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Leaderless Europe$

Jack Hayward

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199535026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199535026.001.0001

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Collective Leadership in Leaderless Europe: A Sceptical View

Collective Leadership in Leaderless Europe: A Sceptical View

(p.288) 15 Collective Leadership in Leaderless Europe: A Sceptical View
Leaderless Europe

Dionyssis G. Dimitrakopoulos

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Collective leadership is about choosing priorities and resolving conflicts by a group of actors through compromise. However, it weakens clarity, speed, and uniformity of decisions and blurs responsibility. Nevertheless, it is how the EU is meant to operate through the Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the European Council. The Commission acts collegially and both councils avoid voting, seeking consensus, as does the European Parliament. System preservation is as important as problem solving, but it was an integrated way of achieving a single market and currency. The future prospects for effective collective leadership look bleak without shared material interests, e.g., budgetary negotiations, or ideology, such as controversial neo-liberal policy, or a clear institutional leadership, weakened by enlargement.

Keywords:   consensus, uniformity, responsibility, action traps, Commission, Council of Ministers, European Council, budget, ideology


The purpose of this chapter is to assess the extent to which collective leadership is an option for the post‐Convention European Union. It advances two arguments. First, the European Union is well suited to the establishment and the exercise of collective leadership, which it has never needed more than it does in the post‐Nice era. Nevertheless, hopes for the provision of collective leadership are baseless or, at best, an expression of wishful thinking. Second, this is so because in the immediate post‐Nice era the EU is lacking in terms of the three potential sources of such leadership, namely, a dominant common conception of material interests, an explicit and legitimate mobilizing set of ideas, and a robust and politically mature institutional arrangement. In the absence of these co‐ordinating factors, the prospects for the establishment and the effective operation of collective leadership appear to be bleak.

Collective leadership—leadership that is ‘exercised by and through a group’ (Baylis 1989: 3)—is contentious both in academic debates and political practice. This is so in part because it is couched in the notion of collegial decision‐making. For example, one of the founding fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, defended the notion of a single executive1 because, as he claimed, unity is a fundamental ingredient of an energetic executive. Unity, he argued (Hamilton 1788), can be destroyed ‘either by vesting the power in two or more magistrates of equal dignity and authority; or by vesting it ostensibly in one man, subject, in whole or in part, to the control and co‐operation of others, in the capacity of counsellors to him’. Writing nearly a century later about the executive in representative government, John Stuart Mill claimed: (p.289)

As a general rule, every executive function, whether superior or subordinate, should be the appointed duty of some given individual. It should be apparent to all the world who did everything, and through whose default anything was left undone. Responsibility is null when nobody knows who is responsible. Nor, even when real, can it be divided without being weakened. To maintain it at its highest there must be one person who receives the whole praise of what is well done, the whole blame of what is ill.'

(Mill 1946: 264)

Although both Hamilton's and Mill's criticisms focused primarily on the cardinal issue of political responsibility and its implications,2 others have attacked other aspects as well. Max Weber, for example, associated it with the effort to enfeeble the leader. He was very critical3 of it because, in addition to blurring the lines of responsibility, it inhibits precise, uniform, clear, and prompt decision‐making (1980: 162–4).4

Neither the criticisms of this concept nor their prevalence in the world of real politics are surprising. Leadership itself is about conflict because it entails choice, values, and priorities. This is what executives do. The key trait of collective leadership, however, is the way in which choices are made, priorities are set, and conflict is resolved. These decisions essentially concern (1) the definition of an institution's mission and role, (2) the defence of its integrity, and (3) the ordering of internal conflict (Selznick 1984: 62) but they are typically made by a group of actors. This raises the issue of the basic coordinating principle, idea, institution, or mechanism that holds these actors together (see below) and it also highlights the fact that collective leadership is couched in compromise. Compromise, in turn, is the origin of many of the weaknesses of this model because it goes against precision, uniformity, clarity, and promptness. Crucially, active involvement in collective leadership means that a political actor must reconcile the exigencies of their constituency with those of collective leadership per se. The latter inevitably involves compromises as well as collective responsibility for any decision. Both undermine clarity, promptness, and uniformity but they also blur the lines of responsibility. In the eyes of members of their constituencies, ‘[w]hat “the Board” does is the act of nobody; and nobody can be made to answer for it’, as Mill (1946: 264) put it. Institutional arrangements—such as secrecy and the potential use of majoritarian decision‐making—often amplify this sense of opaqueness.

