The Kinnock reforms in perspective: Why reforming the Commission is an heroic, but thankless task

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The European Commission is a latecomer to administrative reform. Virtually alone among public administrations, it was untouched by the tide of management reforms that were a feature of the 1980s and early 1990s. Although modest attempts at modernisation were undertaken by the Santer Commission, these were limited, fragmentary and partially successful at best (Pollitt and Bourkaert, 2000; Stevens and Stevens, 2001). Since 1999, however, the Commission has adopted a far-reaching reform programme that, in relation to that body's size, tasks and responsibilities, is more comprehensive and radical than that undertaken by any other administration (Kassim, 2004).

This article puts the reform programme implemented under the Prodi Commission into historical perspective. It argues, first, that only by approaching the Commission as an international organisation is it possible to explain both why reform failed to feature on its agenda for so long (see Siotis, 1965; Michelmann 1978; Claude 1971), and why the situation changed in 1999. It contends, second, that, though externally imposed and with elements prescribed by an outside body, the reform represents a significant achievement on the part of the Commission and, in particular, the reform Vice President, Neil Kinnock. The feat is all the more remarkable given the complexity of the EU's institutional environment and the short timescale within which the reform package was formulated and adopted. The article identifies problems, actual and potential, that may affect the ultimate success of the reform - a third aim. Finally, it contends that, in contrast to administrative reform at the national level (see Pollitt and Bourkeaert, 2000, p.6), there is little political capital to be made from Commission reform.

The article is organised into four sections. The first discusses the non-occurrence of Commission reform for four decades after 1958. The second looks at the circumstances that brought about the Kinnock reforms, outlining the part played by the European Parliament and the European Council. The third examines the content of the reform programme and the nature of the reform strategy devised by the reform Vice President, focusing on how Kinnock sought to assert ownership over the reform, while at the same time using the opportunity to implement a full-scale modernisation programme. Potential difficulties are highlighted in the fourth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-41
Number of pages17
JournalPublic Policy and Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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