An inspiring conference on agenda setting with a group of passionate researchers took place at the Science-Po Campus in Reims from 14 to 16 June. The 5th Annual Conference of the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP) featured a variety of papers on topics, clustered around main themes such as ‘Parties and Policy’, ‘Media and Policy Making’, ‘Agendas in EU Institutions’, etc. The CAP not only attracted new scholars but two new projects have been inaugurated in the last year – in Portugal and Australia.
The conference started with an interactive poster session, where Leticia Elias (MI PhD researcher) and Arco Timmermans (MI Research Director) gave an insight into their on-going study of attention to organised crime in the EU. Organised crime issues have first appeared on the European Council’s agenda in the early ‘80s and have ever since exhibited single peaks in attention across 5-year-long periods.
At the poster session, Markus Haverland (MI Fellow) introduced a collaborative project with Minou de Ruijter and Steven van de Walle (Erasmus University Rotterdam) on the European Commission’s production of scientific evidence. Asking how neutral or how strategic this process is the scholars analyse the construction of questions used in Eurobarometer surveys.
Changes in question formulations over time and a varying focus on selected policy areas suggests that the results of Eurobarometer surveys are significantly influenced by the power to determine the contents of the enquêtes.
A range of papers by MI scholars were also presented during the following two-day extensive sessions. Petya Alexandrova (MI PhD researcher) introduced her innovative approach to detecting linkages across issues on the agenda of the European Council.
The presentations outlined some preliminary findings, pointing out that topics of macroeconomic policy and foreign affairs tend to be most often related to other issues on the agenda. Anne Rasmussen (MI Fellow) and Petya Alexandrova discussed ideas about the responsiveness of the European Council to the EU public and political parties on a range of policy areas.
The project is still in an initial stage and findings are mixed but it still appears that the EU leaders might be not as irresponsive to the demands of the public and the political parties as is often suggested in the literature.
Further attention to agenda setting in the EU was awarded in the paper of Sebastiaan Princen (MI Fellow), co-authored with Femke van Esch (Utrecht University), which applied distinct methodology to study policy change. Using cognitive maps, the researchers show how the conceptualisation, means, and goals of the EU Stability and Growth Pact have developed over time.
The core finding is that the policy paradigm of budgetary discipline has been constantly present but the measures proposed and the effects of balanced budgets have undergone a process of change. Gerard Breeman (MI Fellow) and Arco Timmermans contributed with a paper on attention to environmental policy in different domestic venues in four EU countries and the European Council.
The main finding of the paper is that political attention for environmental policies is sensitive to cyclic patterns of attention and attention on national political levels has been decreasing since the environment gradually became an European issue.
Gerard Breeman and Arco Timmermans also presented a comparative analysis of attention to EU affairs in three different national agendas in the Netherlands since the early ‘80s. Bills appear to have become the most Europeanised agenda; coalition agreements talk much less about Europe and usually in vague terms; and Queen’s speeches’ references to European issues have even declined.
The authors suggest that with the on-going impact of EU impulses on the legislative agenda, the gap between actual substantive policy decisions and the visions and plans that parties in coalition governments present is widening further.
The conference ended with a critical discussion on the development of the CAP with input from external evaluators. More information on the contents of the programme, as well as the draft of the papers is available.