Perhaps paradoxically, some of these weaknesses of collective leadership account for the fact that it is particularly well suited to the needs of the quasi‐continental EU. Indeed, this is how the EU and its predecessors were historically meant to operate. As the history of the EU demonstrates, the process of integration has almost invariably relied on the exercise of collective leadership. The most successful periods of its history have been marked by the presence (p.290) of a group of leaders who set priorities, resolved conflicts, and defined the organization's mission and role. This is why this option is worthy of serious consideration both as a solution to the EU's problem of leaderlessness in the post‐Nice era and as an academic exercise. This first claim is discussed in the second section of this chapter.

Secondly, as the study of collective leadership at the national level demonstrates, its provision is conditional (Baylis 1989). In other words, collective leadership entails a combination of material, ideational, and institutional factors that not only shape but also give practical meaning to its content. The prospects for the establishment and the exercise of collective leadership in the post‐Convention EU are discussed in the third section where this chapter's main claim is presented and discussed. The EU is lacking in terms of the three potential sources of collective leadership—a dominant common conception of material interests, an explicit and legitimate mobilizing set of ideas and a robust and politically mature institutional basis. Given the absence of these co‐ordinating factors, the prospects for the establishment and the effective operation of collective leadership in the post‐Nice EU are bleak.


The Origin of Collective Leadership

There are many reasons why collective leadership is particularly well suited to the needs of the EU. Understanding this point entails a prior discussion of the various functions of collective leadership. By defining an institution's mission and role, setting priorities, and resolving conflicts (Selznick 1984: 62) collective leadership makes primarily critical decisions, i.e. decisions of systemic importance. It also performs a more subtle but equally important function. Collective leadership bodies are not only actors; rather, they often operate as fora or arenas where political actors are socialized. Socialization entails the diffusion of modes of appropriate behaviour and the establishment and gradual enhancement of collective identities, as well as the stepwise definition and redefinition of material interests or, more accurately, the ways in which these are perceived by the actors who are in charge of defending and promoting them.

Collegiality at the national level has historical‐cultural roots (Baylis 1989: 147–8). Baylis's analysis of this form of leadership at the national level reveals that historical precedent5 is a key inducement. In addition, cultural (p.291) predilections, such as the emphasis on accommodation placed in the Netherlands, the emphasis on consensus‐building within social groups in Japan, the distrust for strong leaders found in Switzerland, and the frequent use of Proporz devices beyond the political sphere in Norway are also conducive to the adoption of collective, as opposed to monocratic, leadership in the political domain.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that these are the only sources of collective leadership. In fact, collective leadership is also rooted in political realities that dictate its creation, though its precise shape is the result of a broader set of determinants. For example, political leadership in conso‐ciational democracies such as Belgium is collective precisely because there are multiple ideological, linguistic, religious, and other cleavages that define political groups and parties, none of which can ever hope to dominate over the others in the political domain.

Arguably, this is the main reason why the EU and its predecessors have been led collectively for much of their history. The institutional make‐up of the original European Communities was explicitly geared towards the collective exercise of power (see Hayward, Introduction to this volume). Two institutions exemplified this logic, namely the Commission6 and the Council. Both have done much—either by means of the ‘myths’ that all organizations create and use (Meyer and Rowan 1977) or the rules and practices that they have adopted—to foster the emergence and preservation of collective leadership in the context of the EU.

