The database on the European Commission provides an overview of the European Commission’s historical development from the start of the first Hallstein Commission in 1958 to the end of the first Barroso Commission in 2010. It is part of the multi-annual project ‘Position formation in the EU Commission’ (PEU) at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).

With the rise in scale and scope of the European Commission, research and literature on the nature of the institution has increased considerably. What is yet still missing is structured information how the European Commission developed in its organizational and staff composition over a longer period of time and what sectoral patterns emerge. This newly established and comprehensive database attempts to close this gap.

The database provides three different perspectives on the Commission: information on the Commission staff (‘Persons Data’ and ‘Persons Positions’), on the administrative structure and size of the Directorates-General (‘DG Data’) and a localization of policies in the administrative structure of the EU Commission (‘DG nomenclature’).

‘Persons Data’ and ‘Persons Positions’ list available information about all 321 persons who have been active as Commissioners or Directors-General from 1958 to 2010. This includes details about names, dates of birth, gender, nationality, party affiliation, DGs, Commissions, dates of entry and exit for all positions a person served in at the EU Commission as well as information regarding a person’s professional background and further career. ‘Persons Data’ and ‘Persons Positions’ provide an historical overview, and allow comparisons primarily on the staff composition of Commission DGs.

‘DG Data’ provides an overview to the administrative structure of the different Commission DGs. It gives details about all Directorates-General of the Barroso I Commission, including official name, personnel numbers, names and number of units (Units) and the name and number of directorates they each compromised in previous Commissions. This perspective inspires comparing changes in portfolio organisation and salience during the integration process.

‘DG Nomenclature’ deals with shifts in the Commission's portfolios over the history of EU Integration. Neither the names nor the responsibilities of individual portfolios in the Commission have been constant. This section thus enables to understand the administrative positioning of each portfolio over the course of history.

To compose the database a multitude of sources were evaluated and included. The collected data primarily stem from official organigrammes of Commission constellations taken from the institution’s website and its Historical Archives in Brussels, Fabio Franchino’s dataset on Commission portfolios since 1958, and CVs provided mainly by the Commission or personal websites.

For a more detailed list of sources and substance of the database, please see the ‘User’s manual to the PEU database’ on this website.

Special thanks to Fabio Franchino who kindly shared his data, to our collaborators Julia Metz and Christian Rauh on the PEU project, as well as to Jacob Düringer for excellent research assistance. Funding from the Volkswagen-Foundation in form of a Schumpeter Fellowship is gratefully acknowledged.



Analysis examples


1.      Party family of Commissioners

This graph shows the composition of Commissions over time regarding their Commissioners’ party affiliation. It covers the first Hallstein to the first Barroso Commission. Every Commissioner having served in the listed Commissions has been assigned to one of the following party families: Conservatives/Christian Democrats, Liberals, Independent, Greens, Social Democrats, Communists and Allies (party family groupings build on and further develop Hix 1997). The graph allows making statements about the relative ideological heterogeneity as well as possible ideological or partisan biases of the various Commissions over time.


2a.      Development of Commission Directorates

The following two graphs reveal that the EU Commission is an evolving organization.

This first graph displays the development of five Commission DGs according to their number of internal Directorates across Commissions that are exemplary for three different dynamics. Increasing numbers of Directorates might reflect the rise in prominence of a policy area, often related to an expansion of supranational policy making, e.g. the ‘greening’ of European policies (DG ENV) or growing community competences in economics and finance (DG ECFIN). Alternatively they can be linked to enlargement requiring task extension in territorially operating policies (DG AGRI or REGIO). Administrative changes may also reflect that horizontal services are at time provided ‘in-house’ by each policy DG and at other times centrally by a separate service (e.g. DG ADMIN, Bauer et al., 2008).

Bauer, Michael W., Christoph Knill, Tim Balint and Stefan Benzing (2008). Decentralisation following the Reform of the European Commission: Evaluation and Perception. Study on behalf of the European Parliament. Konstanz: University of Konstanz.


2b.      Historical distribution of portfolios in the European Commission

‡1 DG IA 'External Relations: Europe and newly independent States, Common Foreign and Security Policy, External Service'

‡2 DG I 'External Relations: Trade Policy, Relations with North America, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand'

‡3 DG IB 'External Relations. Southern Mediterranean, Middle East, Latin America, South and Southeast Asia and North-South Cooperation'

‡4 DG IA 'External Political Relations'

‡5 DG I 'External Economic Relations'


This graph shows a particularly interesting extract of our database that displays changes in the Commission’s organizational structure over time in more detail. In particular the well-documented Commission’s reorganisation under Kinnock in the aftermath of the Santer crisis in 1999 has entailed a shift in the portfolio structure.

