As of thresholds per indicator within the JER

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Last updated: December 27, 2019

As we have seen, policyproponents with the EU may face two principal blockades when attempting to bringan issue from the governmental agenda onto the EU’s decision agenda: horizontaland vertical blockades. The former occurs when conflict and resistence on anissue arises between different policy-makers on the content of the issue, whilevertical blockades occur when member states resist EU intervention in theissue.

As was seen in the anti-smoking case, horizontal blockades may beovercome by narrowing the debate to include those which are more receptive toyour cause. This was relatively easy in anti-smoking policy as the tobacco waslargely discredited following greater scientific certainty over the harmfuleffects of tobacco. With the social dimension of the EMU, DG EMPL overcame thehorizontal blockade presented by DG ECFIN and the vertical blockade presentedby some member states by looking for receptive venues, gaining the support ofstrong actors such as Social and Employment ministers and social committes.Issues arose once DG EMPLsuggested the inclusion of thresholds per indicator within the JER socialscoreboard. This was met with fierce opposition from DG ECFIN who did not wantthe JER scoreboard to acquire the same stature as its own scoreboard within theMIP. Furthermore, such thresholds would make the scoreboard much easier tointerpret, showcasing much clearly the negative effects which of the crisiswhich were still being felt.

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The blame would consequently be  placed at DG ECFIN’s feet (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 22-24). Thishorizontal blockade was also followed by a vertical one, with member statessuch as Italy and France resisting the inclusion of thresholds within thescoreboard. Nonetheless, while the final proposal was admittedly watered down,DG EMPL certainly did manage to get their issue from the EU’s governmental agendaonto its decision agenda. It did so by attempting (and succeeding) to gain thesupport policy-makers who are receptive to social issues (Ibid). Morespecifically, the Empoyment and Social Ministers, the SPC and the EMCO were allbrought onboard, and the proposal was endorsed in the December 2013 EuropeanCouncil (European Council, 2013, p.

20). The key turning-point came with theDecember 2012 European Council, where the member states committed towardsestablishing a social dimension to the EMU (European Council, 2012, p. 5). Thisin-turn set the stage for the Commission to come up with concrete proposals,giving rise to competition between DG EMPL (as a proponent of social policy) onthe one hand, and DG Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN) on the other. CommissionPresident Barroso placed the task of developing the EMU’s social aspect in thehands of DG EMPL. The latter was boosted by greater support from social policyand employment ministers as well as from the Council Presidency(Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 20-21). In 2013, the Commission released acommunication titled “Strengthening the social dimension of the EMU” (EuropeanCommission, 2013, b).

One of the main priorities identified by the Commissionwas the need to “reinforce surveillance of employment and social challengesand policy coordination (Ibid, p. 1). In this respect, it proposed the settingup of two new social scoreboards within the Joint Employment Report (JER) andthe Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure (MIP). Crucially, DG EMPL was the actor who pushed for ascoreboard to be included in the JER, while DG ECFIN pushed for the one in theMIP. While the JER was under the prerogative of social actors (including DGEMPL), the MIP was under the sole authority of DG ECFIN. This furtherdemonstrates the competition between the different policy-makers on the socialpolicy issues. Despite being given the opportunity toparticipate within the debate, this did not initially result in anythingresembling a social dimension to the EMU.

For instance, greater pressure was beingexerted by social actors during the debate concerning the second set of reformsto the Stability and Growth pack in order to deal with the effects of theFinancial crisis (the so-called ‘Two-pack’) (European Commission, 2013, a). However,the European Central Bank (ECB), the then President of the Commission Barrosoand the then President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy were notparticularly receptive to László Andor’s (the then Commissioner for Employmentand Social Affair, DG EMPL) plea for greater intervention within social policy.The social dimension did find support within the European Parliament, as wasdemonstrated in a resolution issued in November 2012 (Europarl.,2012). Within the same month, in its communication titled “A blueprint for adeep and genuine economic and monetary union Launching a European Debate”, theCommission did include some references to social policy issues (morespecifically, with regards to unemployment and social policy monitoring).Nonetheless, this approach was less far-reaching than the one employed by theEuropean Parliament.

Thus, up to this point the horizontal blockades were noteffectively overcome, with proponents of social policies only acquiring minimalinfluence (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 18-19).The first major obstacle facing socialactors seeking to influence EMU policy was the need to justify EU interventionin social policy.

This was achieved greatly to the credit of Socialists Memberof European Parliament (MEP) and the (then) chair of the Committee on Employmentand Social Affairs, Pervenche Bérès.If we employ Princen’s understanding, Bérès claimed authority on the issue byciting the common challenges facing all EU member states (i.e. socialimbalances). She also expressly made the link between social issues and theEU’s 2020 Strategy (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 14-15). More specifically, sheattempted to extend the EU’s ‘Six-pack’ (set of measures to amend the Stabilityand Growth Pact, originally proposed in 2010 and entering into force thefollowing year (European Commission, 2011)) to article 148 in Title IX of theTreaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The reference to the European 2020Strategy may be considered an example of what Princen (2011, p.

933) called’big words’. He defined the latter as framing the issue by “tying it in withestablished overall values that are held to be central to the EU’s purpose andidentity” in order to arouse interest on the same issue. While Bérès was notcompletely successful, her initiative did result in a number of amendments tothe regulations concerning the Six-pack.