First, the composition of the College of Commissioners was (and remains) a product of national decisions, but once they have been appointed commissioners have the power to make decisions by majority. However, the actual use of majoritarian decision‐making has historically been prevented by the fact that it was likely to replicate within the College interstate tensions that exist in its environment. Since its establishment, key actors within the Commission have maintained the direct link between the survival of this singular institution and the need to avoid turning it into a forum that replicates interstate tensions that inevitably arise in the policy process. As a result, the Commission has traditionally operated in a collegial7 manner. This trend has been supported by the careful creation and diffusion of the ‘myth’ of the Commission as a technocratic8 and, as a consequence, politically ‘neutral’ body9 that is meant to transcend ideological, interstate, and broader political cleavages. The presence of a permanent and independent professional civil service, recruited mostly on the basis of merit, supported this view.10

Reputation for ‘impartiality’ meant that the Commission was well placed to provide technically sound proposals that gave precise meaning to the collective (p.292) fuite en avant. This is why it became part of the EU's collective leadership. The pivotal position of the Commission in the EU legislative process has also been enhanced by the fact that its legislative proposals cannot be amended without its consent; if the member states choose to amend a legislative proposal without the agreement of the Commission, a draft piece of legislation can be adopted only by unanimity.

Second, despite its composition and the gradual expansion of the formal scope for QMV, the Council of Ministers has systematically fostered the logic of compromise which is a key component of collective leadership. Moreover, it has systematically avoided the use of formal voting. Rather, it has opted for consensual decision‐making, a key trait of collective leadership. Council members who can but do not force a vote (even one they can confidently predict to win) accumulate significant ‘negotiating capital’ that becomes very useful when, in the context of another negotiation, they are in a minority. This was, and remains, an effective way of serving both the needs of domestic constituencies and the requirements of membership of a collective body. The emphasis on consensus is one of the Council's major contributions to the gradual emergence and preservation of collective leadership in the EU. This emphasis has been facilitated by the composition of the Council. Until 2004 the emergence of an ‘ideological’ Council was unlikely. Moreover, its specialized nature and the frequency of its meetings also meant that the Council often acts as a clearing house that resolves issues and gives meaning to ‘grand bargains’ struck in the European Council whose own contribution to the EU's collective leadership is threefold. First, it has consistently relied on consensus for most of its decisions, in part because of its initially informal nature. Second, by resolving thorny issues of systemic importance and by defining the EU's priorities, it has systematically acted as the EU's supreme political decision‐maker.11 Finally, it has shaped the EU's major constitutional bargains.

There are many instances that exemplify this pattern, but the most prominent is perhaps the relaunch of the single market project in the mid-1980s. Although much has been written about the role of Jacques Delors, the Franco‐German alliance, and private interests in that process, a more balanced account would include not only Margaret Thatcher12 (despite her rhetoric) but also the significant contribution of the European Parliament (which was already practising the logic of compromise13 in its own ranks through the distribution of the main posts to the coalition of the two main groups) as well as those of the leaders of small member states who agreed on not only a specific objective but the way to achieve it too.14 Taken collectively, these actors performed the tasks of collective leadership by (1) redefining the mission and role of the EU; (2) defending its integrity (e.g. by enhancing its institutions (p.293) and by promoting the logic of an inclusive compromise); and (3) resolving internal conflict.

The aforementioned arrangements and practices are rooted in the history of the EU and its predecessors in the sense that they reflect the need to defeat narrowly defined egotistical national interests and the interstate conflict that they frequently foster. As a result, an institutional network has been established in a successful attempt to diffuse power and exercise it collectively (see Hayward, Introduction to this volume). Although this reflects the emergence of collective leadership in the context of the EU, it does not account for its preservation over time.

