28th Sep 2023

Commission bureaucrats are getting too powerful, says Verheugen

European Commission vice-president Guenter Verheugen has spoken out strongly against the power of high-ranking civil servants within the commission who are able to influence decisions according to their personal whims.

In an interview with German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the German commissioner in charge of the important industry portfolio said "the whole development in the last ten years has brought the civil servants such power that in the meantime the most important political task of the 25 commissioners is controlling this apparatus."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"There is a permanent power struggle between commissioners and high ranking bureaucrats. Some of them think: the commissioner is gone after five years and so is just a squatter, but I'm sticking around," he continued.

He suggests that his own project to simplify 54 EU laws has fallen foul of stubborn commission bureaucrats. Before the summer he "strongly criticised internally some general directorates who evidently did not want to take the head of the commission's aim to reduce bureaucracy seriously, because it did not fit in with their own ideas."

Mr Verheugen, who is now in his second term as EU commissioner having previously been in charge of enlargement, noted that the problem will get worse again once Bulgaria and Romania join the EU because then there will be two new general directorates - units in the commission that deal with specific areas - and "that is a problem."

Illustrating how power struggles happen, the commissioner said it all occurs "under the surface."

"The commissioners have to take extreme care that important questions are decided in their weekly meeting, and not decided by the civil servants among themselves."

"Unfortunately it sometimes happens in the communication with member states or parliament that civil servants put their own personal perspective across as the view of the commission," he told the newspaper.

Citing a concrete example the 62-year old social democrat commissioner said that commission bureaucrats had tried to sort out the use of pesticides between them and the issue only came to the attention of their political masters – the commissioners – when the bureaucrats fell out over the issue.

Noting that the way some commission officials communicate is technical and arrogant, which he finds "appalling", Mr Verheugen said that only a "change in political culture" in the commission would improve the situation.

He suggests that commissioners should be able to move around the powerful general directors, something which they cannot do at the moment, pointing out that when something goes wrong then it is always commissioners who take the flak.

"In my opinion, too much is decided by civil servants," he said in conclusion.

Verheugen faces fresh attack from commission officials

EU commissioner Guenter Verheugen's outburst against the bureaucrats that serve him are still causing ripples of discontent in the Brussels executive with employee representatives calling on his colleagues to distance themselves from his comments.


How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?

The EU Commission's new magic formula for avoiding scrutiny is simple. You declare the documents in question to be "short-lived correspondence for a preliminary exchange of views" and thus exempt them from being logged in the official inventory.


Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

International media must make clear that these are not fair, democratic elections. The flawed race should be the story at least as much as the race itself.

Latest News

  1. Germany tightens police checks on Czech and Polish border
  2. EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making
  3. How do you make embarrassing EU documents 'disappear'?
  4. Resurgent Fico hopes for Slovak comeback at Saturday's election
  5. EU and US urge Azerbijan to allow aid access to Armenians
  6. EU warns of Russian 'mass manipulation' as elections loom
  7. Blocking minority of EU states risks derailing asylum overhaul
  8. Will Poles vote for the end of democracy?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  2. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  3. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  4. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us