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Institutions of the European Union

Institutions of the European Union (4th edn)

Dermot Hodson and John Peterson
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p. 33414. Coreper: National interests and the logic of appropriatenesslocked

p. 33414. Coreper: National interests and the logic of appropriatenesslocked

  • Jeffrey Lewis


This chapter examines the role of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) in the European Union. Coreper originated as a diplomatic forum to meet regularly and prepare meetings of the Council of Ministers. It evolved into a locus of continuous negotiation and de facto decision-making, gaining a reputation as ‘the place to do the deal’. Coreper is the site in EU decision-making where national interests and European solutions interact more frequently, more intensively, and across more issue areas than any other. The chapter first provides an overview of the origins of Coreper before discussing its structure and powers. It then considers how Coreper, as an institutional environment, gives rise to what neo-institutionalists call ‘logic of appropriateness’, which informs bargaining behaviour and influences everyday decision-making outcomes.


The Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) originated as a diplomatic forum to meet regularly and prepare meetings of the Council of Ministers. It quickly and quietly evolved into a locus of continuous negotiation and de facto decision-making, gaining a reputation as ‘the place to do the deal’. This reputation is based on insulation from domestic audiences and an unrivalled ability to make deals stick across a range of issue areas and policy subjects. Most importantly, Coreper spotlights the process of integrating interests in a collective decision-making system with its own organizational culture, norms, and style of discourse. Coreper is an institutional environment in which group-community standards create what neo-institutionalists call a ‘logic of appropriateness’, which informs bargaining behaviour and influences everyday decision-making outcomes.

p. 335Introduction

This chapter addresses the role of Coreper in the European Union (EU). According to one analyst, ‘the caliber and effectiveness of permanent representation officials determine to a great extent how countries fare in the EU’ (Dinan 2010: 216); another claims that the members of Coreper are ‘among the great unsung heroes’ of European integration (Westlake 1999: xxiv). Both observations offer a useful entry point to understanding Coreper and how it functions. First, it is a pivotal actor in everyday EU decision-making. For this reason, member states consider Coreper one of the most important postings in Brussels. Second, in what may seem counter-intuitive in light of the first point, Coreper is less visible than most other institutions in the EU. As this chapter will clarify, Coreper’s importance as an institutional actor is related to its ability to avoid the spotlight over the years, and to work behind the scenes at finding agreements and forging compromise.

Coreper is the site in EU decision-making where national interests and European solutions interact more frequently, more intensively, and across more issue areas than any other. To work effectively, the Committee relies on a culture of consensus-based decision-making: an informal, intangible quality of the institutional environment and a critical component in the permanent representatives’ ability to ‘find solutions’. Coreper is also something of a chimera. To some, it resembles a bastion of intergovernmentalism; to others, it appears less like inter-state bargaining than a haven for Eurocrats to ‘go native’. Neither view, in such stark terms, is accurate nor is either view entirely wrong. In an authoritative study of the Council system, Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace (2006: 332) note ‘a continuous tension between the home affiliation and the pull of the collective forum’. From a theoretical perspective, negotiation in Coreper is often a subtle blend of both the ‘logic of consequences’ and the ‘logic of appropriateness’.1 Viewed through a neo-institutionalist lens, it is precisely this tension that makes Coreper so interesting to study.

According to the EU’s Treaties, Coreper is ‘responsible for preparing the work of the Council and for carrying out the tasks assigned to it’.2 From this austere mandate, Coreper has acquired a significant role in EU decision-making. Among its assigned tasks is the remit to ‘endeavour to reach agreement at its level to be submitted to the Council for adoption’.3 In institutionalist language, there is an obligation of result that the permanent representatives find is an unwritten part of the job description. As one ambassador explained, ‘there is a high collective interest in getting results and reaching solutions. This is in addition to representing the national interest’.4 Another said: ‘If we have to take it to the Council, there is a sense that we have failed’.5

In many ways, Coreper is the ideal institutional site to examine national interests in the context of everyday EU decision-making. With few exceptions (see ‘Contestation’), Coreper is the needle’s eye through which the legislative output of the Council flows. Because a defining trait of the Council is its sectoral differentiation, pursuing the ‘national interest’ across its operating formations requires complex national p. 336systems of interest intermediation and inter-ministerial coordination. The permanent representatives have a cross-Council negotiating mandate that functions as an essential aggregation mechanism in everyday EU decision-making. The EU ambassadors and deputies are thus critical interlocutors in the ability of a member state to pursue what Anderson (1999: 6) calls a ‘milieu goal’ in Brussels, or the ability to ‘ensure that government policy objectives are consistent, both within Europe and across the national and supranational levels’.

The chapter proceeds as follows. In the next section, we examine how the permanent representatives acquired such a central position in the EU system. We then sketch out the structure of Coreper, including how it works and has changed over time. Next, the Committee’s main powers—namely, de facto decision-making and an institutional capacity for integrating interests—are examined. We move on to consider how different theories account for Coreper’s development as a collective decision-making environment, and whether consensus practices are based on active, calculative choice or have become more durably internalized and taken for granted. A brief concluding section looks at the wider implications for theory of an institutional body that so explicitly straddles and blurs the boundary between the national and European levels.

Coreper’s origins

Although no mention was made in the Treaty of Paris about the creation of a preparatory body, the need for such a body became apparent less than six months after the Treaty entered into force in July 1952. At the first meeting of the Special Council of Ministers (September 1952), the ad hoc group on the organization of the Council’s work was instructed to come up with a proposal for a preparatory committee. The Coordinating Commission, or Cocor (from the French Commission de coordination du conseil des ministres), was the result. The formal decision to create Cocor was taken by the Special Council of Ministers in February 1953. But it was only with the 1957 Treaty of Rome that the legal basis for a preparatory committee was established (under Article 151).

The first Cocor meeting was held in March 1953. Cocor began to meet monthly in Luxembourg, with representatives travelling back and forth from their national capitals. Cocor diplomacy was premised on mutual trust, a spirit of accommodation, and an equality of voice between big and small states. Ernst Haas (1958: 491)6 drew a sharp distinction between Cocor and the brand of diplomacy found at, for example, the Council of Europe, equating the former with the ‘principle of a novel community-type organ’.