The Preservation of Collective Leadership

How is collective leadership sustained? Part of its endurance at the national level has been traced in neo‐corporatism (Baylis 1989: 151–2) which entails bargaining, accommodation, and incremental decision‐making.15 This environment promotes a sense of inclusion and favours continuity16 which legitimizes both this mode of decision‐making and its specific outcomes even when the latter diverge from the preferences of individual actors. When it is used intensively over a long period of time and across various decision‐making arenas, this mode is gradually institutionalized, i.e. it is infused with value17 (often as much value as its specific outcomes) and a premium is placed on its preservation at the risk of the triumph of the organization over its purpose. Engagement with and the preservation of the system become as important as the positive quest for solutions to collective problems, even when the intensity or the consequences of the latter vary across the members of the collective leadership. This logic, in turn, provides a criterion for the assessment of behaviour within the arena of collective leadership. In the context of the EU, one good example is the reaction to Mrs Thatcher's demands for a rebate in the early 1980s. Although the substance of her demand was legitimate, the way in which she presented it was harmful to its objectives because her style went against the prevailing mode of appropriate behaviour in the European Council. The fact that her demands were, as a result of her style, only reluctantly and partly satisfied is unsurprising.

The institutionalization of collective leadership is key to its preservation but it does not guarantee it because the context in which that leadership operates is only under partial control at any point in time. Paradoxically, perhaps, collective leadership in its institutionalized form can become the victim of its own success. Its institutionalization means that it is often taken for granted. (p.294) Thus, its response to changes in its environment is not necessarily optimal, to put it no more strongly.

The EU provides an excellent example of this problem. The consensual style of decision‐making that has been fostered by the diffusion of power to various institutions and levels of government in the EU was ideal for the task in hand, namely the need to defeat egotistical national interests and the conflict that they often generate. Since the establishment of the European Communities in the 1950s, the emphasis on consensus and technocracy replaced or, more accurately, obscured, divisions along national lines. Linked to the action trap (see Hayward, Introduction to this volume) this facilitated the establishment of collective leadership that served the purpose of ‘building Europe’ as the means for the definition and the promotion of the ‘common European interest’. This quest led to the emergence of a new cleavage that divided those who wanted more from those who wanted less ‘Europe’. The members of the EU's collective leadership were instrumental in two respects. First, they gave precise meaning to the notion of the ‘common European interest’, for example by creating the single market, the single currency etc. Second, they consistently sought to convince domestic constituencies that their own conception of the national interest was a component of the larger common European interest and that the former could not be defined or practiced without reference to the latter.18 For example, Jacques Delors was instrumental in shaping the attitude of the British Trades Union Congress vis-à-vis the single market.19

The successful implementation of the integration project means that politicians and citizens often take it for granted. In addition, the motives that led to the establishment of the European Communities in the 1950s are both less important and less visible in the immediate post‐Nice era. Thus, the calls for the definition of the ultimate purpose of integration,20 that preceded the enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe, were unsurprising. Unlike previous discussions regarding the future of Europe, the emerging debate calls for explicit value judgements, has already challenged the status quo and, specifically, the autonomy of governing elites (be they in national capitals or in Brussels) in the conduct of European affairs. What kind of Europe do we want? This is the new central question that inevitably requires politicians and citizens to make new value judgements and to move away from the question of having more or less ‘Europe’, i.e. yesterday's debate. As a result, although the emphasis on consensus may remain unaffected, the pivotal position hitherto occupied by technocracy in the debate on ‘Europe’ has already become the first casualty (see Chapter 6, above). The debate and the negotiations that took place in the context of the Convention on the Future of Europe demonstrated clearly the inability of the European Commission to articulate and defend a robust project for the future of Europe. As a result, it quickly resorted (p.295) to the tactical use of its own existential principle (Dimitrakopoulos and Kassim 2005). Further evidence of the Commission's weakness became evident in 2004 when José Barroso, then president designate, was forced to remove Rocco Buttiglione from the new team of commissioners designate, although he appeared to share the view that the comments made by the latter about single mothers and homosexuality reflected personal views that would not affect policy‐making (Dimitrakopoulos 2005).

