Do Too Many Chefs Really Spoil the Broth? The European Commission, Bureaucratic Politics and European Integration, CES Germany & Europe Working Papers, No. 09.2, 5 August 1999

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Jacques E. C. Hymans
paper description
There is a puzzling, little-remarked contradiction in scholarly views of the European Commission. On the one hand, the Commission is seen as the maestro of European integration, gently but persistently guiding both governments and firms toward Brussels. On the other hand, the Commission is portrayed as a headless bunch of bickering fiefdoms who can hardly be bothered by anything but their own in­ ternecine turf wars. The reason these very different views of the same institution have so seldom come into conflict is quite apparent: EU studies has a set of relatively autonomous and poorly integrated sub­ fields that work at different levels of analysis. Those scholars holding the "heroic" view of the Com­ mission are generally focused on the contest between national and supranational levels that character­ ized the 1992 program and subsequent major steps toward European integration. By contrast, those scholars with the "bureaucratic politics" view are generally authors of case studies or legislative his­ tories of individual EU directives or decisions. However, the fact that these twO images of the Commis­ sion are often two ships passing in the night hardly implies that there is no dispute. Clearly both views cannot be right; but then, how can we explain the significant support each enjoys from the empirical record? The CommiSSion, perhaps the single most important supranational body in the world, certainly deserves better than the schizophrenic interpretation the EU studies community has given it. In this paper, I aim to make a contribution toward the unraveling of this paradox. In brief, the argument I make is as follows: the European Commission can be effective in pursuit of its broad integration goals in spite of, and even because of, its internal divisions. The folk wisdom that too many chefs spoil the broth may often be true, but it need not always be so. The paper is organized as follows. 1 begin with an elaboration of the theoretical position briefly out­ lined above. 1 then tum to a case study from the major Commission efforts to restructure the computer industry in the context of its 1992 program. The computer sector does not merely provide interesting, random illustrations of the hypothesis 1 have advanced. Rather, as Wayne Sandholtz and John Zysman have stressed, the Commission's efforts on informatics formed one of the most crucial parts of the en­ tire 1992 program, and so the Commission's success in "Europeanizing" these issues had significant ripple effects across the entire European political economy. I conclude with some thoughts on the fol­ lowing question: now that the Commission has succeeded in bringing the world to its doorstep, does its bureaucratic division still serve a useful purpose?