I noted earlier that the Commission is seen as an ‘adolescent bureaucracy’. Such a description might capture the differences from classic Weberian bureaucracy but it sheds little light on the Commission’s role in networked governance. As Kassim et al. (2013: ch. 3) describe, the Commission must rely on policy networks or hands-off steering rather than its own bureaucracy or hands-on steering to succeed. Traditionally, its characteristics numbered strong centrifugal forces, Cabinets that are national enclaves, and baronial DGs at war with one another (Kassim et al. 2013: 181). Latterly, there is more effective interdepartmental coordination and a more interventionist centre, but problems remain. As one of Kassim et al.’s (2013: 179) interviewees noted, ‘Power [in the Commission] is never with somebody for a very long time. It shifts all the time, and as soon as you see that it is somewhere visible too long, it’s rebalanced somewhere else.’ So, it fluctuates.
The various DGs continue to have a relatively free hand in building networks. Each has a nodal position spanning the multitude of networks in its sector. Each has the opportunity to coordinate and steer, if not direct, its networks. In other words, the hierarchic, ‘command and control’ view of bureaucracy is relevant to only some policy sectors. In other sectors, the Commission has moved from steering to rowing; that is, to indirect or hands-off measures. This version of the Commission’s statecraft is elaborated by Torfing et al. (2012: 156-9; and ch. 7). They suggest the central agency—in this case, the Commission’s DGs—must ‘balance autonomy of networks with hands-on intervention’. To do so, they can ‘campaign for a policy, deploy policy narratives, act as boundary spanners, and form alliance with politicians’. They become ‘metagovernors’ managing the mix of bureaucracy, markets, and networks (and see Chapters 5 and 11, this volume).
Belying the multiplying neologisms, this description is not just academic theory, but also Commission practice. For example, Katsaris (2014) documents how the Commission created policy networks with the Moroccan government to build a technical consensus over climate change mitigation and the use of renewable energy. More sceptical, Jordan and Schout (2006: 272) document the struggles of the Commission to build networks that foster environmental protection integration (EPI) and identify the many factors that inhibit network management. To the (growing) list noted already (see pp. 66-9; and Chapter 5, this volume), they add:
- • The absence of a network manager
- • The speed of the EU policy-making
- • The distinct, separate loyalties of national and EU public servants
- • The large number of actors and their distinct preferences
- • Reactive coordination
- • Lack of skills in managing cross-sectoral challenges.
Many of these conditions refer to effective coordination generally rather than network management specifically. Nonetheless, they conclude the Commission lacks capacity for network management (see also Kassim et al. 2013: 100) and that EPI network is a ‘policy mess’ (citing Rhodes 1985b: 11). However, the Commission’s lack of capacity to manage networks does not alter its conviction that it:
can better achieve its objectives with networks than without them and therefore
the Commission deliberately and strategically creates them
(Sbragia 2000: 235; see also Cram 2009).
And, for my purposes, this discussion shows that the study of policy networks is of continuing relevance in the study of EU policy-making. The common ground is obvious; network management and metagovernance are central foci in the analysis of network governance (see Chapter 11, this volume).