Given these developments, the new issue that emerges concerns the basic principle or mechanism that can organize and sustain the EU's collective leadership. In the light of the apparent inability of the existing leaders to respond to the new challenges that the EU faces, how can the EU's collective leadership be organized? In the next section of this chapter it is argued that in the absence of three co‐ordinating factors—a dominant common conception of material interests, an explicit and legitimate mobilizing set of ideas and a robust and politically mature institutional arrangement—the prospects for the establishment and the effective operation of collective leadership are bleak.


Material Interests

Material interests can provide the basis for the establishment of collective leadership, as they did in the mid-1980s, but this requires a shared conception of (1) these interests and (2) the best way to promote them. Such a conception was at the heart of the relaunch of the single market project in the mid-1980s. Leaders such as Delors, Kohl, and Mitterrand saw it as a way to modernize ailing national economies, Margaret Thatcher as a projection of policies she was already implementing in Britain, while (socialist) leaders of southern member states saw the trade‐offs21 offered to them as an opportunity to enhance (and secure gains from) the EU's redistributive dimension.

The enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe has led to the claim that support for the British market‐orientated views on European integration was likely to grow and thus help dilute the aspects of EU policies that distort trade and, in the long run, undermine the role played by the Franco‐German alliance (see Chapter 8, above). Although significant aspects of domestic economic policies in these countries22 may lend a degree of support to this view, the 2005 negotiations regarding the EU's financial perspective covering 2007–2013 revealed the impact of domestic economic realities. Indeed, given the presence of large agricultural populations and the significant domestic needs (p.296) in terms of infrastructure and broader economic development, the support provided by these countries to the CAP and the EU's regional policy was hardly surprising. So, although the prevailing belief system and ideological orientation of the governing elites may well be neo‐liberal, the harsh domestic economic realities compel them to lend support, at least at present, to policies that they may have otherwise opposed.

In addition, an equally revealing aspect of these budgetary negotiations was the absence of a clearly articulated alternative capable of meeting the challenges posed by stagnant national economies. Given that the policies of the EU are usually the result of compromises, it was unsurprising to see so many issues being raised—varying from the cost of CAP to the need for better and more development aid. Nevertheless, the promoters of reform—including the British government—have for the most part refrained from articulating a positive alternative capable of creating a new broad coalition, or at least, taking the debate a step further. Rather, they have remained focused on criticisms. At the same time, the negotiations on the EU's 2006 budget showed both the limits of the imagination and the unwillingness of the collective leadership to redeploy expenditure away from agriculture support and failure to move beyond a pale and ultimately inadequate compromise. The proposal of the British presidency to reduce spending on research and technological development in 200623—which is an area of strategic importance for the EU—is part of a broader pattern that points towards the gradual disintegration of an already weak collective leadership. This pattern also included Gerhard Schröder's frequent outspoken attacks on the European Commission which has been accused of trying to implement neo‐liberal policies without taking into consideration domestic economic and political realities,24 as well as the French conservative government's reaction to the ‘Bolkestein directive’ liberalizing services, which in the past had received its tacit support. These actions indicate that despite some evidence of gradual convergence in terms of domestic economic policies, the neo‐liberal policy paradigm does not have enough legitimacy (at least in the immediate post‐Convention stage) to enable the EU's collective leadership to defend it vigorously in public. The contrast with the support that Keyne‐sianism enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s (Hall 1989) is very telling indeed.


Existing accounts of the role of ideas in political processes highlight two kinds of influence. On the one hand, cognitive influence is exerted when ideas—in the form of expert knowledge—resolve policy problems and enable leaders to identify a course of action in periods of crisis (ibid.). On the other hand, (p.297) ideas also exert normative influence by enabling actors to choose between appropriate and inappropriate options and by acting as filters that help to identify their interests (Finnemore 1996) and the strategies (Berman 1998) that are suited to their achievement.

