Book: Political Leadership and the European Commission Presidency (Oxford University Press, November 2019)

Short Synopsis

When talking about the European Union, political leadership is certainly not at the forefront of people’s minds. The EU’s pluralistic, non-hierarchical system of multi-level governance lacks clear structures of both government and opposition. Hence, according to the EU treaties the presidency of the European Commission is not explicitly expected to exercise political leadership. However, this role cannot effectively be exercised without any demonstration of such leadership due to its plethora of leadership functions.

Examining this curious peculiarity of strong political demands, weak institutional powers, and need for political leadership, the proposed book systematically analyses the political leadership performance of the presidents of the European Commission throughout the process of European integration. The basic argument is that Commission presidents do not only matter in the process of European integration, but that their impact varies according to how the different incumbents deal with the institutional structure and the situational circumstances, and thus their strategic choices at hand.

The research question explored in this book thus is what makes political leadership in European governance successful and to what extent (and why) do Commission presidents differ in their leadership performance? By addressing this question, the book departs from existing research on EU leadership, which has to date analysed either the EU’s institutional structure and its potential for leadership, or has provided selective evidence from single- and cross-case studies of Commission presidents, mainly focusing on most recent incumbents. This book conceptualizes political leadership of the presidents of the European Commission as a performance, and thus systematically analyses their agenda-setting, institutional mediation and public outreach performance over the entire course of their presidential terms.


Pathways to Power: Women and Leadership in the European Union (together with Ingeborg Tömmel, University of Osnabrück)

Who are the founding mothers of European integration and the female leaders of the European Union past and present? So far, scholars at the intersection of gender studies, EU studies and leadership studies have either mainly focused on the state and implementation of gender equality in the EU member states, on the nature and varieties of gender regimes in the European Union or on the exercise of leadership of mainly male EU politicians and elites.

In short, research on the agency of leading female politicians, managers and technocrats in the European institutions has been remarkably scarce. This is the case although the role of leadership and agency has recently gained traction in EU studies. Since the role of women, their influence and performance is still highly under-researched, this lack of research reinforces to a certain extent the picture of the EU being an “all-male dominated environment” to this very day.

Taking a broad view on the concept of EU female leadership, this project studies the current state of female leadership and role of women in the realm of EU politics. It thus leaves room for a variety of women actors and their impact to be studied, ranging from the performance of national leaders in European affairs, such as Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Dalia Grybauskaite, to the leadership of female political elites within EU institutions, reaching from the European Commission to the European External Action Service.


Conditions of Female Leadership in GCC States (together with Rahma Abdulkadir, NYUAD)

Across the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), governments give substantial support to women’s organizations and clubs, and have many women working in ministries and public services. However, there are still significant gaps between the sexes in political, economic, or civic realms.

This project studies the societal challenges to women empowerment and female leadership in the Gulf region. In particular, it compares the pathways to female leadership in politics (public and political leadership), economics (entrepreneurial and managerial leadership), and culture (civic and cultural leadership) across GCC states.

The project utilizes a newly compiled dataset on socioeconomic backgrounds of women who obtained leadership positions in the realm of politics, economics and culture across the GCC states between 1970 and 2017. Their level of leadership position will be analyzed in relation to their family and educational backgrounds, as well as their regional origin.


Women in the Public Sphere of GCC States: A Study of Media Attention and Attitudes towards Female Empowerment (2000-2017) (together with Christin Camia, Zayed University Abu Dhabi)

While governments in the Arabian Gulf region have substantially increased their promotion of women in public life over the last two decades, with more women obtaining senior public and economic positions, research on the process of this empowerment has still been remarkably scarce.

Comprehensive cross-country analysis on public discourses of women’s empowerment in the Arab Gulf region is thus overdue. This study focusses on the public media attention and attitudes towards female empowerment in the six GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) between 2000-2017.

By analyzing 12 English-speaking daily newspapers from the Arab Gulf region (Gulf Daily News and DT News for Bahrain; Kuwait Times and Arab Times for Kuwait; Times of Oman and Muscat Daily for Oman; Qatar Tribune and Gulf Times for Qatar; Arab News and The Saudi Gazette for Saudi Arabia; and, Gulf News and Khaleej Times for UAE), this project studies the visibility of women in public media discourses (saliency) and its potential increase over the last two decades, as well as the main topics that have been addressed in the realm of women empowerment (content) and their degree of polarization (attitudes) in the public sphere.


The Role of Leadership in EU Politics and Policy-Making: The Value of Theoretical and Methodological Cross-Fertilization (together with Femke van Esch, Utrecht University)

Recent crises have shown that the EU has entered an era of transformation. European leaders are struggling to find common responses to these crises that increasingly require transboundary, collective and determined leadership.

This project brings together experts on political leadership and EU governance to address the following questions: How do the formal and informal structures and practices of European politics affect the exercise of leadership – both individual and collective – at the national and supranational level? How do the behavior and characteristics of European leaders affect the process of European integration? How can we integrate the concept of leadership more systematically into the often institutionally driven theories of European integration?

By addressing these questions, we aim to infuse EU studies with a more in-depth understanding of leadership, analyze the multifold implications of the EU system for exerting leadership and stimulate theoretically rigorous and methodologically comparative research in the study of European leadership.


Political Leadership Performance and Economic Growth: A Comparative Analysis of the Arab Gulf Region, Western Europe and Southeast Asia

Recent economic studies have provided initial findings that heads of government and state have a measurable impact on the economic development of their countries. However, the authors drew their conclusion from correlating a leader’s death in office (either natural or accidental) with national economic growth rates in the immediately following years (Jones and Olken 2005: 836).

Comprehensive studies that offer systematic theory building or comparisons of the political strategies and practices of national executives during their incumbency across regime types (democracies vs. non-democracies) in the realm of economic policy remain uncommon.

This research project seeks to close this gap by exploring the mechanisms of how and to what extent different patterns of political leadership performance shape a country’s economic growth in relation to its political institutional design (e.g. democracy vs. non-democracy). It investigates the performance and leadership styles of heads of government and state across several regions, their strategies of political communication and public representation, as well as their multifold relations with the economic sector, with respect to the aggregated economic performance of their countries in a systematic and comparative way.