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How to organise the European administrative system into a network?

Executive summary Seminar ’How to run the EU in 2020?’ (Bonn, October 7-8, 1999)


In Bonn, last October 7-8, the second seminar of the Anticipation Process : Managing the EU in 2020 Anticipation, was organised by Prometheus-Europe within Project Europe 2020. This seminar on : “How to organise the European administrative system into a network ?” gathered around 30 high-ranking officials and experts from various national and European public institutions.

The convergence of analyses and the quality of recommendations permit to elaborate a coherent synthesis centred around three main axes :

1. the new components of the European administrative system have already begun to connect into a network since the mid-90’s, even though neither decision-makers nor public opinions realised it yet.

2. Even though it is the operational tool for subsidiary, the networking functioning method remains largely ill- mastered by decision-makers and European political and administrative operators

3. In 2020, the European administrative network will no longer be organised on the basis of hierarchy levels (Europe, nation, region) but on functions (European, national, regional functions).

The new components of the European administrative system have already begun to connect into a network since the mid-90’s, even though neither decision-makers nor public opinions realised it yet. Nevertheless, the emergence of networking structures such as the European Central Bank (which is a network of central banks as much as a bank settled in Frankfurt), Euro-Just or the Euro’s communication strategy, prove that the EU creates networks that do not obey classical pyramid rules in which adequate structures would be created at the European level in order to cover a whole national and regional administrative machinery. These evolutions result from a number of decisions aimed at answering specific constraints of operational efficiency, and the higher levels of the EU do not realise their innovating and general nature. However, since the whole European political and administrative system is stuck, these evolutions could usefully be analysed at the highest level.

Network operators themselves only have an experimental knowledge of this organisational mode that suffers from its youth (transnational human networks were born in Europe exactly when the Internet was born in the US). As a result of the constraints related to the management of the unity/diversity dialectic specific to the EU, the 80’s and 90’s saw the birth of thousands of European networks linking together all sorts of organisations (universities, associations, companies, research centres, regions, municipalities,…). These networks were generally financed by the European Commission via various programmes (such as Erasmus, Leader, Interreg…); they experimented new functioning modes getting rid of the hierarchy approach in order to avoid the “who rules?” European conflict. By doing so they invented, without being aware of it, a new organisational mode perfectly adapted to the issues of decision-making and action within the Union. Two different things must be distinguished : “network” referring to the organisation and “networking” referring to organisational mode.

Through the study of information, decision and financial circuits, it is possible to formalise a general method for the creation and management of European networks. The evolution towards a European administrative network is already begun. It will continue during the next two decades if the process accelerates in the very next years. Indeed the current institutional jamming partially results from the European administrative system’s incapacity to evolve from the pyramid-mode (based on hierarchy levels and where competencies are exclusive) to the network-mode (based on functions and where roles are complementary). If this evolution does not happen, jamming will persist and there will be no European administrative network in 2020 because the EU in 2020 will be a vague construction inherited from the past. Networking is the operational instrument for subsidiary which otherwise remains an unusable concept.

The setting up of the European administrative network will be anchored on the development of “Units-Europe” within each ministry (resp. Region), on the emergence of European Affairs Ministries independent from the Foreign Affairs and connected to the Heads of State; on the emergence of a network of national Parliaments (resp. regional); and on the development of European administrative carriers based on skills rather than institutions.

Networking, the Internet (which allows a considerable acceleration for the setting up of the European administrative network) and high-speed trains, will give birth to Euro-Ring, a group of cities located around Brussels within a radius of 1:30 hour by TGV and where the main European institutions will be decentralised.

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