Both these forms of influence have been present in the history of the EU. The Single Market and EMU projects are expressions of the increasing power of the neo‐liberal policy paradigm but their strength lies partly in their ambiguity.25 This has hitherto allowed political leaders of the centre‐left to avoid the thorny issue of the ideological content of this experiment. Both the Single Market and EMU have been associated with the modernization of ailing national economies.26 Coupled with the exigencies of ‘building Europe’ and the absence of an explicitly articulated alternative, these ideas and policy prescriptions have allowed leaders with different ideological orientations to coexist, however uneasily, in the same EU‐wide collective leadership.27 Nevertheless, there are two reasons why this policy paradigm cannot provide the basis for the revival of collective leadership at the level of the EU in the immediate post‐Nice stage. First, it does not enjoy the explicit legitimacy that would elevate it to that level. Second, its serious weaknesses are gradually becoming evident to such an extent that opposition is mobilized and the demand for an alternative is becoming increasingly powerful.28

Another important weakness stems from the fact that the EU is increasingly debated in a manner that dissociates it from a part of its origins, namely the need to maintain peace in Europe. Whereas in the past the members of the EU's collective leadership could actively obscure the ideological content of their choices by using the notion of ‘building Europe’ as an effective (and often technocratic) cover, the referendum campaigns and outcomes in France and the Netherlands enabled domestic political forces to begin to question the content of the European project without necessarily running the risk of being construed as ‘anti‐European’. In other words, the increasingly ideological debate regarding the future of Europe forces the question of the redefinition of the EU's collective leadership onto the political agenda, without answering it. The switch to this new debate is likely to be opposed by parts of the two main beneficiaries of the status quo ante namely, national leaders and the European Commission. This is unsurprising, given that the change is likely to reduce the autonomy that they enjoyed in the past (see below).


The main argument presented in this chapter pitches the needs of the EU against the capacities of the present collective leadership. A significant part (p.298) of the problem lies in existing institutional arrangements that, for decades, shielded both the Commission and the Council of Ministers from a discussion that goes beyond the need to ‘build Europe’. The fact that neither the Commission nor the Council had, until 2004, a clearly articulated ideological identity, has meant—in conjunction with de facto policy convergence and the frequently professed end of the distinction between the political Left and Right—that the public(s) in Europe have been deprived of a key way of understanding politics, namely the distinction between the Left and the Right. In addition, institutional arrangements ensured that citizens did not have the power to ‘vote the (EU) scoundrels out’. Poor media coverage, poor understanding of the EU's complex institutional structure, coupled with dissatisfaction with national political processes and outcomes, have contributed to turning European elections into ‘second‐order’ elections. These factors have allowed the members of the EU's collective leadership to establish and develop the EU since the 1950s but as the inclusive peace settlement of post‐war Europe is increasingly taken for granted, and the public(s) question some aspects of the institutional edifice built on it, there is no institutional forum capable of acting as (or at least fostering the development of) the EU's collective leadership.

Without undertaking a detailed discussion of individual EU institutions, two, the European Council and the Commission, deserve a brief discussion because in the past they played a significant role in the establishment and the effective operation of the EU's collective leadership. The increasing involvement, since the early 1990s, of the European Council in the running of the EU has been construed (Kassim and Menon 2004) as an indication of the increasing importance of the intergovernmental logic and the retreat of the ‘supranational’ aspects of the EU. This may be true but the increasing frequency of intergovernmental conferences, the frequency of the meetings of the European Council, and the length of their agendas also indicate increasing tensions and disagreement between the member states. The task of the European Council as a potential source of a new collective leadership has also been undermined by the enlargement of 2004. Unlike previous enlargements that either preceded or followed major debates regarding the future of the European project, this enlargement coincided with the major exercise of the European Convention and the IGC that followed it—both of which were rendered necessary in part as a result of the major deficiencies of the Treaty of Nice. As a result, the socialization of its new members into the working practices and the consensus‐focused decision style has not yet materialized (see Chapter 10, above).

