereby also portraying an overly schematic relationship of the organization and its environment. We then present an alternative approach that draws on sociological approaches to organizational analysis. These theories view IOs as concerned first and foremost by survival and legitimacy (Powell and DiMaggio 1991), not only with increasing their power and influence vis a vis other institutions or the member states (power maximization) or with fulfilling their mandate (instrumental); they also

contend that the major sources of organizational legitimacy derives from mirroring norms and expectations in their environments (Brunsson 2002; Scott et al. 1994). This theoretical approach allows for a conceptualisation of organizational fields in which boundaries between IOs and their

environment are fluid, and the relationship between IOs and their environment is complex and coconstitutive. It also enables the investigation of the cognitive dimension of preference formation in IOs. In a final part, the paper briefly presents the results of the empirical investigation of the different motivations for action. Through a combination of document analysis and over 35 interviews with Commission staff members and Brussels based experts, I have investigated how those involved in the decision-making perceive their role and the expectations in the environment rather than pre-empting what organizational preferences might be, based on exogenous criteria to the organization or their formal legal-institutional structures.


Presidentialism, Presidentialisation, and the Juncker Commission: Evolution or Critical Juncture?

Pierre Bocquillon1, Hussein Kassim1, Brigid Laffan2
1University of East Anglia, 2European University Institute

The Juncker Commission enacted a historic restructuring of the College that was intended to strengthen political leadership over the Commission’s administrative services. Drawing on data derived from an extensive programme of interviews with Commissioners, cabinet members and top managers, this paper looks at the motivation for the change, the diagnosis on which it was based, the objectives of the restructuring, and the impact both within the institution and the wider EU system. The paper compares leadership under the Juncker Commission with other presidential models, assesses the extent to which it represents a continuation of the process of presidentialisation initiated by his immediate predecessors or marks a significant further deepening of the power of office, and considers the effects and implications. It situates and, where instructive, draws on the wider literature on presidentialisation.