Governance in EU Institutions: The Commission or Consensus as Effectiveness

Term Paper, 2010

18 Pages




1. A Scale for Decision-Making: Consensus and Effectiveness
a. Theoretical and functional aspects of Consensus
b. The Struggle to define ‘Effectiveness’ as a Normative Category

2. Governance
a. Concepts of Governance
i. Multi-Level Governance
ii. Open Method of Coordination
iii. Principal-Agent Model
b. ‘Good’ Governance

3. Formal and Informal Aspects of Decision-Making
a. One-of-a-Kind: The European Commission as a formal Institution
b. Identifying Informal Means of in the Commission’s Decision-Making
c. Contestation and the Commission




The concepts of governance have the advantage of including the informal aspect of decisionmaking into their scope of analysis. The intention of this paper is the application of a fitting conceptual derivative of governance on the decision making process inside the institutional framework of the Commission of the European Union. The notion to be tested is the one of the Commission being by its institutional heritage inclined to promulgation of consensus among its principal actors, the members of the college of Commissioners. So what kind of governance might be characteristic for the Commission?

The political setting is that of the European Union, which is on the one hand an intergovernmental organization of member states on equal terms, but on the other hand a political institution. Apart from partly being established on a supra-national echelon, which is rationally designed and controlled for the purpose action and intervention to foster economic prosperity and integration in accordance with the concepts of functional and rational-choice institutionalism characteristic for social and political institutions of modernity. As the EU is itself an extension of the mostly politically pluralistic and socially fragmented Member States (MS), certain elements and processes influencing the promulgation of the political will on all legislative governmental echelons are present in the context of governance in the European Union as well.

The hypothesis of this paper consists of the following notions:

Due to the “sui generis”-character the EU,1 employing decisions by consensus even on intergovernmental as well as on supranational level is most effective politics possible.

Applying concepts of governance to the Commission’s competences, institutional framework and formal as well as , if perceptible, informal decision-making procedures and customs, will show that although the Commission matches no distinct concept currently present in academia, it very well fulfils basic requirements of ‘good’ governance.

Even as the supra-national institution per se, the Commission acts according to these notions. In order to develop an understanding of the background from which the hypothesis derives, the paper will abide to the following structure:

Firstly, institutional peculiarities of the Commission fostering the consensus-approach in internal and external as well as in formal and informal decision-making including preparatory and executive steps of the process are pointed out, followed secondly by a theoretical exhortation on the significance of consensus promulgation for the sustainable functioning of institutions in a democratic political system. Besides of an analysis on the importance of consensus, an appropriate differentiation of effectiveness and efficiency in the context of democratic procedures is included in that step. Then a set of governance types is introduced regarding the Commission’s decision-making process. In order to complete the picture, formal and informal aspects and incentives influencing the work-flow and decision-making procedure on all echelons of the Commission’s staff are selectively highlighted. The conclusion finalizing the paper wraps up the argument in referring to the main thesis, assessing its validity.

1. A Scale for Decision-Making: Consensus and Effectiveness

In order to clarify the first pair of the decisive terms for the analysis, consensus and effectiveness are in the following promulgated independently. At the end of the chapter a convergent scale will be developed out of the definitions into a single concept. This is considering the fact that “[…] [t]he EU works as a highly consensual political system”.2

a. Theoretical and functional aspects of Consensus

It is beneficial for decisions to be backed by consensus of the stakeholders. But is this an effective approach in the light of the scale provided by the respective problem and its stakeholders? If the decision-making process of the Commission represents a discourse with respective stakeholders for the sake of generating a denominator aka consensus prior to legislation, one must define first which participants are legitimate for whom. Following Habermas’ definition, generating consensus is producing truth by communication.3 The basic democratic system evades the issue of truth employing integration or cohesion by majority vote. But integration of the opponent might be a utilitarian approach evading confrontation. The minimum requirement for consensus could be the absence of objections. This requires adjustments on the proposals, especially in heterogenic social environments of developed western democracies. represent on a broad base of unconscious trust among the participants of the democratic discourse in the procedure itself.4 If the self-empowerment of the individual or aggregated participants provides normative standards of conduct and argumentation and knowledge to apply, these inputs favour a relative rational outcome of the procedure of democratic discourse, rational once more in the sense of Habermas’ three structures of epistemic, teleological and communicative rationality. Epistemic rationality knows of the conditions of inter-subjective knowledge the resulting ability challenge and rechallenge knowledge. Teleological rationality refers to the ability to act according to objectives deemed justified. This structure of rationality is not able to find motivation without epistemic and, last but not least, communicative rationality, which is the rationality in acts of speech and its conditions and trustworthiness. The conditio humana t aken seriously, cultural and / or religious differences should not be an obstacle for establishing a rational discourse aiming at effectiveness in problem-solving capability.5

b. The Struggle to define ‘Effectiveness’ as a Normative Category

But do the procedures contextualized above achieve the desired results, are the goals of the procedure, to reduce stakeholders’ objections and to meet the expectations, achieved, is a group of people or an institutions effective in seeking consensus? Effectiveness in politics is closely related to power, its utilization and maintaining it. Power relationships, the relationship of superior and subordinate, the ruler and the ruled, are present if according to Max Weber’s definition one is able to put into effect his or her will even against resistance within a social relationship.6 Power relationships are subject to the same dialecticism as all other social relationships are, in this case the dialecticism of power of sanction and submission, of leadership and obedience, etc...