From the earliest proposals to set up a permanent preparatory body, the issue of delegating formal decision-making authority was allowed to remain ambiguous. This non-debate was evident at the 1956 intergovernmental conference (IGC),p. 337

Box 14.1 Constitutive politics and the Spaak Committee

The creation of a permanent Brussels-based body composed of high-ranking civil servants was based on a proposal from the Committee of the Heads of Delegations, popularly known as the ‘Spaak Committee’ after its chair, industrious Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak. The Spaak Committee, set up by the foreign ministers at Messina (June 1955) to discuss future steps in European integration, began meeting intensively at the Château de Val Duchesse outside Brussels in July 1955. Eight months of talks produced the Spaak Report (April 1956). The recommendations of the Spaak Report were approved by the foreign ministers’ meeting in Venice (May 1956) and, after further IGC negotiations (again led by the Spaak Committee), culminated in the Treaty of Rome (March 1957). In one of the lesser-known political coups in the history of the EU, it was the Spaak Committee that strongly endorsed a permanent negotiating body. For the most part, the Committee’s members were the same individuals who would become the first permanent representatives. Noël (1966: 88) hints at the novelty of this move, whereby the Spaak Committee morphed into what would become Coreper, since the interim committee contained many of the same personnel and ‘preserved the same atmosphere and spirit’. In short, the Spaak Committee and the creation of Coreper are a remarkable example of ‘constitutive politics’ in the institutional history of European integration.7

where the design of a new, permanent, Brussels-based committee was negotiated (see Box 14.1). Over the course of discussions, it became clear that there was agreement among the foreign ministers not to create a Brussels-body composed of deputy ministers; instead, they agreed that the permanent delegations should be headed by high-ranking diplomats. But there was little discussion of what substantive form the permanent representatives’ role should take and the issue was left open. Articles 151 and 121 of the Treaty of Rome reflect this ambiguity, allowing simply that the Council’s rules of procedure shall ‘provide for the establishment of a committee composed of representatives of member states. The Council shall determine the task and competence of that committee’.

Early on, the open-ended nature of Coreper’s authority set off alarm bells at the Commission. Following the January 1958 decision to begin the work of the Committee without precisely defining its tasks and powers, the Commission asked for clarification of Coreper’s role (de Zwaan 1995: 75). In March 1958, Belgian Foreign Minister Larock, acting as Council President, defended the Council’s provisional rules of procedure and assured Commission President Hallstein that they ruled out the possibility of delegating decisional authority to Coreper (Noël 1967: 228–9). There were similar questions raised in the European Parliament (EP), with some members concerned that the Committee could usurp the Commission’s right of initiative (de Zwaan 1995: 75). Since these early years, the Commission—in particular, the Secretary-General’s office, with Emile Noël at the helm from 1958 to 1987—would come to view the permanent representatives as potential allies in a common cause. One Commission official stated: ‘We consider Coreper more as an ally than something we have p. 338to fight with’.8 Coreper is often the strategic point of inroad to the Council, since the Commission prefers to have detailed substantive discussions with the permanent representatives, who (unlike many ministers) are also well versed in the legal intricacies of the Treaty. Jacques Delors, while Commission President, often personally appeared in Coreper to explain and ‘sell’ key single-market proposals to the permanent representatives before they were presented at the ministerial level.9

After the late 1950s, Coreper, quietly and often unnoticed, acquired a reputation for forging compromise and finding solutions across an ever-growing range of issues. This standing was contrary to its reputation in academic circles: integration researchers typically characterized Coreper as an embodiment of intergovernmentalism and hardball bargaining (Webb 1977: 18–19; Weiler 1981: 285). As the European Community deepened, Coreper acquired new responsibilities and general policy competences (Noël and Étienne 1971). Agricultural policy was an exception because of the highly technical nature of administering the common agricultural policy (CAP) and, in 1960, the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) was established to take over this specialized policy field.10 The deepening process created exponential pressures for Coreper to develop de facto legislative competences to minimize policy-making bottlenecks and impart coherence to the segmentation of the Council’s work. The bifurcation of Coreper in 1962 into Coreper I and II (see ‘Structure of the institution’) was a realization of this burgeoning workload. But, contrary to conventional intergovernmentalist accounts, the Committee institutionalized a deliberative, consensual style of decision-making based on ‘thick’ bonds of trust, understanding, responsiveness, and a willingness to compromise. Serving as a gatekeeper for the Council’s work was not simply about paving the way for ministers to find agreements; increasingly, it also meant the ability to dispose of large quantities of business by forging consensus out of seemingly irreconcilable national positions (see Box 14.2).

Structure of the institution

In structural location, Coreper occupies a unique institutional vantage point in the EU system. Vertically placed between the experts and the ministers, and horizontally situated with cross-Council policy responsibilities, the permanent representatives obtain a broad overview of the Council’s work. Compared with the experts meeting in the working groups, they are political heavyweights; unlike ministers, however, they are policy generalists and experts in the substantive questions of a file. In his classic study of Coreper, Joseph Salmon (1971: 642) referred to this unique perspective as the vue d’ensemble (‘aggregate view’). The institutional perspective of the vue d’ensemble is a qualitative feature of Coreper, part of its organizational culture, and a kind of cognitive map that newcomers must learn to read and navigate to be successful.p. 339

Box 14.2 The paradox of ‘crisis’: The 1965–66 empty chair and consensus-seeking habits

The ‘empty chair’ crisis occurred when French President de Gaulle recalled his EU negotiators to Paris over a disagreement regarding CAP funding and the anticipated use of majority voting in the Council. The episode has long held mythical status as an intergovernmental control mechanism at the heart of protecting ‘very important’ national interests. The resulting Luxembourg compromise (never part of the acquis, but rather a press release published in the Bulletin of the EEC11) is seen as instilling a kind of conservatism in making EU decisions, since any member could invoke veto rights where important interests were at stake. Aside from the fact that scholars (and practitioners) continue to disagree on the lessons to be drawn from what amounted to more of a ‘cryptic plan’ (Golub 2006: 280), or an agreement to disagree, new archival research portrays the crisis as more of a historical turning point that cemented a social order premised on mutual trust and expectations for consensus-seeking. Further, the evidence shows that Coreper was central in the habituation of these practices.

First, the July 1965–January 1966 ‘empty chair’ was not literal, because French Deputy Permanent Representative Maurice Ulrich remained in Brussels (Palayret et al. 2006: 35). Procedurally, the use of the written procedure helped to keep decisions flowing—and the Five (remaining of the Six) agreed to brief the French (via Ulrich) on all negotiations during their absence (Ludlow 2006: 99).

Second, the crisis had the curious effect of testing and tempering the spirit of trust and accommodation. Retrospective accounts are consistent in stressing the self-restraint practised in finding a resolution without engaging in brinkmanship (Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace 2006: 318–19). Especially fascinating is evidence that French negotiators deliberately restrained initial positions advanced by de Gaulle to avoid ‘permanent harm’ to French interests (Ludlow 2006: 202).

Third, by the early 1960s, Coreper’s role was already very central to the Council’s work (Ludlow 1997). But the crisis had the effect of enhancing the institution’s ‘clubbiness’. As one insider recounts, ‘the months of the crisis were to lead to a curious reinforcement of the trust between the various players involved in finding the solution’ (Davignon 2006: 18). The unwritten mandate granted by member states to their EU permanent representatives to ‘find solutions’ was constituted by the psychological discomfort of confrontation found in this case.

