Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Fellowship Gerard Breeman

Gerard Breeman

As of 1 January 2009, the Montesquieu Institute welcomes Gerard Breeman as Montesquieu fellow. Gerard Breeman is a university teacher in Public Administration at the University of Wageningen. In 2006 he obtained his PhD from the University of Leiden for his research on citizens' trust and government policy.

After having obtained his PhD he focused his research on political and public agenda setting. This research is carried out in cooperation with Dr. Arco Timmermans. During Breeman's fellowship he will further broaden this specific research line.

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Research on political attention and agenda setting

The main research question is: why do media, politicians and civil servants pay attention to certain public problems while ignoring others? Of course politicians, government institutions and journalists have to set priorities for themselves. However, due to restricted time and handling capacities, they are not always able to address each public problem that arises with the same level of attention. It is often unclear how priorities are set. Nonetheless, it is important to understand why certain problems all of a sudden rise to the top of the political and public agenda. Without political attention for a problem, the attention for the proces of problem-solving will be minimal as well. Or even more so, solutions will begin to lead a life of their own without actually solving the problem at all.

It is unclear to what extent and in which way 'Europe' influences national political and public agenda setting. It also remains uncertain how national public attention for certain issues influences the European agenda setting in Brussels. Some argue that there is little national political and public attention for typical European topics, but we do not know this for sure. In this research project Breeman and Timmermans will focus on three policy fields (environment, security, and education) and will analyze how the Dutch national agenda and the European agenda mutually influence each other in these certain fields. They will try to do so by charting the amount of attention for different issues on a national and European scale for a longer period of time. The research will focus on periods of time in which peaks of attention for certain issues can be identified. Furthermore, the research will analyze the mechanisms of influence between the national and European agenda's.

Final goal of the research is to gain a better understanding of the workings of democracy and in particular of the role that the European Union plays within this system. In order to accomplish this there is a need for enhanced knowledge on the dynamics of political and public agenda setting. This relates to the legitimacy of political and public actions, since setting the agenda often means choosing the topics and setting the tone of the discussion. Furthermore, agenda setting touches upon the responsiveness of government performance. Policy that does not match public opinion can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration and eventually, political unrest. Although responsiveness is not the same as a reacting to a hype, it still demands an accurate antenna for public trends. Finding a balance is therefore essential. But how this balance can be found and what the exact role of Europe is, remains a questions yet to be answered.

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