However, also going further back in time we observe dynamic restructuring. First, new areas of activity have been continuously added since the founding days. As in the graph above, this may reflect policy developments and functional differentiation. In addition enlargement rounds have increased the number of Commissioners seeking to head ‘their own house’ or a new President’s political priorities. Second, boundaries between portfolios are far from stable. Most ‘new’ areas had belonged to established portfolios before they became independent services, in this case quite often units dealing with similar issues were taken from different DGs and merged into a new portfolio. An example is the consolidation of DG III on the Internal Market and Industrial Affairs under the Jenkins Commission.

In other cases units have been going back and forth between two DGs, depending i.a. on the relative strength of the Commissioners or their national governments when negotiating the portfolio allocation at the beginning of a new Commission term. Examples are the interfaces of DG ENTR with DG MARKT when it comes to industrial affairs or with DG TRADE on trade issues. At times, all three portfolios had even been handled in one joint DG, as it was the case during the Thorn and Jenkins Presidencies, when DG III on ‘Internal Market and Industrial Affairs’ was the all-embracing Commission entity for market, enterprise and trade issues.


3.      Technocratic/ Democratic Credentials and Power indices

by Commission


by DG (1958-2010)


Based on our database we have developed a power and a legitimacy oriented index of politicization, which we have applied to each Commission term. These two graphs display variation over time and across portfolios (DGs).

In a first step, Commissioners have been assigned to a number of former professional groups (e.g. academic, activist, bureaucrat, business, parliamentarian, prime minister)[1]. Where the person under consideration had occupied more than one of the listed position groups, he or she was assigned the category, where the personal had occupied the hierarchically highest post. Built on this allocation our power index measures political power by assigning a numerical value to each position. We use a ranking of portfolio salience (Druckman et al., 2008; Druckman et al., 2005; Döring, 2007) and addnew scores for positions that had not been considered in existing works.A Values are assigned to each person based on the average value of each position across states, with former Prime Ministers scoring highest (2,27) and Activists lowest (0,22). Our Technocratic/ Democratic Credentials index measures the extent to which Commissioners had occupied democratically legitimated posts. It dichotomously values Commissioners’ former professions by assigning a positive value of 1 to ‘political’ positions as those offices which are filled and legitimized by democratic elections, and a ‘0’ to all ‘technocratic’ posts that do not fulfil this criterion (Schnapp, 2004).

The graphs show that the indices are analytically closely related and therefore correlate. Thus, the development of both indices across time clearly supports views on the Commission as increasingly politicized as regards the professional background of its personnel. However, the distribution across DGs illustrates that whereas some portfolios score high on both indices, others display considerable divergence. The DGs JLS, RELEX, BUDG and AGRI have traditionally been headed by Commissioners that had previously occupied democratically legitimated and/ or powerful posts to an equal extent. The Secretariat General (i.e. the Commission President), in turn, reflects the fact that some Commission Presidents had previously been prime minister at national level (such as Barroso), while others had been technocrats/ diplomats, such as Hallstein. At the other end of the continuum DG INFSO stands out, which has been headed by Commissioners that have scored high on legitimacy, but low on powerfulness.


Döring, Holger (2007) 'The Composition of the College of Commissioners: Patterns of Delegation', European Union Politics 8: 207-28.

Druckman, James N. and Paul V. Warwick (2005) 'The missing piece: Measuring portfolio salience in Western European parliamentary democracies', European Journal of Political Research 44(1): 17-42.

Druckman, James N. and Andrew Roberts (2008) 'Measuring portfolio salience in Eastern European parliamentary democracies', European Journal of Political Research 47(1): 101-34.

Schnapp, Kai-Uwe (2004) Ministerialbürokratien in westlichen Demokratien - Eine vergleichende Analyse. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.

[1]         Academic, Activist, Bureaucrat, Business, Diplomat, Junior minister, Minister for Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry/ Culture/ Defence/ Economy and Budget/ Education, Science and Technology/ European Integration/ Finance/ Foreign Affairs/ Health/ Industry and Trade/ Justice/ Labour and Social Affairs/ Regional Development, Construction and Housing/ Environment/ Interior/ Transport and Communication, Other, Parliamentarian, Party Leader, Prime Minister, Regional Government, Secretary of State or Union Leader.