Thus the Council’s most existential decision-making crisis had the paradoxical effect of reinforcing consensus-seeking. According to Ludlow (2006: 106), ‘the rebuilding of trust observable at the level of Coreper soon began to feed through both to the Council of Ministers, and, still more gradually, to those parts of the national administrations entrusted with the making of European policy’. Echoing this transition, Council scholars conclude that ‘the adroitness of the Compromise marks the introduction of sophisticated procedural politics’ (Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace 2006: 319), which are practised by the weekly deliberations of the permanent representatives. The habits of consensus-seeking and the social environment whereby Coreper diplomacy reproduces it was ironically confirmed by the Sturm und Drang of the empty chair crisis.

p. 340Defined narrowly, Coreper consists of fifty-six members, who are jointly referred to as the ‘permanent representatives’. This cohort includes twenty-eight EU permanent representatives (also known as the ‘EU ambassadors’) and twenty-eight deputy permanent representatives (both to become twenty-seven post-Brexit). The Committee meets in two formats, confusingly named Coreper I (deputies) and Coreper II (ambassadors). The Commission is always represented in both Committee formats. But such a narrow definition would miss how Coreper is embedded in a much more extensive network of national delegations in Brussels, known as the ‘EU permanent representations’ (Permreps). At a glance, the Permreps look like embassies, but as integration has deepened, they have grown in size and coverage to become microcosms of the national governments, and ‘veritable administrative melting-pots’ (Hayes-Renshaw et al. 1989: 128). For example, the Permreps also staff an ambassador-level official for the Political and Security Committee (PSC—see Chapter 13), and several high-ranking military officers for the work covered by the EU Military Committee. Permreps has also become the nerve centre to manage the duties of the rotating EU presidency and delegations often swell by 25 per cent or more to handle the workload.

Since 1975, a group of assistants to the ambassadors, known as the ‘Antici counsellors’ (Anticis), have finalized and prepared the agendas for weekly Coreper II meetings. The Anticis also act as advisers to their ambassadors, minimizing the element of surprise by floating ideas and testing arguments before or at the margins of meetings, and drafting reports to send back home. In 1993, the deputies formalized a similar group of assistants, known as the ‘Mertens counsellors’ (Mertens). The Antici and Mertens counsellors are emblematic of a wider array of transgovernmental networking that takes place among national administrations through the Permreps. This networking extends to common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and justice and home affairs (JHA) counsellors, and, now, military attachés who work on European security and defence policy (ESDP) matters. In general, the permanent representations are a mechanism for socialization to the EU, training new generations of diplomats and policy specialists, orchestrating presidencies, and educating national administrations to open their minds to the reality of EU decision-making (Lewis 2005; Heisenberg 2007).

Coreper I and II

Coreper is split into two formations based on a functional division of labour (see Table 14.1). Both meet weekly and each have their own councils to prepare. Coreper II is composed of the ambassadors and is responsible for the monthly General Affairs Council (GAC), as well as issues with horizontal, institutional, and financial implications. What is more, discussions range widely, shifting from (say) canned tuna to relations with Russia. Coreper II is also closely implicated in multiannual budget negotiations and, historically, with IGCs (often serving as a delegation’s personal representative).p. 341

Table 14.1 Responsibilities of Coreper I and II

Coreper II—Ambassadors

General affairs and external relations

Justice and home affairs

Multi-annual budget negotiations

Structural and cohesion funds

Institutional and horizontal questions

Association agreements and development


Trilogues and conciliation in relevant areas of OLP

IGC personal representatives*

Coreper I—Deputies

Internal market


Employment, social policy, health, and consumer affairs


Transport, telecommunications, and energy

Industry and research

Education, youth, culture, and sport


Agriculture (veterinary and plant-health questions)

Trilogues and conciliation in relevant areas of OLP

* Varies by member state and IGC

Coreper I is made up of the deputies and is responsible for the misleadingly labelled ‘technical’ councils, such as those for competitiveness, environment, and employment, social policy, health, and consumer affairs. While decisions are quite ‘technical’, such as setting sustainable catch limits every December for the common fisheries policy (CFP), this work is often intensely political. Coreper is also responsible for representing the Council during ordinary legislative procedure (OLP) negotiations (formerly known as ‘codecision’—see Chapter 6). This duty includes ‘early reading’ negotiations, known as ‘trilogues’, as well as the formal conciliation process when EP–Council disagreements prevail. As representatives of the presidency, the chairs of Coreper I and II hold particularly active roles in managing trilogue negotiations with the EP and Commission (European Parliament 2014a: 19). Pre-Lisbon, the Coreper I deputies were more engaged than the ambassadors given the policy areas to which codecision applied. As much as 50 per cent of the deputies’ time became devoted to codecision matters (Bostock 2002: 223). Post-Lisbon, and the extension of codecision to dozens of new legal bases in the form of the OLP, ambassadors in Coreper II are now similarly involved in policy matters that cover, for example, the multiannual financial framework and aspects of JHA, such as immigration, asylum, and visas. A tipping point seems to have been reached during the 2013 Irish p. 342presidency when the Coreper II ambassador was engaged in as many, or more, OLP files than his Coreper I colleague (Jacobs 2015: 5).

So who are the EU permanent representatives? Ambassadors are almost invariably senior-ranking diplomats from the ministries of foreign affairs. For most member states, the deputy is also recruited from foreign affairs; exceptions include Germany, for which the deputy always comes from economic affairs, and the United Kingdom (UK), for which the deputy frequently came (pre-Brexit) from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The EU permanent representatives are selected from the highest tier of career diplomats and senior civil servants, usually with a considerable background in European affairs. The member states control appointments and there is no approval process in Brussels. Appointments are typically made after a recommendation, or at least tacit approval, from the head of state or government. Such high-level political selection contributes enormously to the credibility (and confidence) of the permanent representatives to negotiate in Brussels. In European diplomatic circles, Coreper is considered a top posting. EU permanent representatives rank the position on par or slightly above postings to Washington DC, New York, and Paris.

Coreper appointments are also noteworthy for their length of tenure and the absence of partisan politics. The average tenure is five years—slightly longer than the typical three- or four-year diplomatic rotation. But some permanent representatives remain in Brussels for much longer, upwards of a decade or beyond. For example, since 1958, Belgium has had eight ambassadors; Germany, seven deputies. Permanent representatives, unlike their masters, the ministers, are typically insulated from electoral politics and shifts in government (with some exceptions, such as Portugal and Greece—see Perez and Scherpereel 2015). Longer non-partisan appointments provide ‘continuity in the representation of interests’ (de Zwaan 1995: 17).


Since 1958, Coreper has been the senior preparatory forum of the Council. The vertical channels of coordination have placed the permanent representatives in clear command of how files are routed to the ministers. They are gatekeepers with ‘cast-iron Treaty authority’ (Nicoll 1994: 195). While, on paper, all Treaty reforms have reconfirmed Coreper’s senior preparatory status, two developments are contesting this position in practice.

