Leading the Band or Just Playing the Tune? Reassessing the Agenda-Setting Powers of the European Commission

Setting the political agenda is a critical and usually powerful aspect of policy making. However, the ability to set the agenda, without any significant decision-making powers, can undermine this influence, leaving a technical agenda setter without substantive political influence. This research examines the difference between technical and political agenda setting through an analysis of the policy impact of the Commission of the European Union (EU). Using two newly developed databases on Commission policy priorities and all adopted EU legislation, as well as the Decision Making in the European Union (DEU II) dataset, we investigate the ability of the Commission to shape EU legislative outcomes to reflect its policy preferences between 2000 and 2011. Our analyses highlight the comparative weakness of the Commission’s policy influence, despite its formal monopoly of legislative initiation. In this way, we argue for a need to carefully differentiate between technical and political agenda setters when evaluating the policy influence of different political actors.