Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

'Politics of attention' in times of economic misery

Thursday, November 8 2012, 12:26

THE HAGUE (PDC) - Making hard political choices is influenced by several and distinct factors where the attention of policy-makers currently is drawn. That contended Arco Timmermans, professor for public administration, during the first lecture of the series of lectures organised by the Montesquieu Institute. Timmermans compared his political phenomenon with Newton's law of motion: a force is required to make an object move, once without any resistance the moving object will be hard to stop.

However, there are quite a few snags when making hard political choices in times of economic misery, such as timing of policy-making, creating stable priorities in policy-making and allowance of taking time in policy-making in order to implement the policy proposals satisfactorily. Timmermans said that presenting hard political choices never seem to come at the right time for both citizens and policy-makers. Moreover, the motive behind making hard political choices by governments depends on the degree of attention to policy areas, as the Queen of The Netherlands highlights in her annual speeches every year on the opening-day of the Dutch parliament. Nevertheless, the drive for making hard political choices is the so-called 'politics of attention'; policy-making through use of both public opinion and political agendas.

Timmermans urged the priorities in political decision-making in times of economic misery subjective, due to the fact that attention for policy-making is scarce and competitive. Relevant events, also called focus events, have a major impact on policy-making. Arco Timmermans took the Arab Spring as an example for a relevant threat to policy-making in European Foreign Policy  and the proposals of Council President Van Rompuy to strengthen the euro zone which has been somewhat damaged by the euro crises as a macro factor in decision-making for the Economic and Monetary Policy.

All in all, making hard political choices in times of economic misery is a rather racy, but essential issue to postulate in times of the euro crises, given the fact that there are still quite some question marks at why governments make certain political choices in times of economic misery.