Since the early 1990s, everyday EU decision-making has seen the intensification of rivalries between preparatory bodies (Lewis 2000). Scholars observe that the proliferation of decision-making bodies results in the Council losing its ‘old focality’ (Genschel and Jachtenfuchs 2016: 47; Bickerton et al. 2015b). There are, for example, occasional turf battles over foreign policy competences between Coreper II and the PSC. In other policy areas, Coreper II has permanently conceded responsibility of the Economics and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) and the Eurogroup of euro area finance ministers to the Economic and Finance Committee (EFC) and its p. 343Eurogroup working group (EGWG). EFC reports are not, as a rule, even copied to the permanent representatives; they are sent directly to finance ministers. Hastened by the crisis management needed in recent years, the bureaucratic network embedding finance ministries in the surveillance of national economic policies and the policy coordination agenda has elevated the EFC and EGWG to effectively bypass the input of the Coreper II ambassadors (Puetter 2014: 118, 192–5). Other, less serious, boundary disputes involve the Coordinating Committee in judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters (formerly known as the ‘Article 36 Committee’, or CATS) and JHA matters, and the Trade Policy Committee (formerly the ‘Article 133 Committee’) over administration of the common commercial policy (CCP). Coreper has become more proactive (perhaps even defensive) in establishing policy boundaries and clarifying its senior preparatory status. The Council’s rules of procedure are now more detailed in laying out Coreper’s right to ‘ensure consistency of the European Union’s policies and actions’.12

A second source of contestation is the relative decline of the foreign ministers and GAC. For the first several decades of European integration, general affairs was primus inter pares (‘first among equals’). But the process of deepening had the effect of raising the stature and importance of other sectoral councils. By the 1990s, the GAC had lost its claim to be providing leadership or acting as an overall coordinator of EU affairs (Gomez and Peterson 2001). Some hold that Ecofin has supplanted the GAC as the senior formation of the Council. For most member states, this shift reflects the domestic inter-ministerial balance of power that has seen an eclipse of foreign affairs relative to the growing ascent of the finance, economics, justice, and interior ministries in EU affairs (Hocking 1999; Hocking and Spence 2002). The weakening of the GAC affects Coreper as well, since, in past decades, the foreign ministries had primacy in staffing and instructing the Brussels’ Permreps. The impact today is evident, for example, in the Ecofin/Eurogroup linkages with the EFC/EGWG that bypass Coreper and can be interpreted as a new infrastructure for a finance-dominated network directly connected to European Council summitry. Some Permrep officials perceive this general pattern of contestation as weakening Coreper’s institutional role and, perhaps more intangibly, the vue d’ensemble mentioned earlier. Others recognize a certain amount of ‘turf fighting’ among preparatory groups, but still see a more complementary relationship and division of labour slowly normalizing.

Powers of the institution

The formal rules delineating Coreper’s functions are as understated as the original Treaty basis to ‘prepare’ the Council’s work. In rational choice imagery, Coreper’s power is shrouded intentionally by ‘incomplete contracting’ and an unwritten delegated authority to find workable solutions. From a sociological institutionalist p. 344perspective, this delegated authority gives the permanent representatives network-like power in two areas in particular: de facto decision-making, and the institutional capacities to integrate interests.

De facto decision-makers

As the Council’s senior preparatory forum, Coreper is a place where many EU decisions are effectively made. But the permanent representatives have no formal decision-making authority: juridical decision-making authority is a power exclusively reserved for the ministers and formal voting is expressly prohibited at any other level of the Council. In practice, or de facto, however, Coreper has evolved into a veritable decision-making factory. There are ways around the formality of de jure voting, such as the ‘indicative vote’ of how a delegation would vote if the matter were put before the ministers. More common is the tactful packaging of a discussion by the presidency, in which the chair will ask ‘I assume no one else requests the floor?’ or state ‘A sufficient majority exists’. No vote is taken. There is no raising of hands. But many agreements are reached in this manner and decisions thus are made.

Participants claim that the overwhelming bulk of decisions are made by consensus (see Chapter 4). Even under conditions of qualified majority voting (QMV), permanent representatives regularly spend extra time to ‘bring everyone on board’. Pushing for a vote is considered inappropriate in most cases and the ‘consensus assumption’ is a reflexive habit. A clear example of this consensus reflex can be seen in the legislative record of the 1992 project. Of the 260 single market measures subject to QMV, approximately 220 were adopted without a vote at all (de Schoutheete 2000: 9–10). Spending extra time and not pushing for a vote are considered ‘the right things to do’, offering a clear illustration of the logic of appropriateness in Coreper’s institutional setting.

The most surprising finding here is not that civil servants have been delegated de facto decisional authority, but that the density of this mechanism in maintaining the output and performance across so many policy fields of the Council’s work. The intangible power to make de facto decisions derives from the role perception to ‘find solutions’ and a sense of responsibility to deliver results. Signs of this responsibility and the mandate on which it rests can be traced back to the dog days of Eurosclerosis and the heads of state or government who innovated European Council summitry. In particular, the communiqué of the 1974 Paris Summit holds: ‘Greater latitude will be given to the Permanent Representatives so that only the most important political problems need be discussed in the Council’.13 It was during this same period that integration researchers began to observe that Coreper resembled ‘a Council of Ministers in permanent session’ (Busch and Puchala 1976: 240).

We turn now to how Coreper is able to reach so many decisions and what is potentially the group’s most valuable contribution to EU decision-making: its capacity for integrating interests.

p. 345Integrating interests

Continuous negotiation

Coreper’s structural position imparts continuity in the representation of interests that would otherwise be difficult to match. Not only is Coreper distinguishable by the issue intensity of negotiations, but also the permanent representatives’ involvement across different domains of EU decision-making is pervasive. In addition to weekly meetings, the permanent representatives sit beside their ministers during Council sessions, briefing them beforehand and offering tactical suggestions. They attend European Council summits as behind-the-scenes consultants.14 They monitor the proceedings of the working groups and offer specific points of strategy or emphasis. The ambassadors are also closely involved in monitoring cooperation and association agreements, cooperation councils (including Euro–Med conferences and Euro–Asian summits), and accession negotiations. And the evolution of the OLP negotiation network has intensified contacts between members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Coreper. This trend is reflected in the 1,557 trilogues held between 2009 and 2014 that clearly influenced the high rate of early first reading agreements (85 per cent) and dramatically lowered the rate of conciliation cases to 2 per cent of the total (compared to 22 per cent of the total between 1999–2004; Jacobs 2015: 5).

All of this creates a dynamic of continuity in Coreper’s work, reinforced through weekly meetings. Added into the mix is the regular cycle of Coreper I and II luncheons, held by Coreper II before the monthly GAC and also on a topical or ad hoc basis, usually two or so per six-month presidency. Lunches can function as long-term strategic planning sessions, often with a European Commissioner invited as a guest. More frequently, and because attendance is so tightly restricted, lunches are used to tackle the thorniest of problems (Butler 1986: 30). Last, but not least, are the informal Coreper trips hosted by the presidency, which precede European Council summits. Trips are long weekends of socializing, ‘rich in food and culture’, used to reinforce interpersonal relations and the bonds of trust—a kind of ‘oiling of the mechanism’. Taken together, the continuity of negotiation and recurring face-to-face contact builds an institutional memory in Coreper from which permanent representatives learn to draw.