Like the European Council, the Barroso‐led College is much more coherent in terms of ideology (Libération, 17 January 2007) than the Commission has (p.299) ever been, but the use of this basis for its active involvement in the EU's collective leadership depends on two additional factors. First, the Commission must be credible and must also be perceived to be credible. Its credibility is damaged when it shies away, as it did at least temporarily in the case of the Bolkestein directive, from tough decisions. Second, reliance on ideology as a basis for the reinvigoration of the Commission as an institution and its renewed involvement in the EU's collective leadership assumes that the College will be bold enough to stop portraying the Commission as a primarily technocratic body and go against the declared wishes of some of its main supporters. The handling of the Buttiglione case (see above) does not leave much room for optimism in that respect. This lack of optimism is further supported by the membership of the Barroso Commission which, unlike the Prodi Commission, is clearly lacking in terms of ‘political heavyweights’ (see Chapter 6, above).

Finally, it is important to point out that despite the fanfare that followed its establishment through the Treaty of Amsterdam, the mechanism of enhanced cooperation, which allows groups of member states to work more closely on issues covered by the Treaty, has not yet been used extensively enough to provide the basis for a systematic assessment.29 Nevertheless, it is by definition unable to provide the only basis for the establishment of a new collective leadership capable of steering the EU as a whole. Rather, in the short term it is more likely to be utilized as a threat against member states which obstruct progress that enjoys large support in the Council.


As the time for action traps is over, where can leadership come from? Collective leadership is well suited to the needs of a leaderless EU. The latter has always been guided by a group of politicians who, despite their diverging views on individual aspects of European integration, have defined the organization's mission and role, defended its integrity, and resolved internal conflict. As a result, the EU is an excellent example of regional integration that brought together states which after the end of the Second World War were unable to resolve common problems on their own. Detachment from national publics, increasing reliance on technocracy and the determination to avoid as much as possible ideological and interstate tensions have served this collective leadership in its effort to ‘build Europe’. Nevertheless, now that the EU is taken for granted, the debate on its future is gradually changing. Although collective leadership remains well suited to the needs of the EU, it is (p.300) not forthcoming because of the absence of a dominant common conception of material interests, an explicit and legitimate mobilizing set of ideas, and a robust and politically mature institutional arrangement that could form its basis. However, two more sanguine reservations ought to be added to this negative assessment.

First, in spite of divergence in terms of material interests, there is a significant degree of ideological convergence between the twenty‐seven governments of the member states since most of them are dominated by right‐wing parties or parties of the centre‐right (Libération, 17 January 2007). Although ideological convergence does not translate directly into policy convergence, it can provide the basis for greater cohesion in the European Council and the Commission. Nevertheless, much of the debate has been conducted by political leaders who are either weak or on their way out of office. The ongoing debate in France, as well as other countries, indicates that a more significant degree of convergence may well emerge in the coming years.

Second, the preceding discussion does not take into account important differences between and within policy sectors. For example, although national governments were unable to agree on Iraq, a clear and robust common stance has been forged in the case of Iran. The roles of France, Germany, and Britain has been central to this development.

Nevertheless, there is no room for real optimism because the main stumbling block remains: the inability or unwillingness of existing leaders to stop shielding themselves with the help of hitherto necessary myths that new realities have rendered redundant.

(p.301) (p.302)


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The author would like to thank Jack Hayward and the participants in both the conference on Leaderless Europe held in Hull, and the lunchtime seminar of Cambridge University's Centre of International Studies for useful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. Thanks are also due to Hussein Kassim, Anand Menon, and Argyris Passas for enlightening discussions. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies.

(1.) Although leadership is typically associated with executive bodies (Blondel 1995: 269), other bodies (including parliaments) may well contribute to it.

(2.) Hamilton, for example, argued that ‘all multiplication of the executive is rather dangerous than friendly to liberty’.

