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Geuijen K., ’t Hart P., Princen S., Yesilkagit K. (2008), The New Eurocrats. National civil servants in EU Policy-making

Amsterdam University Press, 176 p.
Hermann van der Wusten
p. 138-140
Référence(s) :

Geuijen K., ’t Hart P., Princen S., Yesilkagit K., The New Eurocrats. National civil servants in EU Policy-making, Amsterdam University Press, 2008, 176 p.

Texte intégral

1This book is about civil servants employed by the Dutch national bureaucracy and their roles in policy-making in the European Union. It is an essential part of a larger topic, the process of Europeanization across the political and administrative structures of EU member states. Europeanization is about the ways in which the existence and the actions of the newly constituted European level of political decision-making bends, transforms and changes the modes of operation of the administrations and politics at the various levels within the member states. In the last few years Europeanization has become one well established way to study integration questions in Europe. The entry point via Europeanization is quite suitable for political geographers. It strikes a chord with everyone who has followed the debates on scale that have been prominent for some time.

2This study reports among other things the first survey results on the European involvement of a complete central bureaucracy. So far there were only some partial Scandinavian surveys. This approach complements the numerous studies that deal with the official final stages of the decision-making processes. These severely underreport the preparatory phases where civil servants are the main protagonists. However, we should also be aware that this study deals with the central bureaucracy only. Not with lower level administrations that are also to various degrees Europeanized, e.g. as they find themselves confronted with EU rules that have to be implemented.

3The New Eurocrats (those in the Netherlands, that is) consists of six chapters. The first states the questions to be treated and underlines the important deviations from traditional diplomatic practice that are to be found in the way national administrations now operate in European politics. As against a single body of professionals connected with a Ministry of Foreign Affairs there is now a myriad of contacts from all departments to the European level and their counterparts in other member states that can by no means even be coordinated by the traditional Ministry in charge of external government business.

4The second chapter reports on a survey of the Dutch central bureaucracy and asks the question how far advanced we are in the direction of a Europeanized civil service. Still not very far seems to be the answer : 70 % of all civil servants reports no involvement in European subjects, for the remaining 30 % the large majority is only very partially involved. Overall less than 5 % is nearly fully or completely occupied with European dossiers either at their desk in The Hague or very frequently in Brussels and other meeting places in Europe or both. There are large differences between the departments.

5The third and fourth chapter describe experiences and practices from four very different departments : Agriculture and Health that are commonly in charge of veterinary policy in Europe and Interior and Justice that jointly deal with European police cooperation. Veterinary policy is in European terms an old policy area within the first pillar, where the commission is in charge of the preparation of policy and there are well established routines about how to proceed. Police cooperation is a fairly new policy area in the third pillar where the commission has fewer powers and that is intergovernmentally governed by the J(ustice)H(ome)A(ffairs) Council where national ministers have a more or less final say. The four different ministries each have their own profile as regards the level of Europeanization.

6The different organizational environments in the European policy domain and the different home bases give rise to different role mixes of civil servants in charge of European dossiers. An important distinction is the dominance of ’departmental coordinators’ and ’new style diplomats’ in the first pillar policy domain (veterinary policy) and a sizeable fraction of ’street level entrepreneurs’ among the civil servants that deal with policy-making in pillar three (police cooperation). In the more steady environment of pillar one there is a clear division of labour between those who are in charge of producing a Dutch policy line in the Hague and those who pick up the messages, have to do the negotiating in the European arenas and then have to report back to the home front. Within a pretty steady environment European policy from the Dutch perspective is made here. Paradoxically within that steady environment there is room for a certain informality in backroom deals and personal contacts. In the third pillar policy-making is much less structured at the European level. On the one hand this leads to overly formal proceedings in the official channels when national delegates are called by the name of their country only and there is no socializing around these official meetings. On the other hand this provides more room for professionals in different countries to use informally created opportunitiesin to solve common problems. It is suggested that transborder problems are a good position from which to try. Examples are provided about joint police work around Maastricht, Liège and Aachen and about transnational networks to improve transportation safety.

7The fifth chapter deals with SNEs (seconded national experts), national professionals mostly from the central bureaucracies of member states, who take up temporary positions in EU organs, mostly with the Commission as experts for the preparation of specific policies. From the Commission’s point of view this enlarges its own expertise and hopefully translates into a better understanding of European viewpoints after SNE’s have returned to their home base (thus speeding up the process of Europeanization). From the perspective of national policy makers this is an ideal opportunity to bend European policies according to national preferences. SNE’s are now a sizeable fraction of policymakers at the EU level (nearly 10 %) and they are clearly strategically used from both sides. Results of the study indeed indicate better access for Dutch policy makers in Brussels but to what extent policies are indeed set according to preferences is another matter. Returnees are frequently dissatisfied with the way their expertise is used, they repeatedly move on to other parts of the bureaucracy and quite a few do not return at all. If Europeanization is thus stimulated in the sending part of the national bureaucratic apparatus is questionable.

8The last chapter summarizes results and draws some conclusions. Much of this work has apparently been done in close cooperation with the leadership of the national bureaucracy and recommendations are primarily geared to practical improvements in preparing the Dutch central policy-making machinery for future tasks in a European environment.

9This is an early step in largely unexplored terrain. Despite the considerable number of important points that have been elucidated, many grey zones remain. Let me give two (mutually related) examples. It would be important to have a clearer view of how far distant European Union practice has grown from traditional multilateral diplomacy. In order to study that point, we need more information about the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the coordination of different national policies and how central the Dutch permanent representative, the highest foreign office civil servant in Brussels, is in determining the different national policies there for the COREPER committees that prepare the Council meetings. The book has virtually nothing to say on this important subject. A question also remains about the typology of civil servants heavily involved in European work (coordinators, diplomats and entrepreneurs). The typology seems mostly to have been constructed from the qualitative part of the study (chapters 3 and 4). While the different types apparently engage in different types of activities, the general survey (chapter 2) reports a hierarchical set of activities where all are engaged at the lower rungs and only the chosen few participate in the most selective events (council related activities) (p.41). This seems contradictory.

10Finally, the book has many authors. Apart from the four main ones there are three others at least partially responsible for indvidual chapters. The book therefore remains stuck somewhere between a collection of essays and one integral story. The survey and the qualitative parts are not completely successfully integrated . The comparative potential of the two case studies on veterinary policy and the police is not fully used due to a slightly different focus. There are also some communicative failures.Table 2.7 is very difficult to read, notes 45 and 46 do not figure in the text and there are several incorrect phrases. The firm hand of a single editor would probably have prevented most of these. Nonetheless, all in all the book is worth the effort. In particular it helps in understanding the problems of dealing with scales in European policy-making : how they work and how you can make them work for you, e.g. by constructing new ones.

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Hermann van der Wusten, « Geuijen K., ’t Hart P., Princen S., Yesilkagit K. (2008), The New Eurocrats. National civil servants in EU Policy-making », Belgeo, 1 | 2008, 138-140.

Référence électronique

Hermann van der Wusten, « Geuijen K., ’t Hart P., Princen S., Yesilkagit K. (2008), The New Eurocrats. National civil servants in EU Policy-making », Belgeo [En ligne], 1 | 2008, mis en ligne le 19 octobre 2013, consulté le 17 janvier 2018. URL :

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