Instruction, voice, and insulation

Permanent representatives are under ‘instruction’ from their national capitals. In principle, for every agenda item, there is an instruction setting, at a minimum, what is and is not acceptable as an outcome. Again in principle, this instruction is arrived at after domestic coordination through the relevant line ministries and often through an inter-ministerial coordination mechanism.15 In practice, the instruction process is more complex, especially in temporal sequence. For starters, most instructions have in-built flexibility. Of course, there are certain taboo areas (institutional reform, fiscal policy) and national sensitivities. But, here, permanent p. 346representatives claim not even to need instructions, because they already know what positions to take.

More fundamental to this story is the degree to which permanent representatives acquire an institutionalized voice in the instruction process itself (Lewis 2014). Some generic patterns include, first, departing from instructions and making recommendations back to the capital for changes. The power of recommendations obviously varies by issue area and the personal authority of a permanent representative. But they are most effective in areas in which there is a risk of becoming isolated or, under the shadow of the vote, disregarded in a possible compromise. Second, the capitals often signal that a margin of manoeuvre exists. Sometimes, permanent representatives are told not to take an instruction seriously or that the position in the printed instruction can be disregarded. Third, when there is a political need to avoid confrontation or politicization at the level of the ministers, permanent representatives (sometimes even told ‘avoid Council’) will have a freer hand in making deals and selling success at home (Lewis 1998). Fourth, there are times when the capital does not know or cannot decide. In these instances, the permanent representatives are causally contributing to the definition of what national interests in the EU context are. One Antici counsellor stated: ‘Instructions already contain a big Brussels element in them, and sometimes they are Brussels instructions, because the first ten lines of our report imply an instruction … sometimes they just copy our reports into instructions’.16

It can even happen that permanent representatives disregard their instructions. According to one ambassador:

It happens … [S]ometimes the capital gets nervous, they have various lobbies behind it usually. We also have to keep in mind that what has been built up over the last forty years is important. That a file should go. That we should proceed forward. This is constantly a factor in what we do. Often we have much more at stake than the dossier.17

While it is important to avoid an overly socialized view of the permanent representatives, one should not underestimate the relative autonomy that Coreper, as a collective forum, can obtain in selling results back home to their authorities. Some permanent representatives are known to joke about being regarded back home as the ‘permanent traitor’. This somewhat cheeky image in fact highlights one of the truly distinctive features of Coreper: the degree of insulation from the normal currents of domestic constituent pressures. As one ambassador put it, ‘Coreper is the only forum in the EU where representatives don’t have a domestic turf to defend’. ‘Because of this,’ he went on to add:

It is often politically necessary to present a position knowing it is unrealistic. My minister of finance needs certain arguments to be presented. He has certain pressures from his constituencies. We have to make it look like we fought for this even though we both know it will lead nowhere. I will present it, and if it receives no support, I will drop it.18

p. 347Meetings are treated with an air of confidentiality, and many sensitive national positions are ironed out in restricted sessions in which the permanent representatives can speak frankly and in confidence that what is said will not be reported to the capitals or the media. Insulation is a structural feature of Coreper that affords the group collective capacities to reshape domestic constraints. It can include group discussion on how an agreement will be packaged and sold to the authorities back home. As a group, the Committee can engage in transgovernmental bargaining tactics, such as the ‘plotting’ of a compromise in the collective interest of finding solutions. ‘To get new instructions we have to show [the capital] we have a black eye’, an ambassador explained. ‘We can ask Coreper for help with this; it is one of our standard practices’.19 According to another: ‘Sometimes I will deal with impossible instructions, by saying, “Mr Chairman, can I report back the fierce opposition to this?” And sometimes fierceness is exaggerated for effect’.20 Plotting is a negotiation practice found in Coreper that demonstrates how a collective rationality can reformulate individual, instrumental rationality. In general, underlining opposition (even ‘faked outrage’) is a tool for the group to deal with recalcitrant bargaining positions. Exaggerating the fierceness of opposition is also a group resource collectively to legitimate or reject arguments, which in turn reflects a dense normative institutional environment.

A dense normative environment

Coreper’s institutional capacity to aggregate interests under such a steady workload is facilitated by a dense normative environment. While these norms are almost purely informal in character—meaning that they are unwritten, not linked directly to any clauses in the Treaties, and largely self-enforcing—the group-community standards in Coreper are highly ingrained into the basic ethos of the Committee’s work. For example, there is a norm of diffuse reciprocity, or the balancing of concessions over an extended shadow of the future. Diffuse reciprocity can take many forms, including concessions and derogations, or ‘going out on a limb’ to persuade the capital for changes or a compromise. Dropping reserves or abstaining (rather than submitting a ‘no’ vote) are also political gestures that can be filed away and later returned in kind.

An even more basic norm is ‘thick trust’ and the expectation to speak frankly. Trustworthiness through honest dealings is reconfirmed weekly through the normal cycle of meetings, trips, and lunches.21 Thick trust is especially important during end-game negotiations and restricted sessions when the group collectively legitimates or rejects arguments based on deliberative processes, such as principled reasoning, standards of fairness, or justifications for special consideration.

There is also a norm of mutual responsiveness that is best described as a shared purpose to understand each other’s problems. Mutual responsiveness is another form of collective legitimation, whereby arguments are accepted or rejected by the group. Mutual responsiveness works within broad normative parameters, on the one hand, recognizing that everyone has certain problems that require special consideration, but on the other, that no one can be a demandeur too often and expect anyone p. 348to listen. This rule is such a basic one that Coreper newcomers report learning the practice after attending only a few meetings.

Norm socialization and the style of discourse

EU norms are internalized through a multilevel process of socialization. At the micro level, new participants in Coreper go through a process of adaptation and learning what one scholar calls the ‘family rules’ (Pouliot 2011: 549). Coreper has a shared discourse with its own key phrases, such as when a delegation is signalling a willingness to compromise or requesting special consideration. Learning the discourse is an important socialization mechanism for newcomers who join the club (Peterson and Jones 1999: 34; Novak 2013: 1100–1). As one ambassador explained:

There is a Coreper language with its own code words and code phrases. When used, this language is clearly understood by everyone. For example, if I have bad instructions that I’m against, I can say, ‘But of course the presidency has to take its responsibilities’, which means put it to a vote and I’ll lose, I accept this.22

There are, however, complex social psychological factors at work, as well as background (‘scope’) conditions for norm socialization. They include a shared identification with the legitimacy of the institution and the rules in question. If a forum such as Coreper did not also have a well-endowed tradition to practise mutual responsiveness and deal with sensitive domestic concerns by spending extra time and collectively legitimating individual arguments, then we would not expect to see the levels of trust required for such consensus-based decision-making hold up for long.

