chapter  1
19 Pages

Leadership in the European Union: The European Commission and the EU decision-making process

The European Commission has played a fundamental role in the evolution of the European Union. Its fortunes are often associated with visionary leaders but its privileged position in the EU’s institutional system has allowed it to significantly affect the pace of European integration. Over the past fifty years, not only has it progressively crept competences and enhanced its autonomy vis-à-vis national governments (Pollack, 2000b; Egeberg, 2006), but it has also established itself as a sort of ‘conscience of Europe’, a ‘catalyst of integration’ (Ludlow, 1991; Cini, 1996; Peterson, 1999). This institutional growth, combined with decreasing support from Member States, has resulted, for some, in a serious threat to its credibility (Majone, 2005). Nevertheless, claims that it is in a state of permanent decline are exaggerated (Kassim and Menon, 2004; Dinan, 2005). From a theoretical point of view, the European Commission finds itself in the midst of two major divides in EU studies, that is, intergovernmentalism vs. supranationalism and rationalism vs. constructivism. In brief, supranationalists argue that the European Commission acts autonomously and significantly influences decisions, whereas intergovernmentalists maintain that it may be a useful facilitator, but it does not affect outcomes. Rationalists emphasise that it is a context that provides incentives and information to national governments which pursue their material interests, whereas constructivists highlight that it has deeper effects on the interests and even identities of actors.1