Since its inception the commission has shown reluctance to reform, in spite of this, various reports over the decades have been produced highlighting areas in need of reform. The first notable one of which being the ‘Proposals for reform of the commission of the European communities and its services’ – more commonly known as the Spierenburg report1, 1979. The report was made at the request of the commission, however much of its recommendations were ignored. The report acknowledged that the foundation of the EC provided “conditions which made precise long-term planning difficult2”. However, this did not mean that reform was impossible, for the expansion of the community to include Greece, and later Spain and Portugal, provided an opportunity to reform and create a “more even keel- providing more efficient use of staff3”. Moreover, the community’s territorial expansion created an opportunity for greater “geographical balance among its staff4”. The report attributed different nationalities to creating a higher quality of staff, due to varying experiences. However, the core of the report was management qualities, and how new “suitable training programmes5” were required to create a greater management level throughout the EC. However, as noted in the report, much of the proposals set out required internal decision making for the EC. It is apparent, that the management level was not willing in allowing vast reforms. Therefore, minimal reform was accomplished, in a slight reduction of the number of administrative units.
The importance of administrative reform remained low on the political agenda of the EC, going into the 1980’s. As attention on growing the union only intensified. The leadership of Jacques Delors 1985-95, worsened the management deficit in the EC, with his preference of cabinet led policy making (Donnelly and Ritchie, 1994, p.47), blurring the role of management between the cabinet and the Directors-General’s. The 1980’s identified how the Spierenburg report’s recommendations, of strengthening the position of the Director-General had not been heeded by the commission. Spierenburg had warned in his earlier report, that allowing minimal reform from the measure identified, would have a negative impact on the running and perception of the EC.
With the enlargement of the EU to include, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995, the commission was under even greater pressure, and the strain on the administration was showing. However, it would not be until fresh leadership under Jacques Santer, that institutional reform would emerge at the forefront of European policy making. Santer’s commission committed to reform through various programmes introduced shortly after Santer entered office. These included; ‘Sound and Efficient Financial Management’ (SEM 2000) – 1995-97, followed in 1997 by ‘Modernization of Administration and Personnel Policy’ (MAP 2000). Both programmes formed the commission’s wider policy in creating ‘tomorrow’s commission’. The first of these programmes (SEM 2000), was focused on reforming the financial management system of the EC (Stevens and Stevens 2001: 187–92). Whereas, (MAP 2000) focused on the staffing procedure, previously mentioned as an area of fault in the Spierenburg report. Its aim to decentralise staffing procedures, and how they were organised across the EC. A third research programme titled, ‘Designing tomorrow’s Commission’ (DECODE), in 1997 intended to provide an up to date analysis of the running of the EC, and identify areas which were in need of attention (Kassim 2008). Ultimately, these procedures faced backlash by the staff unions, who saw such reforms as a threat to the unique autonomy of the EC, resulting in staff strikes (Kassim 2008).
With accusations of fraud, largely surrounding one Commissioner, (Édith Cresson), and the impending publication of an independent report into such accusations, the Santer Commission resigned en masse in an unprecedented move on 15th March 1999 (Kassim 2008). Allowing the way, for mass reform to finally take place.