Norm socialization is especially relevant for the cohort of new Coreper members from (mostly) Central and Eastern Europe countries (CEECs) who arrived after 2004. Despite early estimations that increased heterogeneity and unwieldy size would pose problems for the Council’s club-like settings, evidence to date underscores a conscious effort by newcomers to acclimatize to EU decision-making norms. The best overall indicator is the stability of consensus-based outcomes, with historical averages for contested votes less than 15 per cent of all legislative acts (Mattila 2009; Hertz 2010). While adding more members does tend to increase transaction costs for negotiation and may decrease the speed of reaching decisions, it has not altered long-standing traditions of consensus-seeking behaviour nor has it thus far led to more reliance on formal voting (Hertz and Leuffen 2011).

Socialization dynamics in Coreper track with recent international relations research that finds institutional environments can instil ‘mimicking’ and ‘social influence’ behaviours: novices seek, first, to get by in an uncertain environment (that is, to copy what others are doing); second, over time, behaviours become more durably internalized as practising the accepted norms leads to influence and social capital (Johnston 2008). Indeed, the Council even has built-in mechanisms to promote norm socialization, such as the ‘active observer’ period, which begins one year prior to formal accession to allow delegations to attend meetings, including Coreper, to allow them to learn the ropes (Juncos and Pomorska 2007; Lempp 2007).

p. 349The rotating presidency is another mechanism for norm socialization. For newcomers, their inaugural presidency is judged a veritable ‘entrance exam’ (Elgström and Tallberg 2003: 194), which involves exposing hundreds of national civil servants to EU realities, often spearheaded through the permanent representation and usually several years in advance. Running an effective presidency is a way of proving one’s European credentials. The pattern of earnest effort by novice members tells us that this achievement is considered a clear route to building a good reputation and social capital in Brussels.

There is also evidence that Coreper makes new use of existing procedures to build mutual confidence and avert contested outcomes. One example is the upsurge in reading formal statements into the minutes of legislative acts since 2005. Some argue that the use of ‘formal statements’ serves as a viable outlet for expressing political dissatisfaction without the need for contesting a vote (Hagemann and de Clerck-Sachsse 2007). In other words, an informal norm to voice dissent through formal statements helps to sustain the consensus culture, as well as to send positive signals from newcomers that they are willing to uphold existing norms. Another adaptation is intensified informal contacts and the coordination of positions outside of the weekly meetings themselves. A seasoned deputy noted: ‘Much has shifted to an informal circuit. I spend much more time on the telephone: “I have a point, can you support me?”’23 An ambassador reached a similar conclusion: ‘It is inevitable that more will be done outside the meetings rather than in the room’.24 There are also more procedural rules on working methods—‘who does not speak agrees’ carries new normative weight in an EU of twenty-eight (twenty-seven post-Brexit)—and a higher usage of the formal written procedure to handle routine administrative business. But, overall, the evidence to date points to the durability of consensus practices. The incentives to build a good reputation are still strong, and compel newcomers to acclimatize and internalize collective norms.


There is a common perception that decision-making in Brussels is remote, opaque, and even undemocratic. Given Coreper’s role in everyday decision-making, it is somewhat surprising that, in all of the discussions to address the EU’s democratic deficit since the early 1990s, Coreper has remained largely unmentioned. But given Coreper’s workload and the need for insulation from the politicization effects discussed, it is clear why member states are reluctant to tinker with such fine-tuned mechanisms. There are occasional suggestions that emanate from a capital that perhaps a new Coreper III of ministers or deputy prime ministers might work to democratize the system. But support for this idea has never gained much momentum.

It is also easy to push the image of an all-powerful, unaccountable group of backroom decision-makers too far. Committee members are accountable to their ministers for the positions taken in negotiations and there is always a possibility (although specific examples are extremely hard to come by) that a minister can undo a deal done at Coreper level. If permanent representatives were to stray too far or be p. 350overruled by their ministers, they would quickly lose credibility in Coreper and in their home capitals. There are also signs of more direct institutional links to domestic politics, seen in the number of Permreps who now have a formal liaison for communication with their national parliament (including Greece, Hungary, Ireland, and Latvia).

Whether such an indirect system of accountability is a sustainable form of governance can be debated. Following the post-2004 enlargements, many believe the EU will need to rely even more on the few, but vitally important, negotiation forums that are based on a club-like and insulated atmosphere. Collective norms guide appropriate behaviour and rule out a range of instrumental tactics (such as pushing for a vote, making veto threats, and so on). Coreper is the exemplar of this, but it is not alone. An intriguing analogue in macroeconomic and euro area policy-making is the EFC, which brings national central bank and finance officials together—in camera, with no note-takers, and under the long tradition of doing everything by consensus. Another example that covers foreign policy is the professional ethos of the PSC ambassadors, described as a veritable ‘consensus-generating machine’ (Bickerton 2012: 31; Howorth 2011). Even with the revolutionary change that the OLP has on the EU’s legislative process, we still see a heavy reliance on informal and closed-door settings, such as the trilogue methodology, to work out areas of compromise between the Council and EP versions of a proposal. In an EU of twenty-eight (twenty-seven post-Brexit), the need for a mechanism like Coreper is greater than ever.

Theorizing Coreper

Although, in Chapter 1, the editors of this volume describe Coreper as an ‘awkward case’ for scholars, the institution’s hybridity offers a rich laboratory for testing theories of the new institutionalism and, arguably, finding considerable nuance in a range of complementary explanations. Rational choice theories offer compelling explanations for patterns of principal–agent delegation and the strategic rationale for creating de facto decision-makers. The insulated, club-like setting of Coreper offers strong empirical confirmation for the argument of David Stasavage (2004: 670) that states will often ‘shun transparency’ in international negotiations, since openness can act as ‘an incentive for representatives to “posture” by adopting uncompromising bargaining positions’. Finding collective solutions and ‘getting on with it’ is an unspoken mandate that gives Coreper its reputation for being results-oriented. There is also convincing evidence that patterns of consensus do not simply fit a ‘do the right thing’ logic to make everyone content or even mutually accommodative to each other’s domestic policy needs. There is also a strategic pattern of ‘blame avoidance’ when member states are isolated or unconvincing, and a deliberate promotion of insulated decision-making without recourse to formal voting in order to publicly conceal who the winners and losers are (Novak 2013; Smeets 2015).

p. 351Historical institutionalism offers insight into the long-term evolution of preparatory authority, especially the emergence of consensus-seeking practices, and the ‘lock-in’ effects of path-dependent behaviour geared towards compromise and mutual responsiveness (see Box 14.2). The historiography of a dense normative environment for preparatory committees tends to have self-reinforcing effects as a superior method to deliver collective results and prevent bargaining breakdowns (Heisenberg 2007). On this reading, neo-functionalists such as Haas (1958: 490–2) and Lindberg (1963: 77–86, 280) were early pioneers of historical institutionalist thinking, for example in their identification of the Council’s distinctive ‘procedural code’. The process-tracing methodology of this variant of institutionalist theory is particularly useful in explaining the increased sophistication of the normative environment for voting and consensus practices over time (Novak 2011: 15). At the same time, how these norms and rules are learned is a topic in relation to which more sociological theories of institutions have certain home court advantages.