(3.) Nevertheless, he did acknowledge that this kind of decision‐making entails more thorough considerations (Weber 1980: 163).

(4.) This is why he concluded that it is at odds with the principles of rational bureaucratic organization arguing that ‘fully developed bureaucracy comes to require monocratic domination’ (Baylis 1989: 4).

(5.) The pre-1848 cantonal executives in Switzerland are a good example.

(6.) It was based, by Monnet's influence, on the French Commissariat du Plan which he had formerly headed.

(7.) It is important to note that the presence of strong presidents such as Hallstein and Delors does not disprove the point made here. This is so because their strength and influence were demonstrated primarily outside the College, i.e. in their interactions with national leaders.

(8.) The correlation between a technocratic environment and collective leadership has been observed at the national level as well (Baylis 1989: 151).

(9.) The fact that the presidency of the Commission has, for decades, alternated between small and large states as well as between the centre‐left and the centre‐right further supports the ‘depoliticization’ thesis.

(10.) lean Monnet's and lacques Delors's aversion to politics has contributed to this pattern. Crucially, both were influential because they were insiders (see Chapter 1 in this volume).

(11.) The agreement on the British rebate in 1984 is a good example. More generally, the European Council has performed its systemic role by means of ‘package deals’ (Janning 2005: 825).

(12.) It is important to note that her famous Bruges speech of 1988 was remarkably ‘pro‐European’ though it became famous for the exact opposite reasons (Menon 2003).

(13.) The fact that, already in the 1950s, MEPs chose to form groups on the basis of ideology must be interpreted primarily as an attempt to reduce the impact of nationality in their deliberations.

(14.) In that sense, the conception of leadership used here goes beyond Edinger's (1975: 257) view, which focuses on control over outcomes.

(15.) Strong bureaucracies also favour the preservation of collective leadership, especially when they support technocratic decision‐making and are closely linked to interest groups through neo‐corporatist arrangements (Baylis 1989: 153).

(16.) Incrementalism is not incompatible with radical change. The latter can be the cumulative effect of the former.

(17.) This is the essence of Selznick's definition of institutionalization (1957: 17).

(18.) In some perhaps extreme cases national leaders went as far as to argue that the national interest had been successfully projected and adopted at the European level, in an effort to legitimize their decisions.

(19.) This was transforming leadership in action. For the distinction between trans‐actional and transforming leadership, see Burns (1978: 4, 425–6).

(20.) German foreign minister Joschka Fischer started this debate with his famous speech at Humboldt University, Berlin (2000).

(21.) The Commission (and Jacques Delors specifically) provided transactional leadership in that context by facilitating the establishment of a credible agreement.

(22.) The limits of this rather premature view which ascribes to this group of states an unrealistic degree of coherence and co‐ordination on EU matters are demonstrated by the fact that in many cases they have not appeared to operate as a bloc (Janning 2005: 830).

(23.) EUObserver, MEPs lash out at ‘selective cuts’ in 2006 budget, <http:// euobserver.com/?sid=9&aid=19812>, accessed 7 September 2005.

(24.) Such criticisms may be justified but certainly not when they stem from the German ‘red‐green’ coalition that has adopted the neo‐liberal (and deeply unpopular) Agenda 2010.

(25.) The key aspect of this ambiguity is the often‐cited idea that the establishment of the Single Market is compatible with social democratic principles but on a continental scale.

(26.) The same argument can be made about the whole European integration project since its inception (Milward 1992; Judt 1996).

(27.) Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Jacques Delors supported the Single Market project but for different reasons.

(28.) Arguably, this is one of the lessons drawn from the French referendum on the Constitutional Treaty.

(29.) The Treaty of Nice, adopted in 2001, has simplified this mechanism, unused since its establishment. Although the need for simplification may account for this fact, the decision to discuss the reform of this mechanism also allowed European leaders to avoid the much more cumbersome issue of its purpose.