Universiteit Leiden

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‘Politicians need to get a better grip of international civil servants’

Out of sight of national parliaments, the European Union takes decisions that have a far-reaching effect on the lives of citizens. Professor of International Governance Kutsal Yesilkagit calls for more thorough research on how cross-border forms of governance work and how politicians direct their civil servants. Inaugural lecture 26 August.


From the Greek debt crisis to the influx of migrants, the European Union often fails to act decisively and European citizens are increasingly resisting European integration. In his inaugural lecture, Professor  Kutsal Yesilkagit, who is also Dean of the Faculty of  Governance and Global Affairs at Leiden University, will address the dilemma facing politicians. He believes that states need to work closely together to protect their own citizens against the world's evils. On the one hand they have to further integrate their own national administrative systems, while at the same time making sure that citizens feel they are represented. Yesilkagit terms this 'the borderless state'.

Do politicians have enough control?

Yesilkagit advocates more control of the national state, of elected politicians and their civil servants, and of how cross-border forms of governance work. The European Union is made up of administrative networks that play an important role in implementing policies within the member states. There are cross-border networks in such fields as the financial markets, energy, food safety and police cooperation.  In all these fields civil servants take decisions that have a far-reaching effect on the daily lives of European citizens. Yet, most of what they do is out of sight of national parliaments and other national institutions.

Research on international networks

Yesilkagit will be researching whether politicians are properly able to direct and control these international networks, and to hold them to account. He will also be looking at the extent to which national political factors play a role in how cross-border governance is structured?

Effectiveness versus control

In recent decades cross-border government networks have operated relatively independently from states. They have been set up as webs of communication between ministries and other administrative bodies within states, international organisations such as the United Nations and international NGOs. 'These networks help states to function more effectively together. But there is the disadvantage that national parliaments have little or no grip of these networks of civil servants.’ He draws particular attention to the power of those civil servants who are experts in their field. Issues like the protection of personal data in international traffic have become so complex that you need experts to understand them.

Machine for government policies

It is time that we in Europe thought about how we need to modify the  the EU in terms of governance, according to Yesilkagit. ‘The EU has become too much of an administrative machine for churning out government policies that focus mainly on harmonising EU policies within the member states. But in political, administrative and social terms Europe is culturally too diverse to allow itself to be forced into generic stereotypes. It's for that reason that national contributions to cross-border forms of  governance need to be strengthened.' 

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