Good Governance and Institutional Change: Administrative Ethics Reform in the European Commission

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The European Union institutions have always taken an interest in their own internal governance. In the 1990s, this interest began to be characterised by a greater reflexivity, increasingly allied to the concept of ‘good governance’. One example of this was in the field of public ethics where the European Commission came to recognise the importance of establishing structures and policies to govern the conduct of public servants (whether MEPs, Commissioners or EU officials). Drawing on historical institutionalism, this article considers the emergence and evolution of the Commission’s public ethics system after 1999. The article distinguishes between the formative and post-formative stage in the system’s emergence and evolution, arguing that in both periods, structural factors and agency, both externally and internally, were important in explaining institutional change. What was especially important in the formative period, however, was the intensity of the primary external driver of change, which in the case of the European Commission was the scandal over unethical conduct and mismanagement which hit the institution in 1998-9.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-454
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Contemporary European Research
Issue number1 (Special Issue: Sixty-Five Years of European Governance)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Good governance
  • Ethics
  • European Commission
  • Administrative reform
  • Institutional change


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