Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


2. The evolution in the institutional reform context leading to the White Paper on Governance

In many of our political systems it is common cause that a political scandal often becomes a vehicle for grumbling disorders about the political system in general but that its aftermath, in particular independent reporting, can help a return to good-health ( Leigh and Lustgarten, 1996). When the Santer Commission felt forced to resign in the aftermath of the publication of the Committee of Independent Experts' First Report in March 1999 (CIE) the boils of secrecy and of lack of (collective) responsibility of the Commission were rather publicly lanced ( Curtin, 2000). A secretive administrative culture is the single and predominant reason given by Paul van Buitenen, the whistleblower , in his book Strijd voor Europa (The Struggle for Europe), to explain why the events in question could happen and how those facts became submerged in what at times amounted to a virtual conspiracy of silence. The resulting crisis was for many Euro-sceptics empirical vindication of the so-called "rottenness at the heart of Europe"(Craig, 2000). The reflections by the CIE on increasing the accountability and the transparency of the Commission and of the EU political system in general (Chapter 7, Second Report) were forward-looking and designed to enable the body politic in general and the Commission in particular to find paths back towards some level of good health. The gist of the general problem, according to the Committee, is openness and transparency as linked with responsibility and accountability (see Chapter 7, "Integrity, responsibility and accountability in European political and administrative life", volume 2). These fundamental principles should permeate the Commissions, and indeed the Unions, political and administrative culture in all areas and at all levels. This reflects a sense of contemporaneity that many can identify with in many different political and administrative contexts all over the world.

So far so good. The (Kinnock) White Paper on Administrative Reform which was produced in March 2000, after an extensive (internal) consultation process, focused on those issues of internal reform and management which could be dealt with by the Commission as part of its own internal organisation. Moreover given the (amazing) fact that in all its 50-odd years of existence as the most important part of the public administration of the EU it had never undergone a proper reform of the way it is organised and functions, this exercise was scandalously overdue and could, given time constraints, only touch upon the tip of the iceberg in terms of the most pressing organisational and management defects highlighted by the CIE in its reports (Metcalfe, 2000).

What the White Paper on Administrative Reform reveals is an administration desperately trying to pull itself up by its boot straps. This reflects the fact that it did not voluntarily undergo this process of organisational reform but was rather forced to because of events. The Commission in so doing nevertheless took on board the fact that during the course of its lifetime the domain and understanding of public administration as such has undergone considerable changes. The move from a traditional bureaucratic paradigm in the sense of a downward and inward looking Weberian organisation towards a more modern administration viewed in more business, private sector terms enabled the goals of efficiency and performance to move to centre-stage (see, in general, Guy Peters, 2001 and Owen Hughes, 1998). The outcomes and the results of administrative action become the new focus in an attempt to imbue a more managerial and market-like ethos into the public sector. In a sense it is this shifting paradigm which forced the Commission not only to re-constitute internally and in a managerial sense the manner in which it achieves these goals (see, for example, the focus placed on tools such as "activity-based management", core business etc. in its White Paper on Administrative Reform and subsequent implementing measures) but also to engage in some degree of fusion of the private and public sectors (via tools such as contracting-out, outsourcing etc).

But in undertaking this in itself rather limited exercise of internal administrative reform the Commission came up repeatedly against the glass ceiling that, no matter how it twisted and turned in terms of reformed managerial and financial re-organisation, it simply did not have the resources to cope with the (ever-increasing) number of tasks allocated to it. At the root of many of the Commissions' problems in carrying out its various tasks is that it has simply acquired too many cumulatively over the past decade in particular without a concomitant increase in resources (see, for detail, CIE Reports). Overload led to confused priorities and inadequate co-ordination (Metcalfe, 2000). It is after all not so difficult to understand that it is indeed impossible for it at the same time to adequately oversee detailed implementation of new programmes, policy conception over steadily increasing areas, initiative of Union laws and the enforcement of existing laws. This impossibility led it to do what administrations all over the world have done : to contract out duties and tasks. Except that it took place initially on an ad hoc basis and with no agreed structure of oversight and control, thereby invoking the wrath of the CIE when inspected under a magnifying glass in all its tedious detail (see, CIE Report of March 2001 in particular).

The fact that the European Commission as a public administration was forced to seek refuge in a rather elaborate system of contracting out certain (not so precisely) delineated tasks is not at all surprising (see too, Paul Craig, 2000). It constitutes the tip of the needle in terms of a gradual process of moving public sector tasks outside the realm of complete control by the central administration towards more partnership with the private sector (to various degrees and in various guises) and is a problem that sophisticated state of the art administrations are grappling with all over the world (see, inter alia, J. Pierre and B. Guy Peters, 2000; Parliament of Australia ,2000; Discussion Paper of Auditor General of Canada, 1999 and Ford and Zusmann, 1997). This theme of contracting out or out-sourcing is thus a central theme of modern-day public administration . It involves recognition of the need to move beyond being a bounded public administration towards a more unbounded existence where it is recognised that there is a need to include outside interests and stakeholders in the process of decision-making (Shapiro, 2001). It is this latter phenomenon in particular which forced the Commission to move beyond the issue of administrative reform to the much wider issue of governance. The use of the word `governance" is precisely meant to indicate a level and intensity in the "unboundedness" process. Commissioner Busquin equated governance squarely with unbounded public administration: "Governance means public administration through the interaction of the traditional political authorities and "civil society": private stakeholders, public organisations, citizen.", (cited with approval in the Opinion of April 2001 of the Economic and Social Committee). Nevertheless the conscious use of the term "governance" announces a significant erosion of the boundaries separating what lies inside an administration and what lies outside ( politics, the citizens, other stakeholders). Martin Shapiro has helpfully put the import of the term governance in these terms: "To be sure, governments and their administrative organisations still make collective decisions, but now everyone , or at least potentially every one, is also seen as a participant in the collective decision-making process.... Today elected and non-elected government officers, non-governmental organisations, political parties, interest groups, policy entrepreneurs, "epistemic communities" and "networks" are all relevant actors in the decision-making processes that produce government action". This in itself does not of course mean that such actors are replacing as such the formal political actors, rather that there is an erosion of administrative boundaries along a continuum.




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