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5. The European Commission:  

from collegiality to presidential leadership

Hussein Kassim

This chapter examines the role of the Commission presidency and the development of the office over the Commission’s lifetime. Situating the role played by the president within the context of the Commission’s responsibilities and the division of institutional labour in the wider EU system, it describes the transformation of the office and the emergence of new models of political leadership within the institution. The chapter compares the approach of the three most recent Commission presidents—José Manuel Barroso, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Ursula von der Leyen—in style, policy, and organization. It considers the impact and consequences of presidentialization and presidentialism in the Commission and the EU system.


This chapter examines the normative question of what kind of organization the College of Commissioners, the European Commission’s most political level, should be: a policy entrepreneur, an honest broker, a manager of decisions taken by others, or an engine of integration. It first traces the origins and history of the College of Commissioners before discussing its structure, focusing on the President, the college itself, and the cabinets. It then considers the Commission’s powers and its influence over most ‘history-making’ decisions about the broad sweep of European integration. The chapter also explores the politics underlying the Presidency by looking at the case of two controversial presidents of the Commission, Jacques Santer and Jean-Claude Juncker. It argues that the Commission and most of what it does have always been highly politicized despite its ambitions to be an honest broker between national interests and an independent guardian of the European Union’s Treaties.