In a sociological institutionalist or constructivist framing, the normative structures of EU preparatory bodies provide a culture of decision-making that is learned and internalized through a process of socialization. Checkel (2005: 804) defines socialization as ‘a process of inducting actors into the norms and rules of a given community’. As Johnston (2008) shows, socialization patterns can be disaggregated into a ‘range of microprocesses’, from ‘mimicking’ (where newcomers copy group norms to get along in an uncertain environment) to ‘social influence’ (where newcomers follow group norms for social rewards such as status) and ‘persuasion’ (where pro-norm behaviour is tied to shared cognitive understandings of the right thing to do—a thicker form of internalization). But as Novak (2013: 1093) points out, ‘socialization does not always entail empathy and the willingness to help others’; socialization also acts to delimit inappropriate behaviour in a society, such as making demands without justification, invoking ‘very important interests’ opportunistically, or pushing for a public vote. Using Goffman’s concept of stigmatization, Adler-Nissen (2014: 149) makes a convincing case that ‘most societies rely not only on socialization (in the form of emulation, learning, or persuasion)—they also use public sanctioning to construct and display normality’. The professional expertise of EU preparatory groups also serves as a cognitive filter for acceptable ideas and behaviour, a process-level dynamic that Heipertz and Verdun (2010) study using what they call an ‘expertocratic approach’ that resonates with the international relations (IR) literature on epistemic communities and the newer ‘practice turn’ (Adler and Pouliot 2011).

Going a bit further, treating committees as social environments that follow ‘club rules’ invites a more anthropological and ethnographic understanding of institutions (Neumann 2012; Adler-Nissen 2016). In this view, the permanent representatives have evolved consensus practices to the point at which they acquire a ‘taken for granted’ quality that is a hallmark of Bourdieu’s (1977) sociological notion of ‘habitus’ (Adler-Nissen 2009b; Pouliot 2011). Pouliot (2008: 257) shows the concept of ‘habitus’ fits a distinctive ‘logic of practicality’, or the ‘inarticulate know-how that p. 352makes what is to be done self-evident or commonsensical’. Thus habitus is different from the more active reflection of what ‘ought to be done’ inherent to the role-playing logic of appropriateness or the instrumental calculations that make up strategic norm conformity, since it is unconsciously taken-for-granted. Instead, norms are ‘performed’, rather than ‘internalized’ as a sens practique within a diplomatic field of shared meanings that ‘define agency and make action intelligible’ (Adler-Nissen 2008: 668; Adler-Nissen 2016). The concept of a habitus offers intriguing support for the durability of what Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace (1995: 465) observe as ‘the instinctive recourse to behave consensually’. Taken together, these alternative institutionalisms cast a wide net in capturing the complex mixed motives and strategic construction of group-community standards in Coreper.

The ‘Janus face’ of Coreper

Coreper challenges the conventional dichotomy that sharply demarcates the national and European levels. As state agents, the EU permanent representatives nicely illustrate how national and supranational roles and identifications can become nested and coexist. Interviews with participants consistently confirm that permanent representatives obtain a distinct secondary allegiance to collective, EU decision-making. However, the ‘nested’ identity concept does not fully capture the quality of the identity configuration found here, because permanent representatives do not self-reflectively see their secondary allegiance as competitive or contradictory to national allegiance. They are not different hats worn at different times or held in juxtaposition to each other, but rather a broadening of the cognitive boundaries of what counts as the ‘self’ and the ‘national interest’ (Adler-Nissen 2009b). One deputy stated: ‘There is a confidence that I will deliver the goods at home and a confidence to deliver the goods collectively. I must find ways to synthesize the two’.25 The EU permanent representatives are examples of state agents who have found a way to operationalize what Laffan (2004: 90–4) describes as ‘double-hatting’.

Instead of limited conceptualizations of shifts and transfers in identity, what we see in Coreper is a blurring of the boundaries between the national and the European. Describing his own unwritten job description, one deputy claimed, ‘I wear a Janus face’.26 The metaphor of the Janus face nicely captures how permanent representatives perceive their institutional roles and multiple allegiances, to represent national interests and participate in making collective decisions according to a deliberative process of negotiation. None of this implies that national identities and interests become marginalized or disappear; rather, what stands out is the infusion of the national with the European and vice versa. To be successful, EU permanent representatives develop a more complex identity configuration informing definitions of self and interest. From a Janus-faced perspective, they act as both state agents and supranational entrepreneurs simultaneously. From an institutional design standpoint, this finding is highly significant as to how the overall system of decision-making functions. As Weiler (1994: 31) so aptly summarized, the system:

p. 353… replaces a kind of ‘liberal’ premise of international society with a communitarian one: the Community as a transnational regime will not simply be a neutral area in which states seek to maximize their benefits but will create a tension between the national self and the collective self.

The implications of this tension for how we think of sovereignty in Europe are also significant. Waever (1995: 412, emphasis original) argues that the EU reconfigures conventional conceptions of national sovereignty because of the ‘importance of Europe in national identities’, in which ‘the European dimension is included in national self-conceptions’. The cognitive blurring of boundaries between the national and European layers also fits suggestively with what Risse (2010: 45) describes as a ‘marble cake’ concept of multiple identities, in which ‘identity components blend into each other and are intertwined’. As high-ranking national officials, the permanent representatives offer a striking empirical example of this blurring at the everyday level of EU decision-making.


This chapter has focused on integrating interests in the EU and, in particular, the systemic, policy-setting level at which Coreper operates. Understanding Coreper negotiations requires being alert to the often-subtle interplay of national and community perspectives. The EU permanent representatives are nation-state agents who represent national interests, but who have also internalized collective decision-making rules and norms that inform bargaining behaviour and shape legislative outcomes. The logic of action found in Coreper goes beyond cost–benefit, instrumental interest calculation, and includes a distinctive ‘appropriateness’ logic based on group-community standards. Given the range of early predictions about enlargement leading to gridlock or worse, it is impressive how this collective decision-making logic persists over time, which in turn supports an argument that norm socialization in forums such as Coreper is an important process-level dimension of European integration. As a key decision-making bottleneck in the Council system, Coreper embodies a culture of consensus-seeking and mutual accommodation of national preferences using group-legitimation standards. The durability of consensus practices (‘part of our DNA’, as one insider described it27) also supports a reading closer to the sociological meaning of habitus that is largely taken for granted as practical knowledge of ‘how we do things’.

At the same time, while the Committee’s normative environment is highly institutionalized, it is also based almost exclusively on informal rules and norms. As such, it is subject to a very different process of change from, say, that of revising the Treaties or changing the formal voting rules. If members were to alter the calculus of whom they appoint to Coreper (and the Permreps) and/or to begin to challenge established p. 354decision-making norms (by, say, pushing for a vote under QMV, or refusing to explain and justify positions), the Council could develop a more rigid ‘veto culture’ or divide into different voting blocks along geographic or gross domestic product (GDP) lines. In such scenarios, the organizational culture and normative environment would change. The ‘double-hatting’ identity configuration of the EU permanent representatives could be altered as well. If Coreper were to develop into a body in which voting weights and instrumental cost–benefit calculations ruled the day, rather than consensus-driven deliberation and debate, we could see system-wide effects (and unintended consequences) on how effectively the Union can operate.

