IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Anatomy of Autonomy: Reassessing the Autonomy of the European Commission


  • Jarle Trondal


The European Commission (Commission) occupies a pivotal role as the key executive institution of the European Union (EU). Yet, the factual autonomy of the Commission remains largely unexplored, contributing to contradictory assessments of it. The ambition of this study is to reassess the behavioural autonomy of the European Commission (Commission), as well as organisational conditions thereof. To accomplish this, this paper utilizes one under-researched laboratory of the Commission: temporary officials (SNEs). It is argued that SNEs may serve as a crucial test-bed of Commission autonomy due to SNEs’ ambiguous affiliation towards the Commission. Whereas past studies claims that SNEs have a predominant intergovernmental behavioural pattern, this study demonstrates that the SNEs foremost blend departmental, epistemic and supranational behavioural dynamics, thereby safeguarding their behavioural autonomy. It is also argued that to understand Commission autonomy, the organisational anatomy of the Commission organisation has to be carefully considered. The organisational anatomy is measured by considering the following four independent variables: (i) the organisational composition of the Commission services, (ii) organisational incompatibilities across levels of governance, (iii) recruitment procedures of Commission officials through a so-called “submarine” approach, and (iv) socialisation dynamics inside the Commission. The study demonstrates that the autonomy of the Commission is organisationally contingent and not only subject to what Lipsky (1980:19) calls actors’ conspicuous desire for autonomy. One implication of our findings is that Commission autonomy is sensitive to reforms of the Commission apparatus. A later version of this paper was published in European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 57 (2008), pp. 467-488

Suggested Citation

  • Jarle Trondal, 2007. "The Anatomy of Autonomy: Reassessing the Autonomy of the European Commission," ARENA Working Papers 4, ARENA.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:arenax:p0240

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Full text
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    Europeanization; Europeanization; European Commission; political science;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:erp:arenax:p0240. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sindre Eikrem Hervig). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.