Accepted Paper:

Playing it safe or going all out in Brussels: how national bureaucrats do European business  


Karin Geuijen (Utrecht University/VU University Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Dutch civil servants working in EU settings find themselves without a mandate in one third of the cases. In order to be able to maintain their self-identification as national representatives they piece together a position and identify the result of that 'bricolage' as being the 'national position'.

Paper long abstract:

Doing business on European police co-operation is not an easy thing for Dutch Eurocrats. A cogent policy framework and attendant set of institutions is yet to evolve. Moreover, those Eurocrats are more often than not left without political direction in preparing for encounters with their colleagues from other member states. For departmental civil servants, acting without a clear sense of political direction amounts to 'flying blind'. What coping mechanisms have they developed for dealing with this normatively anomalous situation? And what does this mean - for the shaping of public policy and for the nature of the politics/administration nexus within the executive branch?

To grasp the logic of how civil servants in this setting piece together an understanding of the situation and of possible courses of action we turn to Levi-Strauss' concept of 'bricolage'. Eurocrats can be thought of as bricoleurs in the sense that they work with instruments and resources from the national setting and adopt them to a Europeanized setting. In this process they piece together several resources. Amongst those are a. (inter)departmental bargains among civil servants; b. meetings with experts from the field; c. policy documents on related subjects; d. decisions taken earlier in several forums; and e. political positions taken on related subjects (by a minister, or sometimes opposing positions taken by a majority in parliament). In this new setting 'professional bricolage' seems to replace 'professional responsiveness to political direction' as the main principle of civil service practices.

Dutch Eurocrats who operate in areas without (sufficient) political steering identify themselves as national representatives, not as experts, nor as supranationals. The problem for them in the field of European police cooperation is that there is no given political position to represent. At the national as well as on the European level there is no political will to develop a coherent perspective on greater cooperation. Working in a setting which requires them to act as national representatives they themselves construct the national position that they subsequently go on to represent. In this way their dominant identity of being a national civil servant can be maintained.

Panel W052
World(s) of bureaucrats