Putting power into practice: Administrative and political capacity building in the European Parliament's Committee for International Trade

Date01 September 2018
AuthorEvelyn Coremans,Katharina Luise Meissner
Published date01 September 2018
Putting power into practice: Administrative and
political capacity building in the European
Parliament's Committee for International Trade
Evelyn Coremans
| Katharina Luise Meissner
Leuven International and European Studies
Institute (LINES), Department of Social
Sciences, KU Leuven, Belgium
Institute for European Integration Research
(EIF), University of Vienna, Austria
Evelyn Coremans, Social Sciences Faculty, KU
Leuven, Parkstraat 45, Box 3602, 3000
Leuven, Belgium.
Email: evelyn.coremans@kuleuven.be
Funding information
Research Foundation Flanders; European
As the formal powers of the European Parliament have increased
with successive treaty changes, its committees' administrations
have seen a parallel growth. We argue that such administrative
capacity is necessary but not sufficient for acting on formal treaty
powers. Administrative capacity has to be combined with political
capacity in order to muster policy impact in European Union
decision-making. By differentiating between intra-institutional
administrative and inter-institutional political capacity, we offer a
fine-grained conceptualization of policy capacity while broadening
the theoretical and empirical understanding of the European Par-
liament's administration as an organizational structure of formal
and informal working practices, intra-institutional coordination and
inter-institutional relations. Based on expert interviews, document
analysis and participant observation, the case of the Transatlantic
Trade and Investment Partnership illustrates how societal politici-
zation of a specific policy issue triggered the European Parliament
to exploit the latent potential of its post-Lisbon administrative
capacity by transforming it into a more readily deployable political
Throughout the years, successive changes in the Treaties of the European Union (EU) have redistributed compe-
tences between institutions and formalized previously informal working practices. Such shifts in institutional balance
then caused changes inside EU institutions as well (Kreppel 2003; Gungor 2009; Naurin and Rasmussen 2011; Häge
and Naurin 2013). For the European Parliament (EP), the impact of the extension of its co-legislative powers after
the Lisbon Treaty on its internal organization and administrative apparatus has received relatively little scholarly
attention (Dobbels and Neuhold 2014). This is even more surprising considering that the EP's capacity to develop
strong institutionsis a prerequisite to having an impact in the decision-making process (Roederer-Rynning and
Greenwood 2017, p. 735). In addition, several studies have observed that an interest in a specific, clearly defined
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12400
Public Administration. 2018;96:561577. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 561
and politically salient policy issue motivates the EP's willingness to invest resources in that policy issue (Naurin and
Rasmussen 2011; Brandsma 2012; Dür and Mateo 2014; Auel and Christiansen 2015; Jan
cić2016). Yet we still lack
insight into why this happens and how the EP turns those resources into actual policy influence.
Therefore, our central question is: How do formal treaty changes and societal politicization affect the develop-
ment of EP policy capacity for influencing EU decision-making? Policy capacity is understood as a set of skills and
resourcesor competences and capabilitiesnecessary to perform policy functions(Wu et al. 2015, p. 166). We
argue that the EP's post-Lisbon administrative capacity is necessary but not sufficient for acting on formal powers
(Kreppel 2003). To do so, the EP has to transform its administrative capacity into political capacity. Administrative
capacity covers the resources that affect the internal policy capacity of an institution (intra-institutional capacity),
whereas political capacity refers to the relationship between the institution and other actors (inter-institutional
capacity). While administrative capacity is of a stable and institutionalized natureproviding latent potential for
deploymentpolitical capacity has a more fluid and volatile but yet more readily deployable and targeted character.
Taken together, both form the basis for the comprehensive policy capacity the EP needs to influence decision-mak-
ing at the EU level.
Our empirical study illustrates how the formalization of the EP's role in the negotiation of international trade
agreements triggered the development of internal administrative capacity in its Committee for International Trade
(INTA), responsible for EU trade policy in the EP. Moreover, by analysing EU-level decision-making processes during
the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, we show that it was the societal politiciza-
tion of TTIP that prompted the willingness within INTA to turn its ability to oversee the negotiations into practice.
Societal politicization is understood as the process through which issues become objects of public contention and
debate …’ (Calhoun 2002, p. 369).
Our contribution is threefold. First, whereas the existing literature has generally adopted a narrow focus on
administrative staff, we start from a wider organizational perspective at the committee level. Second, we offer a
fine-grained conceptualization of policy capacity by differentiating between intra-institutional administrative capac-
ity and inter-institutional political capacity. With this, we provide a theoretical and analytical framework that can be
used to study policy capacity in a wide variety of policy fields. The discussion offers some preliminary suggestions
to this end. Finally, with our case study we contribute to the recently growing empirical literature about the EP's
capacity to process information and its interaction patterns with other institutions (Dobbels and Neuhold 2014;
Egeberg et al. 2014b; Meissner 2016; Rosén 2016; Hillebrandt 2017). Our empirical study shows that the baseline
of the EP's policy influence is determined by the quality of information processing, rather than the quantity of infor-
mation available (Brandsma 2012; Dobbels and Neuhold 2014; Hillebrandt 2017).
In the first section, we identify a lack of insight about the broader organizational aspects of EP committee
administrations. The theoretical section provides a coherent approach for analysing policy capacity, and the empiri-
cal section then probes the plausibility of our argument through in-depth analysis of the changes in policy capacity
in INTA since the Lisbon Treaty. Our study relies on 17 semi-structured interviews, qualitative analysis of EU docu-
ments, and participant observation via a five-month internship by one of the authors in the INTA secretariat
(Table A1). We reflect on our findings and their implications in the discussion, where we also illustrate a similar
development of policy capacity in other cases. Finally, we summarize our findings and contribution in the
Similar to United States Congressional literature, research on the EP has evolved from a mainly descriptive exercise
in the 1960s and 1970s, to a more theoretically complex body of work by the early 2000s (Webb Hammond 1996;
Hix et al. 2003). This early literature focuses on the political functioning of the committees, taking Members of the

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