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8. The European Commission:  

the cabinets and the services

Frédéric Mérand

Focusing on the services and the cabinets, this chapter analyses the European Commission as a complex organizational, political, and social institution. Organizationally, it describes the Commission as a unique international bureaucracy which puts its French administrative tradition, consensus-based, and law-heavy internal procedures under the growing influence of an Anglo-American style of management. Politically, the chapter shows that the Commission increasingly behaves like a political executive that seeks to establish its own legitimacy vis-à-vis public opinion and member states by addressing partisan dynamics in the European Parliament. In terms of social relations, the chapter draws from the author’s ethnographic work to explore the transnational life of Commission civil servants and cabinet staffers who have made the Berlaymont their home.


This chapter examines the functions and organization of the European Commission services, arguing that they are a bureaucracy with unique agenda-setting powers at the heart of the European Union polity. It begins with an overview of the origins and evolution of the Commission services, focusing on the influence of Jean Monnet, first President of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and how the services were shaped by national bureaucratic models as well as international organization models. The chapter proceeds by discussing the Commission services’ powers, structure, and functioning and what the officials think about the role of the institution with respect to agenda-setting, nationality, and EU governance. It argues that while the Commission bureaucracy has become more circumspect of bold political initiatives, neither its capacity nor its will to play a strong policy role in Europe have been significantly weakened.