More importantly, however, by linkingthese economic measures with social challenges she was able to widenparticipation in the debate, making room for social actors such as the EmploymentCommittee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) (Vanheuverzwijn,2014, p. 15). Thus, one could say that the vertical blockade in this case was overcomeby widening participation in order to find policy-makers, or venues, which arereceptive to the issue (in this case, the SPC and EMCO). One policy area which throughout itscareer has experienced both vertical and horizontal blockades is the socialaspect of the EMU. Within the formulation of greater fiscal coordination and acommon monetary policy and currency (for Eurozone states), the debate at the EUlevel was initially largely dominated by economic and financial policy makers(Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 13-14).

This was reflected in the resulting policy,including social policy (Degryse, Jepsen and Pochet, 2013, pp. 25-26). As aresult, EU economic policy has been geared towards reducing public deficits andgreater deregulation.The EU’s anti-smoking policy is a primeexample of how horizontal blockades may be overcome by narrowing participationin the debate. This policy area emerged in the 1980s after the Single EuropeanAct (SEA) granted the (then) European Economic Community (EEC) some competencesrelating to health. At the same time, the Community had launched its “EuropeAgainst Cancer” programme (Princen and Rhinard, 2006, pp. 1123-1124).

Smokingwas identified as one of the principal causes of cancer. In order for the EU tolegislate in this area, however, it first needed to justify EU intervention inthis policy area. The Commission did so by framing anti-smoking policy as aninternal market issue, arguing that different national measures would have theeffect of restricting the free movement of goods (Ibid, p. 1124; Princen, 2011,p.

936). The initial measures adopted by the EEC were met by little resistancesince the Commission, European Parliament as well as the member states’ Healthministers were all in general agreement. Moreover, the Commission engaged in”agenda-setting from below”, gradually introducing slight and generallynon-contentious measures or, as Princen (2011, p. 934) calls it, ‘small steps’.However, this changed once the Commission sought to introduce an EU-wide ban ontobacco advertisements.

Naturally, the greatest opposition stemmed from tobaccocompanies. They attempted to lobby both the European Economic and SocialCommittee (EESC) as well as member states governments (Princen and Rhinard,2006, p. 1125). While this proposal made little headway at first, more memberstates became increasingly open to the idea by the late 1990s given the greaterscientific certainty on the link between smoking (and even second-hand smoking)and cancer. With the tobacco companies and lobbyists having lost credibility,proponents of anti-smoking policy were able to narrow the scope ofparticipation in the debate to those who supported greater EU regulation inthis area, effectively excluding the Tobacco industry. This explains why theCommission was able to push through a number of anti-smoking measures in the1980s and 1990s, as well as a directive (albeit watered-down) banning tobaccoadvertisements within the EU in 2003 (Princen, 2009, p. 155; Versluis, vanKeulen and Stephenson, 2011, pp. 110-111).

The strategy that the actor must use inorder to overcome these blockades differs depending on the type of blockade.One may ‘beat’ horizontal blockades by reducing the number of participants thathave access to the debate in order to remove those that do not favour yourposition (Richardson, 2012, p. 37). Using the same approach in the case ofvertical blockades will probably not yield the desired results. Instead, hereone should widen participation in order to find a policy-maker that issympathetic to the issue at hand (Princen, 2009, p. 155).

Princen (2011, p.938) also argues that a proponent of an issue may justify intervention at theEU level either by framing the issue as a European one (for instance, the issueaffects the internal market) or by citing “common challenges” facing EU memberstates which would be more effectively addressed at the EU level. Princen callsthese two strategies “claiming authority”. Having established the principleways through which a proponent of an issue may overcome blockades I shall nowprovide examples of these strategies within EU policy, starting with horizontalblockades. When it comes to EU policy, one also hasto distinguish between its ‘governmental agenda’ where issues are discussed butno proposals have been put forward, and its ‘decision agenda’ where proposalsare being drawn up and the issue is being actively tackled. While an issue mayexperience relatively little resistance when it is on the governmental agenda,opposition will most likely arise once that issue is being pushed onto thedecision agenda (Richardson, 2012, pp. 35-36). Actors attempting to bring anissue from the EU’s governmental agenda onto the decision agenda may be met bytwo obstacles, called ‘blockades’.

One may be a ‘horizontal blockade’ wherebythe conflict arises on the substance of the proposal or issue, and which maythus give rise to competition between different EU policy-makers who havediverging interests. The other blockade may be vertical. This refers toresistance exerted by some member states who do not believe that the particularissue should be addressed at the EU level (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, p. 7).Kingdon (2011, p. 3) defines ‘agenda’ as”the list of subjects or problems to which governmental officials, and peopleoutside government closely associated with those officials, are paying someserious attention at any given time.” Rogers and Dearing (1988) furtherdifferentiate between three types of agendas; the political agenda, the publicagenda and the media agenda. First, the political agenda refers to the issuesor subjects which capture the attention of policy-makers.

The public agenda, onthe other hand, consists of issues that the general public pays attention toand deems important. Finally, the media agenda comprises the issues that areprioritized on different media sources, such as the internet, television, radioand print media (Lelieveldt and Princen, 2011, p. 208). From these definitionswe can see that, be it for the policy-makers, public or media, agendas consistof a number of issues. We understand the latter as a “conflict between two ormore identifiable groups over procedural or substantive matters relating to thedistribution of positions or resources” (Cobb and Elder, 1972, p. 82).  In this essay I shall first provide anumber of brief definitions relating to agenda-setting theory in order toestablish in what context vertical and horizontal blockades may be faced whenan actor attempts to bring an issue onto the agenda.

I will then provideconcrete examples of this within European Union (EU) policy, and explain howthese blockades were eventually overcome. The policy areas chosen are the EU’santi-smoking policy and the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union(EMU).

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