Surprisingly, rank affects a very limited number of tasks. Moreover, its statistical effects are not consistent when controlling for other variables. This leads to the conclusion that the behaviour of staff in the EP does not occur along hierarchical lines of organisation. In other words, high- and low- ranking staff are equally likely to perform the same tasks. While the research discerned the (un) importance of hierarchy on the type of tasks, it does not capture the content of tasks. For example, survey data shows that staff of the EP are involved in negotiations regardless of their rank. However, it does not reveal any information on the kind of negotiations, i.e. topic, policy stage, etc. This is clearly a limit of the research design. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that low-ranking officials are involved in a wide range of tasks despite the limits linked to their position in the hierarchy. Hence, the job of staff in the EP can be interesting already at the low level.
MEPs’ Accredited Assistants
Previous research has either neglected or undermined the role of MEPs’ accredited assistants (APAs; i.e. MEPs’ assistants based in Brussels rather than in local constituencies). Due to the historical development of administrative roles in the EP and in particular APAs’ unequal status compared to General Secretariat officials and political group advisors, APAs have de facto played a minor role in the assistance of MEPs in policy related tasks. However, the findings of this research show that APAs are importantly (i.e. statistically significant) involved in the assistance of MEPs. Based on APAs’ mean score on the scale of legislative assistance, they are even more involved in legislative assistance than General Secretariat officials.
General Secretariat Officials & Political Group Advisors
Previous research has depicted General Secretariat officials as important aids to MEPs (e.g. Dobbels & Neuhold, Winzen, Egeberg et al.). In the 1950s, the General Secretariat was the first administrative service to be set up, which however was soon joined by the secretariats of political groups. Since then, political group advisors have become a source of legislative assistance for MEPs. Based on survey data, which was collected in the seventh term (2009-2014), this research finds support for an important role of political groups advisors (see also Strelkov for the case of national parliaments). In addition, data show that political group advisors play a relevant role even carrying out tasks (e.g. providing advice on procedures), which are considered expertise of the General Secretariat.
Considering previous research, the above findings imply that the political groups of the EP and their staff are the most important players in the assistance to MEPs. As already said, this has not always been the case. Given historical developments, it can be concluded that the roles of political group advisors, General Secretariat officials and APAs have evolved over the years and are likely to change in the future.
How has administrative change occurred in the EP?
Slow. Since the 1960s, the EP has been unrushed in adapting its organizational structures to a changing political environment. It took the EP several decades before it comprehensively reformed its administrative structures for the first time in 2003 (‘Raising the Game Reform’). Only the status of political groups advisors (as temporary employees of the EP) has been resolved relatively quickly with the adoption of the 1962 Staff Regulation. This is also one of the reasons why political group advisors were relatively quick to take an important role in managing EP affairs. Since then, the EP has been reluctant to change some of the aspects, which have put it in the public spotlight (for example the provision of internal
Despite the slow pace of reforms, the roles of General Secretariat officials, political group advisors and APAs have changed in the past and are likely to change in the future as a result of organisational reforms. Since 2000s, this has been seen in the case of APAs, whose role has increased due a series of changes (e.g. Regulation 160/2009, increase of MEPs’ staff allowance to a maximum of 21,209 EUR). Arguably, a similar change could be witnessed in the future for the case of General Secretariat officials. In 2013, a new department for research (DG for Parliamentary Research Services or DG EPRS) was set up in the General Secretariat. The data of this study does not allow evaluating the consequences of the new DG. Arguably, DG EPRS could reinvigorate the role of officials in the General Secretariat (at least in the field of research), which has been diminishing in relevance compared to political group advisors and APAs.
Consequence on policy-making?
It is not only the role of General Secretariat officials, which should interest us in the future, but also the dichotomy between APAs and political group advisors. The empowerment of individual MEPs to recruit up to three full-time APAs, might disrupt the habitual way of running the EP. This supposition is based on recent research on the role of political groups in the EP, which shows that political groups play a lesser role in maintaining political cohesion within the EP than previously thought. In addition, if re-election is considered the primary goal of MEPs, then loyalty to a political group (and party), hence reliance on political group advisors, becomes less important for MEPs due to the weak electoral connection between individual MEPs and European political parties. Finally, current societal circumstances indicate a general demise of the political party as a mean to aggregate public interests. If the latter two trends are reinforced, then MEPs might be incentivised to rely on their personal assistants to develop their own personal brands compared to nourishing a career within political parties and parliamentary groups.
From the perspective, which sees political parties as agglomerates of public interests, the above-described events might have a negative consequence on the adoption of legislation in the EP. Multiple personal political brands diminish the strength of political parties to represent citizens. Arguably, this hampers the search for a common political denominator and compromises the adoption of laws.
This research has shown that organisational structure is an effective tool to regulate behaviour. And thus, can be used as a tool to facilitate political compromise and the adoption of ‘good’ laws (e.g. legally sound, politically viable and scientifically based). In the case of parliamentary staff, the question is about finding balance between different types of assistance (e.g. individual vs. group, technical vs. political, etc.), which are required by political actors (e.g. members of parliament, committees, leadership bodies, etc.). Time will show whether the recently adopted reforms will benefit the EP in carrying out its functions.
Note that some of the implications described above are not solely based on the survey results, but also on the historical analysis of legislative assistance in the EP, which is a consistent part of the research project.
*Interview carried out on 12 November 2013, Luxembourg.