An intense two-day meeting of scholars of public administration and political science took place in the charming city of Leuven, famous as the home of the oldest university in the Low Countries. The Netherlands Institute of Government (NIG) organised its 9th Annual Work Conference, which featured higher number of panels and contributions compared to previous years. The Montesquieu Institute research group around the comparative agendas project was strongly represented in two of the workshops.
MI Fellow Anne Rasmussen (Leiden University) co-chaired the panel ‘Twenty Years of EU Decision Making since Maastricht’ together with Rik de Ruiter (Leiden University) and Jan Beyers (University of Antwerp). The workshop hosted a range of papers dealing with EU decision making, agenda setting, institutions, multi-level politics, and the role of interest groups. Minou de Ruiter (Utrecht University) presented a paper co-authored with MI Fellow Markus Haverland and Steven van de Walle (both from Erasmus University Rotterdam) on the European Commission’s ‘production of public opinion’. Analysing the contents and formulations of Eurobarometer questions, they evaluate how much the devising of these questions is a strategic instrument used by the European Commission to direct the EU agenda towards its own preferred issue positions. The project is still in a beginning stage but quite ambitious and promising. In the same panel Petya Alexandrova (MI PhD Researcher) and Anne Rasmussen presented their recent work on political responsiveness in the EU. The paper searches for the answer to an old question in EU politics – is the Union responsive to the public concerns or not? Focusing on the European Council and on a selection of eleven policy issues, the authors do find an overall effect of public issue prioritisation on the institution’s agenda, although this effect is small. Zooming into policy areas, the effect seems to hold in only some areas with a different strength.
Another workshop at the NIG conference was convened by MI Fellows Sebastiaan Princen (Utrecht University) and Peter Scholten (Erasmus University Rotterdam). The panel bared the title ‘Understanding Policy Dynamics: Advances of Theories of the Policy Process’. It featured both theoretical and empirical contributions on the subject. Sebastiaan Princen presented his paper ‘Changing Policy Paradigms in Economic and Monetary Union’, co-authored with Femke Van Esch (Utrecht University). The research project uses cognitive maps to discover changes in the European Commission’s positioning on policy issues related to the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). The analysis shows a number of recurring themes in the Commission’s thinking on this issue, as well as a marked development in terms of underlying economic paradigms and the instruments proposed to achieve compliance with the SGP. Another paper presented in this panel was ‘The Evolution of Attention and Problem Definition in the EU: the Case of Organised Crime Policy’ by Leticia Elias (MI PhD Researcher) and Arco Timmermans (MI Research Director). The comparison of the European Council and the European Commission with respect to their attention to organised crime issues shows that the two institutions follow different approach to the theme. The dynamic evolution of attention over time in both venues is in line with the punctuated equilibrium theory, which the authors apply.
A third paper featured in the panel presented an institutional processual approach to the application of EU state aid rules in the Netherlands. In it Pieter Zwaan (Radbound University Nijmegen) and MI Fellow Gerard Breeman (Wageningen University) claim that the application of EU state aid rules can be understood best in terms of ‘trial and error’. Domestic actors first pursue various pro-active responses to state aid requirements in order to balance different expectation and avoid strict conformity. Later on, however, they increasingly recognise the need to adopt a more pragmatic stance, accepting the European Commission’s suggestions.