Further reading

For an excellent treatment of Coreper’s role in EU decision-making, see Hayes-Renshaw and Wallace (2006). De Zwaan (1995) offers the most comprehensive study available in English, although it tends toward the descriptive and legalistic. Hayes-Renshaw et al. (1989) is a classic. See also Bostock (2002) and Mentler (1996, in German). Menon’s (2004) edited volume, with short reflections by all eight UK ambassadors, offers an insider perspective on what many used to say was (pre-Brexit) the smoothest-run Permrep in Brussels. New accounts of the empty chair crisis include Ludlow (2006) and Palayret et al. (2006). A range of sophisticated interpretations that help to explain the role of EU committees in producing a consensus culture can be found in Smeets (2015), Kleine (2013), Häge (2013), Novak (2013), Bickerton (2012), and Heisenberg (2007). On the historical evolution of EU committee structures, see Knudsen and Rasmussen (2008). For more on multiple identities and how to conceptualize different configurations of identity in the context of the EU, see Risse (2010).

Bickerton, C. (2012) European Integration: From Nation-States to Member States (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Bostock, D. (2002) ‘Coreper revisited’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 40/2: 215–34.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

De Zwaan, J. (1995) The Permanent Representatives Committee: Its Role in European Union Decision-Making (Amsterdam: Elsevier).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Häge, F. (2013) Bureaucrats as Law-Makers: Committee Decision-Making in the EU Council of Ministers (London and New York: Routledge).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Hayes-Renshaw, F., and Wallace, H. (2006) The Council of Ministers (2nd edn, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Hayes-Renshaw, F., Lequesne, C., and Mayor Lopez, P. (1989) ‘The permanent representations of the member states to the European Communities’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 28/2: 119–37.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Heisenberg, D. (2007) ‘Informal decision-making in the Council: The secret of the EU’s success?’, in S. Meunier and K. McNamara (eds) The State of the European Union 8: Making History (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press), 67–87.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Kleine, M. (2013) Informal Governance in the European Union: How Governments Make International Organizations Work (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

p. 356Knudsen, A.-C., and Rasmussen, M. (2008) ‘A European political system in the making 1958-1970: The relevance of emerging committee structures’, Journal of European Integration History, 14/1: 51–67.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Ludlow, N.P. (2006) The European Community and the Crises of the 1960s: Negotiating the Gaullist Challenge (London and New York: Routledge).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Menon, A. (2004) Britain and European Integration: Views from within (Oxford: Blackwell).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Mentler, M. (1996) Der Auschuss der Sta’ndigen Vertreter bei den Europäischen Gemeinschaften (Baden-Baden: Nomos).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Novak, S. (2013) ‘The silence of ministers: Consensus and blame avoidance in the Council of the European Union’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 51/6: 1091–1107.Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Palayret, J.-M., Wallace, H., and Winand, P. (2006) Visions, Votes, and Vetoes: The Empty Chair Crisis and the Luxembourg Compromise Forty Years on (Brussels: Peter Lang).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Risse, T. (2010) A Community of Europeans? Transnational Identities and Public Spheres (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Smeets, S. (2015) Negotiations in the EU Council of Ministers: ‘And All Must Have Prizes’ (Colchester: ECPR Press).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Web Links

The best online resource for monitoring Coreper’s work is the Council’s website, which has a ‘full meeting calendar’ that can be sorted by configuration, including Coreper I and II. In addition, the ‘documents’ link includes the agendas for each meeting. For an online directory of Coreper personnel (including valuable contact information for arranging interviews at the permanent representations), select ‘Contact: Who Is Who’, then choose the link for Coreper.

For more on OLP activity that involves Coreper, consult the EP’s website on ‘Conciliations and Codecision’.


  • 1. March and Olsen (1989) offer the classic distinction between logics of consequences and appropriateness. In the former, ‘the only obligations recognized by individuals are those created through consent and contracts grounded in calculated consequential advantage’; in the latter, individuals are ‘acting in accordance with rules and practices that are socially constructed, publicly known, anticipated, and accepted’ (March and Olsen 1989: 951–2).

  • 2. Art. 240 TFEU.

  • 3. Art. 19(2) of the Rules of Procedure of the Council, Council Decision 2009/937/EU, OJ L 325/35, 11 December 2009.

  • 4. Interview, Brussels, 12 July 1996.

  • 5. Interview, Brussels, 26 May 2000.

  • 6. See also Haas (1960).

  • 7. Anderson (1997: 81) defines ‘constitutive politics’ as the ‘processes and outcomes that establish or amend EU rules of the game’, as distinct from ‘regulative politics’, which are the ‘processes and outcomes that take place within established, routinized areas of EU activity’.

  • 8. Interview, Brussels, 21 April 1997.

  • 9. Interview, Brussels, 15 May 2000. This practice sharply contrasts with Commission President Hallstein ‘who was known to snub the Permanent Representatives … by sending them his assistants’ (Palayret et al. 2006: 27).

  • 10. Other partial exemptions from Coreper’s remit involve macroeconomic policy coordination (the specialty of the EFC, Eurogroup Working Group, and Economic Policy Committee), military planning (managed by the Military Committee), and certain aspects of foreign policy, especially crisis management (the focus of the Political and Security Committee). See the section on ‘Contestation’ for more.

  • 11. Bulletin EEC 3/66.

  • 12. Art. 19(1) of the Rules of Procedure, with a footnote that adds ‘in particular for matters where substantive preparation is undertaken in other fora’.

  • 13. Bulletin of the EC, 12–1974, point 1104.7.

  • 14. By current convention, only the Coreper II ambassador representing the rotating presidency is invited to the European Council meeting itself.

  • 15. Such as the Secrétariat Général du Comité Inter-ministériel pour les Questions de Coopération Economique Européenne (SGCI) in France/French.

  • 16. Interview, Brussels, 22 May 1996.

  • 17. Interview, Brussels, 18 May 2000.

  • 18. Interview, Brussels, 15 May 2000.

  • 19. p. 355 Interview, Brussels, 15 May 2000.

  • 20. Interview, Brussels, 26 May 2000.

  • 21. As Putnam (1993: 171) explains, thick trust is a key interpersonal ingredient of ‘social capital’, which tends to develop in ‘small, close-knit communities’ based on ‘a belief that rests on intimate familiarity with this individual’.

  • 22. Interview, Brussels, 15 May 2000.

  • 23. Interview, Brussels, 27 May 2003.

  • 24. Interview, Brussels, 27 May 2003.

  • 25. Interview, Brussels, 7 July 1996.

  • 26. Interview, Brussels, 20 February 1996.

  • 27. Telephone interview, 22 September 2015.

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