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Management and Culture in an Enlarged European Commission

0 Comments 🕔20.Nov 2013

In her new book, Management and Culture in an Enlarged European Commission: From Diversity to Unity?, Carolyn Ban analyzes the effects of the Kinnock Reforms and of the 2004 European Union (EU) enlargement on the organization of the European Commission (EC). Ban raises a double question: How has the EC assimilated newcomer recruits from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)? And how has the EC accommodated newcomers´ specific backgrounds and needs (166)? Ban adopts a public management perspective, furthering the ‘public administration turn’[1] in EU studies (Trondal) and contributing to a developing body of research that applies a public management lens to the study of international organizations. One central assumption of Ban´s study is that culture matters and that the interaction between the existing culture and efforts to change that culture is circular. On the one hand, formal reforms and the arrival of newcomers can modify the culture of an organization; on the other, cultures are resilient and partly determine how the organization reacts to pressures for change (27). The case selected by Ban allows her to test the interaction of formal reforms and newcomer arrivals with the existing culture of an organization.

If the EU expansion to 10 CEE countries in 2004 and subsequent admission of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 are well known, perhaps less so are the so-called Kinnock Reforms, aimed at transforming the administrative culture and management style within the EC. These reforms originated in the 1999 Santer Commission scandal. Among other changes, the Kinnock Reforms proposed to increase managers’ financial control and personal responsibility for fiscal control, and introduced mandatory rotation of managers between different sectors of the Commission. The reforms also aimed to adapt the Commission´s management to the arrival of staff from the new member states. Ban addresses both the Kinnock Reforms and the EC’s enlargement because they were contemporaneous: to explain whether CEE newcomers changed the culture of the Commission, Ban needs to assess the change that was caused directly by the Kinnock Reforms. Furthermore, existing studies have overlooked the relationship between the effects of enlargement and the Kinnock Reforms. Ban argues that the Kinnock Reforms and EC enlargement had an interaction effect, “in particular on the interplay between formal management systems and management style” (6).

The first chapter describes the organizational status quo before the reforms and enlargement. It emphasizes a North-South divide and a Francophone-Anglophone divide, with management culture varying across sectors (or Directorates-General (DGs)). The fact that most staff made their career in a single DG reinforced the sectoral structure of the Commission and contributed to rivalries within and between DGs. The second chapter then focuses on the historical reasons for the enlargement and accession negotiations and asks how fully ‘European’ the staff from the EU-15 considered the newcomers. This chapter gives a first insight into existing clichés and prejudices about Central and Eastern Europeans – a preliminary clarification that is necessary to explain the socialization of staff from the CEE within the Commission.

In chapter 3, Ban analyzes the Kinnock Reforms, aiming to define the role played by the EC enlargement on these reforms and to disentangle their impact from the consequences of newcomers´ arrivals. For instance, in order to secure acceptance for the recruitment of thousands of new employees, the Reforms decreased entry-level salaries and increased the number of requisite rungs on the professional ladder to climb – furthering a perception of newcomers as ‘second-class citizens’ (76). However, these reforms had rather positive effects on the recruitment and responsabilization of managers. By insisting on formal management, the reforms prevented newcomers from starting their career without proper directions and support.

Chapters 4 through 8 then go on to show how the arrival of CEE staff affected an organization composed of civil servants confident in their sense of belonging to an elite cadre. These chapters extensively address the recruitment process of staff from CEE countries and their socialization. Chapter 4 focuses on the selection and the socialization of ‘entry-level’ staff. It provides valuable information on the first stage of the recruitment process, particularly concerning how individuals became aware of the possibility of applying for EU jobs and the role of national governments in this respect. Even if our understanding of the reasons why people do not apply is necessarily limited, Ban shows that self-selection, formal selection, and post-entry socialization reinforced each other so that new staff fit the typical profile of a European official. In chapter 5, she discusses the recruitment of managers from CEE and argues that their socialization has been more difficult than the integration of CEE ‘entry-level’ staff, namely because social conformism had less influence in the case of the former. However, Ban shows that the adaption process has varied across the three studied DGs, confirming the role of culture in management styles.

