Organising institutional autonomy in a political context: enduring tensions in the European Commission’s development

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Series Details No.2, 2004
Publication Date 2004
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The High Authority, later the European Commission, was indeed an organisational innovation. Unlike international governmental organisations, it should from its very inception be able to act independently of national governments. Its autonomy was to be justified by its role as a promoter of the common interest of the community. However, having become a full-fledged political body, concerns about accountability are automatically raised. Obviously, territorialisation of the institution; i.e., e.g., making commissioners accountable to the governments that have nominated them, could be one possible route to legitimisation, however, this would run counter to the genuine mission of the institution. Alternative options might be sectorisation; i.e., e.g., to co-opt affected interest groups, or party politicisation, i.e. making commissioners politically accountable to the European Parliament. Both sectorisation and party politicisation threaten institutionalisation ("autonomisation") of the Commission, however, they both tend to displace territorialisation. Through an ongoing demarcation of the political and administrative parts, a continued institutionalisation (which already has come far) of the Commission services could be compatible with party-politicisation of the college of commissioners. The paper presents some fresh data on the way top officials are appointed.

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