Social power has several possible sources assigned to it, but, and that is the striking point here, social power relies on acknowledgement by both parties involved, which basically represents the question of legitimacy. This question has to be addressed in order to establish a stable social power relationship. In the context of a democracy, a political system belonging to Max Weber’s category of legal domination,7 the people assign a group or person to exercise power for a period of time within certain constraints and responsibilities.8 By nature this power relationship is temporary, transitory, functional, and delegated. Therefore every form of exercising power in a democratic system has to be part in the chain of legitimacy, institutionalized in the normative character of legality. Now, not every law is legitimate per se, it has to obey to the social and historical circumstances. So here again, there is a formal and informal aspect, this time to legality and legitimacy. This issue is addressed in the public sphere integral part to every democracy.

Public communication on the public matters is the politic-ethical discourse Habermas identified which is capable of defining the limits and the leeway of the respective power relationships in a continuous cycle of assessments and re-assessments. Even an agency like the Commission is consequently inclined to pro-actively participate in this discourse, but the Commission can only formally act within the boundaries of its institutional framework. Informally, the Commission is restricted by material dimensions of time and space. But it is uncontested that the immanent incentive for the Commission to establish and re-establish legitimacy in the discourse of stakeholders, if successfully established and led to results, is effective for the maintaining the legality by legitimacy of power the Commission wields for following its purpose. The inherent prime objective is the consent of the stakeholders. This is the general aspect of political effectiveness: Keep the addressee of your policy happy in the sense of satisfied with the effects on progress in terms of modernization and social cohesion.

2. Governance

a. Concepts of Governance

‘Governance’ is an academic buzz-word at least in the field of political science concerned with the EU. It first hit high scores of attention in the EU’s public arena when the Commission issued its White Paper on Governance in 2001.9 There the term found the most wide-scoped definition possible for application in the context of the EU:

“Governance” means rules, processes and behaviour that affect the way in which powers are exercised at European level, particularly as regards openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence.”

Governance has achieved wide recognition as a term in publications researching on the development and the political structures and processes of the European Union since. There a several aspects to it, which might be perceived as constituting vagueness in terms of defining and conceptualizing it. This, at least for scholars of European Studies eager to publish, academically fruitful struggle has a few intermediate results which outline the scope the term ‘Governance’ potentially has. Inherent is the question of authority, but not in the

sense of power in a hierarchical structure, but more in a sense of responsibility or competence on a public matter and way actors involved can participate in decision-making in that area. In that sense it refers to the principle of subsidiarity and the dispersion of decision- making power away from the central state in particular, but from the political institutions as well.10

i. Multi-Level Governance

In 2009, Simona Piattoni from the University of Trento analyzed the term “multi-level governance” (MLG) concerning its theoretical, empirical and normative characteristics.11 Piattoni states that from a theoretical point of view it remains unclear whether MLG is a strategy, a process, a status or whether it refers to structures. It came into existence while the dichotomy of neo-functionalism and inter-governmentalism seemed to explain the political development of the EU well, but failed to enlighten on its functioning. MLG at least opened the gate to a perspective on EU polity beyond the national-supranational scheme, counting in sub-national actors and their diverse networks in policy, e. g. non-governmental and regional actors. The concept’s levels therefore are on the one hand territorial- jurisdictional, while these levels are challenged objectively in terms of functional integrity and subjectively with regard to legitimacy and accountability. MLG serves on the other hand as a theoretical framework for analysing politics, polity and policy concurrently. This leads directly back to the concept MLG is supposed to challenge, but which still serves as the main reference point: The ideal-type sovereign state which defines central and peripheral tiers of government, selects decision-making processes and participants and is the gate-keeper for the international and the sub-national political stage alike. Seen from this perspective, the dialecticism of globalization and regionalization opens new venues for political organization and mobilization, fostering spill-over effects overcoming structures and processes cannot provide. MLG is in that sense a concept of three dimensions by covering the spheres of political mobilization, policy-making, and state restructuring. The concept achieves by this coverage a source of interest and fertility. MLG is academically interesting because it extents over different analytical levels: It might provide in its preliminary peak of development a multi- level framework for analysis tailored to study multi-level governance. Until then, MLG serves rhetorical functions for the sake of the construction of the EU as an MLG system, describing an area of discursive consensus. This potentially keeps the process of European integration process going while leaving the ends and ways vague.


1 Trommel, Willem / van der Veen, Romke (1997): “Sociological Perspectives on Institutions and Neo-institutionalism”, p. 46.

2 Řihačkova, Věra (2010): “Making the European Commission more accountable? Enhancing input legitimacy and its possible impact”, Prague, p. 6.

3 Ndeke, Jean-Baptiste (2006):”Die politische Konsensbildung als normative Prinzip der Demokratie” p. 223.

4 Ibid., p. 240.

5 Ndeke, Jean-Baptiste (2006):”Die politische Konsensbildung als normative Prinzip der Demokratie”, p. 259.

6 Grieswelle, Detlef (2000): “Politische Rhetorik - Macht der Rede, öffentliche Legitimation, Stiftung von Konsens”, p. 26.

7 Kim, Sung Ho (2007): “Max Weber”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved from, accessed 21 August 2010.

8 Grieswelle, Detlef (2000): “Politische Rhetorik - Macht der Rede, öffentliche Legitimation, Stiftung von Konsens”, p. 30.

9 European Commission (2001): „European Governance - A White Paper“.

10 Hooghe, Liesbet / Marks,Gary (2003): “Unraveling the Central State, But How?”, p. 1. 5

11 Piattoni, Simona (2009): “Multi-level Governance: a Historical and Conceptual Analysis”.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Governance in EU Institutions: The Commission or Consensus as Effectiveness
University of Flensburg
Course „European Governance“
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
477 KB
European Union, Governance, Commission, Europäische Union, Effectiveness, Effektivität, Europäische Kommission
Quote paper
Johannes Wiedemann (Author), 2010, Governance in EU Institutions: The Commission or Consensus as Effectiveness, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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