In addition to extensively addressing the recruitment process, the study explains how newcomers’ national identity and gender had an impact on management styles. Chapter 6 hypothesizes that national administrative culture had a strong impact on management style. However, interviews reveal that nationality matters less than expected, partly due to the fact that recruited new staff had already worked in international contexts. Moreover, most CEE countries lacked a stable national and organizational culture. Overall, the Commission showed a remarkable capacity to absorb newcomers (170), while their influence on management style was limited.

If nationality had less impact than expected, chapter 7 shows that the Commission used the opportunity created by the enlargement to hire larger numbers of women. According to interviewees, this phenomenon had an impact on management style because it encouraged a more participatory and democratic style of management. One might suspect that these views are oversimplified. However, Ban explains that the interaction between the Kinnock Reforms and EU enlargement was especially fruitful in helping to establish a more equitable gender balance within the Commission.

Finally, in the last chapter, she also shows that the arrival of the newcomers, rather than increasing the number of languages spoken within the Commission, actually led to an increased predominance of the English language because it was preferred to French by most CEE staff.

This work represents an important contribution in several respects. Firstly, in line with Abélès and Bellier´s study of the culture of compromise at the Commission, this book offers a description of this institution drawing on political anthropology, which fills a gap in recent studies.[2] Management and Culture in an Enlarged European Commission is based on impressive efforts at data collection: over six years, from 2006 to 2012, Carolyn Ban conducted about 140 semi-structured interviews with EU officials in Brussels and 91 semi-structured interviews with managers inside the governments of six new member states. She complemented the interviews with observations from inside the Commission. The fact that she conducted the interviews by herself contributes appreciably to the quality of the collected information. Of course, this methodology has its limits in that it permits the author to collect only actors´ perceptions. Still, the weight of prejudice and stereotypes in newcomer socialization in the EC amply justifies this methodological choice. Furthermore, as Ban notes, the Commission is a ‘high-context’ organization (142), which means that informal norms play a crucial role. No other methodology could have cast light on the different unwritten rules at play within the Commission. For instance, Ban provides unique information on the unwritten rules governing the recruitment of managers (chapter 5). This insight is all the more valuable since EU studies increasingly emphasize the role of informal norms in EU institutions without providing detailed information about their functioning in practice.

Secondly, political scientists have tended to focus on the institutional design of the EU and on the expected effects of new formal rules. Ban´s contribution is original because it draws on a public management approach to analyze both the implementation of reforms and the effects of enlargement. Moreover, while public management has long privileged the study of domestic organizations, this study shows the epistemological advantages of public management when it comes to researching multinational and multilinguistic organizations. One could argue that by studying a single organization, Ban does not succeed in capturing its originality. For instance, it is true that in some parts, the description of the integration of newcomers reminds one of the arrival of freshmen at the US Senate described by Matthews. Nonetheless, by comparing three DGs (Internal Market and Services, Environment, and Regional Policy) selected on the basis of their different management cultures (i.e., Francophone vs. Anglophone) and their power, Ban reveals noteworthy variations. Furthermore, in the field of research on EU institutions, this sectoral approach is not so frequent, another respect in which Ban´s study is also valuable.

Finally, Ban explores a process in which clichés and prejudices about CEE newcomers were especially strong. Her study provides a major contribution, both in showing the role of these clichés and prejudices within the Commission and in helping to do away with them. Particularly given the current outbreak of nationalisms and phobia between EU member states, this is no mean feat.

Reviewed by Stéphanie Novak of the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin

Management and Culture in an Enlarged European Commission: From Diversity to Unity?
by Carolyn Ban
Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics
Hardcover / 288 pages / March 2013
ISBN: 978-0230252219



[1] Jarle Trondal, “The Public Administration Turn in Integration Research,” Journal of European Public Policy 14, no. 6 (2007): 960–72.

[2] Marc Abélès and Irène Bellier, “La Commission européenne: du compromis culturel à la culture politique du compromis,” Revue française de science politique 46, no. 3 (1996): 431–456.

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