Power or Luck? Understanding the Character of European Commission Agenda Setting
The literature on the agenda-setting powers of European Union (EU) institutions considers the Commission to be a primary actor in determining the EU policy agenda, thanks to its “formal” and “informal” powers to initiate the legislative process. Our recent work (2016), however, demonstrates that the Commission is not always able to translate its policy priorities into legislative outcomes, and that often the Commission assumes the role of a “technical,” rather than a “political,” agenda-setter. This new research builds on this finding, and argues that the perceived decline in the agenda setting powers of the Commission is not monotonic in character. Rather, the Commission’s success rate varies over time, across policy arenas and as a function of previous support by other institutional actors. Utilizing an original dataset of over 1,000 Commission priority policy initiatives between 2000 and 2012, we identify the variables that affect Commission success in advancing its policy agenda and determine under what conditions the Commission is able to act as an autonomous agent and political agenda-setter rather than an administrative agent serving the interests of other EU institutions. Our analysis compares the European Commission’s work programmes with the European Council Summit Conclusions, European Parliament’s own initiative reports and the Council Presidency documents, to help us discover the “legislative paternity” of the EU policy agenda. This allows us to determine what percentage of priority legislative initiatives truly originate with the Commission, and to what extent the Commission’s Work Programmes represent responses to the demands and expectations of the other European institutions rather than its own policy preferences.