Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report




COM(02) 264

Commission Communication on a new type of office for managing support and administrative tasks at the European Commission.

Legal base:


Document originated:

28 May 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

31 May 2002


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Basis of consideration:

EM of 18 June 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

No date set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Cleared, but further information requested if the final proposal from the Commission is delayed



    1. As part of the reform of the Commission, in December 1999 the Commission initiated a programme of "externalisation" or outsourcing of suitable tasks. 'Externalisation' in this context means the carrying out of executive tasks implementing Community policies by bodies other than the Commission, whether Community public bodies, national authorities or the private sector. The objective is to allow the Commission's permanent staff to be assigned to its essential tasks, to regain control of executive and support activities and, overall, to improve efficiency.
    2. We considered two documents on the externalisation of the management of Community programmes on 10 April 2002[40].
    3. The Commission Communication

    4. In this Communication, the Commission identifies a number of administrative tasks, other than the management of Community programmes, that lend themselves to 'externalisation'. It also sets out a framework within which the departments in the Institutions could set up similar offices in the future. This framework does not affect the status, operation or management structures of existing offices. From a functional point of view, the new type of office, which will not have any separate legal personality, will be different from the executive agencies. It will not be directly linked to the Commission's role as guardian of the Treaties or its right of initiative. The new type of office will be distinct from a Commission department, but its mandate will be linked to the mandate of a Commission Department.
    5. The different types of office that already exist in the Institutions are:

    • (i) Commission offices

The present type of Commission Office is a Commission "service". These offices are mostly independent from an administrative department within a Directorate-General and the heads usually report directly either to a Commissioner, as in the case of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), or, occasionally, to a Board, as in the case of the EuropeAid Co-operation Office (AIDCO);

    • (ii) Inter-institutional offices

These offices carry out tasks that are common to several or all of the Institutions.

    1. The reasons advanced by the Commission for creating the new type of office include:

(i)  Increased quality and efficiency by:

    • strengthening of visibility of the services provided;

    • decentralising operational responsibilities; and

    • more focussed activity, allowing the office to be more adaptable to customers' needs, and to react more swiftly to their demands.

(ii)  Potential savings, through:

    • economies of scale from adopting a more inter-institutional approach;

    • the use of New Contract Agents (NCAs). These would:

    • be recruited under public law contracts;

    • perform non-core tasks; and

    • always work under the guidance of permanent staff.

    1. Potential risks include increased overheads. The new offices should be of sufficient size to justify the existence of a separate establishment. "Diseconomies" of scale must be avoided by carrying out cost/benefit analyses in advance.
    2. The Commission states clearly that the new offices would be under its political authority. It says that there should be a clear division of functions between the Board and the Office Director and it outlines how responsibilities should be allocated between the Board, the relevant Directorate-General and the office. The College of Commissioners would define the terms of reference of the Board and adopt the mission statement of the office. Decisions of principle or "of a fundamental nature" would remain the responsibility of the College.
    3. Each Board would be chaired by the Director-General of the DG to which the office will report. An interface should be maintained in the DGs to ensure consistency with the policy guidelines in a given field of activity. The mandate of the office must be monitored.
    4. Since one of the principles of the Commission's administrative reforms is to encourage greater personal responsibility at all levels, more management independence would be given to each office, supported by the allocation of all the necessary resources, whether human, financial or in the form of office IT backup.
    5. A new type of Commission Office may be set up either as a permanent structure or as a transitional one which could later be transformed into an inter-institutional office. The Commission says that the reason for this two-stage approach is that some Institutions are keener than others to form an inter-institutional office, to which competencies and tasks would be delegated.
    6. Examples of the activities which could be undertaken by the new types of offices include a paymaster office to determine, calculate and pay individual entitlements and an office for infrastructure and logistics which would be responsible for buildings policy and the management of office space.
    7. The Government's view

    8. The Minister for Europe (Mr Peter Hain) says that the Government strongly supports the reform process, which it believes will result in the Institutions, in particular the Commission, being more efficient and transparent, with more effective resource management. As part of this wider package, it supports outsourcing, which can exploit expertise, increase transparency and responsibility and eventually lead to the dissemination of best practice and greater economies of scale.
    9. Conclusion

    10. The Minister tells us that the full implementation of the proposal in this Communication will depend on the outcome of discussions with the Commission staff unions which are due to take place over the summer. He says that the Commission is aiming to present a final proposal in the autumn and that there will be a transition period of five to seven years.
    11. We clear this document, but ask the Minister to keep us informed if the discussions with the unions reveal difficulties and the final proposal promised by the Commission is delayed.


40  (22051) 5314/01 and (23023) 14613/01; see HC 152-xxiii (2001-02), paragraphs 5 and 11 (10 April 2002). Back

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