The existing literature has started to analyse why the policy co-ordination ambitions that permeated the 2001 White Paper on governance have not been realized. However, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to exploring the administrative demands that these ambitions impose on different policy actors. This article opens up this research area by focusing on more ambitious policy objectives and their associated network-based modes of governance. The empirical part examines three public administration systems in the EU to assess how well they have responded to these demands. Although often downplayed by those advocating network-based modes of governance, this paper reveals that the administrative demands they pose are much greater than is commonly supposed. Some actors (e.g. the Commission and the UK) have upgraded their administrative co-ordinating capacities, whereas others (e.g. the Netherlands) have moved in a perverse direction. It is concluded that the EU needs to take administrative capacity building much more seriously in order to govern in a less hierarchical manner.