Agenda-Setting under pressure: the influence of national politics on the European Commission
Christel Koop (King's College London & IBEI)
Paper by Christine Reh, Edoardo Bressanelli & Christel Koop
This contribution explores the impact of national (electoral) politics on the European Commission’s agenda-choices, with a focus on annual legislative priorities. Drawing from the literatures on politicisation, policy responsiveness and non-majoritarian institutions, we argue that the Commission uses its legislative agenda and (non) prioritisation to respond to political pressure from the national level. We argue that the Commission faces bottom-up pressure on its agenda as both a policy-seeker and a survival-driven bureaucracy; bottom-up pressure emanates from national parties and governments, and from electoral and mass Euroscepticism. We suggest that bottom-up pressure and the Commission’s incentive to respond to such pressure increases with the domestic relevance and visibility of Europe and EU legislation; such relevance and visibility increases with 1) high issue-salience for parties in national government; 2) rising levels of electoral and mass Euroscepticism; and 3) approaching national elections. We test our hypotheses on a new dataset including all European Commission priorities—as presented in the Commission’s annual Work Programmes—from 1999 to 2016. Our analysis shows that the issue-salience of national parties in government is an important driver of the Commission’s agenda-priorities and increasingly so over time, and that high levels of mass Euroscepticism moderately constrain the activity of the EU’s executive. However, electoral support for Eurosceptic parties and election proximity do not influence the Commission’s agenda-setting significantly. Our analysis also shows that redistributive files are less likely to be prioritised, that the Commission does prioritise files that expand the EU’s competences as well as more complex legislative dossiers, and that prioritisation becomes more likely when the left-right distance grows between the co-legislators. These findings can inform the nascent debate about the EU’s multi-level politics, and, more widely, shed light on policy responsiveness by non-majoritarian actors under salience and contestation.
Christel Koop is Senior Lecturer in Political Economy and Programme Director of the MA Public Policy at the King's College London. Also, she is research associate at the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research interests include delegation theory, regulation and regulatory agencies, democratic accountability and legitimacy, and institutional theory. Christel holds a BA and MPhil degree in political science from Leiden University, the Netherlands, and obtained her PhD degree in political and social sciences from the European University Institute.