Careful readers of this blog will have noticed that I am quite interested in the work of the EU Council, especially because there is a lack of attention on the work of this institution, and so I'd like to share some academic insights about the EU Council's secretariat that a fellow political scientist, Hylke Dijkstra, has published in recent time.
It is true that there is hardly any attention to the Council's bureaucracy with its more than 3400 staff members* (that is more than 10% of the Commission staff); when the Council is in the focus, attention usually is on the member states, their ministers and diplomats or on the rotating Council presidency but not on those people who facilitate and influence the work of the Council in the background.
Hylke Dijkstra thus takes a look behind these coulisses of Brussels, a look that very few academics have done so far, and it's fascinating to read.
I was made aware of Dijkstra's research through his newly published scientific article "Explaining variation in the role of the EU Council Secretariat in first and second pillar policy-making" (full text only with subscription) in the latest issue of the Journal of European Public Policy, a leading political science journal especially regarding EU affairs.
In his article, Dijkstra does not only give a short and concise summary of the evolution of the Council secretariat but also shows that the ways the secretariat is involved in different policy areas differs significantly.
He concludes that in the fields of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) - the second pillar - it has played a much more substantive role than just being a "secretariat" that facilitates continuity and decision-making between the member states in the Council. It was able to set the agenda, even in its own self-interest, and could thus influence the evolution and course of the Union's foreign and security policy more than the member states-focused approach of the media was able to tell us.
As usual, this is part of continued academic work, and not the first article published on that matter. For example, Dijkstra's article "The Council Secretariat's Role in the Common Foreign and Security Policy" (linked: pre-submission version) has been awarded the prize for the best article of 2008 in the European Foreign Affairs Review.
In another paper (accessible) from 2008 he has analysed the rivalries between the Commission's bureaucracy and the Council Secretariat by showing how the respective competencies in the field of foreign affairs have evolved over time. This is also great background knowledge for observers of the development of the new European External Action Service (EEAS), because it puts the present discussions about the "unification" of EU foreign policy into a historic perspective of division and overlap, co-operation and competition.
I myself have blogged in the past (quite polemically, I admit) about the legal service of the Council, and I think the role the Secretariat played and plays both in foreign relations as well as in other substantive areas of EU politics should not be underestimated. For anyone interested in more details it may thus be of interest to go through the publication list of Hylke Dijkstra and to take note of the few other academic publications on the Council Secretariat that he quotes in his papers.
On a side-note: When I passed by the Secretary General of the Council, Pierre de Boissieu, last week on a public place in Brussels, I could be sure that people around wouldn't even notice him and the powers he has. But you could feel his presence and the presence of his secretariat when he walked by, tall and concentrated.
De Boissieu will be in office for exactly 13 more months, and with the creation of the EEAS the powers of his secretariat will become smaller, given that only some 50 officials of those dealing with foreign and security affairs will remain in the Council structures (figure is from Dijkstra). It will therefore be quite interesting to see how the role of the Council Secretariat will change once it has lost parts of its competencies and once the long-time Brussels insider de Boissieu will be replaced by the "outsider" Uwe Corsepius.
Altogether, academic works like that of Dijkstra are much appreciated because they offer us a view beyond that of daily news while keeping an eye to what is actually relevant for daily politics - political science at it's best**.
* This figure is from the 2009 EU General Budget (via Dijkstra); in the 2010 budget [p.111] the figure is >3500 for both EU and European Council.
** "At it's best" is meant regarding substance and focus. I won't bother you with the questions I have regarding research methods.
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