As of thresholds per indicator within the JER

As we have seen, policy
proponents with the EU may face two principal blockades when attempting to bring
an issue from the governmental agenda onto the EU’s decision agenda: horizontal
and vertical blockades. The former occurs when conflict and resistence on an
issue arises between different policy-makers on the content of the issue, while
vertical blockades occur when member states resist EU intervention in the
issue. As was seen in the anti-smoking case, horizontal blockades may be
overcome by narrowing the debate to include those which are more receptive to
your cause. This was relatively easy in anti-smoking policy as the tobacco was
largely discredited following greater scientific certainty over the harmful
effects of tobacco. With the social dimension of the EMU, DG EMPL overcame the
horizontal blockade presented by DG ECFIN and the vertical blockade presented
by some member states by looking for receptive venues, gaining the support of
strong actors such as Social and Employment ministers and social committes.

Issues arose once DG EMPL
suggested the inclusion of thresholds per indicator within the JER social
scoreboard. This was met with fierce opposition from DG ECFIN who did not want
the JER scoreboard to acquire the same stature as its own scoreboard within the
MIP. Furthermore, such thresholds would make the scoreboard much easier to
interpret, showcasing much clearly the negative effects which of the crisis
which were still being felt. The blame would consequently be  placed at DG ECFIN’s feet (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 22-24). This
horizontal blockade was also followed by a vertical one, with member states
such as Italy and France resisting the inclusion of thresholds within the
scoreboard. Nonetheless, while the final proposal was admittedly watered down,
DG EMPL certainly did manage to get their issue from the EU’s governmental agenda
onto its decision agenda. It did so by attempting (and succeeding) to gain the
support policy-makers who are receptive to social issues (Ibid). More
specifically, the Empoyment and Social Ministers, the SPC and the EMCO were all
brought onboard, and the proposal was endorsed in the December 2013 European
Council (European Council, 2013, p. 20).

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The key turning-point came with the
December 2012 European Council, where the member states committed towards
establishing a social dimension to the EMU (European Council, 2012, p. 5). This
in-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) on
the one hand, and DG Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN) on the other. Commission
President Barroso placed the task of developing the EMU’s social aspect in the
hands of DG EMPL. The latter was boosted by greater support from social policy
and employment ministers as well as from the Council Presidency
(Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 20-21). In 2013, the Commission released a
communication titled “Strengthening the social dimension of the EMU” (European
Commission, 2013, b). One of the main priorities identified by the Commission
was the need to “reinforce surveillance of employment and social challenges
and policy coordination (Ibid, p. 1). In this respect, it proposed the setting
up of two new social scoreboards within the Joint Employment Report (JER) and
the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure (MIP). Crucially, DG EMPL was the actor who pushed for a
scoreboard to be included in the JER, while DG ECFIN pushed for the one in the
MIP. While the JER was under the prerogative of social actors (including DG
EMPL), the MIP was under the sole authority of DG ECFIN. This further
demonstrates the competition between the different policy-makers on the social
policy issues.

Despite being given the opportunity to
participate within the debate, this did not initially result in anything
resembling a social dimension to the EMU. For instance, greater pressure was being
exerted by social actors during the debate concerning the second set of reforms
to the Stability and Growth pack in order to deal with the effects of the
Financial crisis (the so-called ‘Two-pack’) (European Commission, 2013, a). However,
the European Central Bank (ECB), the then President of the Commission Barroso
and the then President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy were not
particularly receptive to László Andor’s (the then Commissioner for Employment
and Social Affair, DG EMPL) plea for greater intervention within social policy.
The social dimension did find support within the European Parliament, as was
demonstrated in a resolution issued in November 2012 (,
2012). Within the same month, in its communication titled “A blueprint for a
deep and genuine economic and monetary union Launching a European Debate”, the
Commission did include some references to social policy issues (more
specifically, with regards to unemployment and social policy monitoring).
Nonetheless, this approach was less far-reaching than the one employed by the
European Parliament. Thus, up to this point the horizontal blockades were not
effectively overcome, with proponents of social policies only acquiring minimal
influence (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 18-19).

The first major obstacle facing social
actors seeking to influence EMU policy was the need to justify EU intervention
in social policy. This was achieved greatly to the credit of Socialists Member
of European Parliament (MEP) and the (then) chair of the Committee on Employment
and Social Affairs, Pervenche Bérès.
If we employ Princen’s understanding, Bérès claimed authority on the issue by
citing the common challenges facing all EU member states (i.e. social
imbalances). She also expressly made the link between social issues and the
EU’s 2020 Strategy (Vanheuverzwijn, 2014, pp. 14-15). More specifically, she
attempted to extend the EU’s ‘Six-pack’ (set of measures to amend the Stability
and Growth Pact, originally proposed in 2010 and entering into force the
following year (European Commission, 2011)) to article 148 in Title IX of the
Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). The reference to the European 2020
Strategy 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 with
established overall values that are held to be central to the EU’s purpose and
identity” in order to arouse interest on the same issue. While Bérès was not
completely successful, her initiative did result in a number of amendments to
the regulations concerning the Six-pack. More importantly, however, by linking
these economic measures with social challenges she was able to widen
participation in the debate, making room for social actors such as the Employment
Committee (EMCO) and the Social Protection Committee (SPC) (Vanheuverzwijn,
2014, p. 15). Thus, one could say that the vertical blockade in this case was overcome
by widening participation in order to find policy-makers, or venues, which are
receptive to the issue (in this case, the SPC and EMCO).

One policy area which throughout its
career has experienced both vertical and horizontal blockades is the social
aspect of the EMU. Within the formulation of greater fiscal coordination and a
common monetary policy and currency (for Eurozone states), the debate at the EU
level 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 a
result, EU economic policy has been geared towards reducing public deficits and
greater deregulation.

The EU’s anti-smoking policy is a prime
example of how horizontal blockades may be overcome by narrowing participation
in the debate. This policy area emerged in the 1980s after the Single European
Act (SEA) granted the (then) European Economic Community (EEC) some competences
relating to health. At the same time, the Community had launched its “Europe
Against Cancer” programme (Princen and Rhinard, 2006, pp. 1123-1124). Smoking
was identified as one of the principal causes of cancer. In order for the EU to
legislate in this area, however, it first needed to justify EU intervention in
this policy area. The Commission did so by framing anti-smoking policy as an
internal market issue, arguing that different national measures would have the
effect 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 resistance
since the Commission, European Parliament as well as the member states’ Health
ministers were all in general agreement. Moreover, the Commission engaged in
“agenda-setting from below”, gradually introducing slight and generally
non-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 on
tobacco advertisements. Naturally, the greatest opposition stemmed from tobacco
companies. They attempted to lobby both the European Economic and Social
Committee (EESC) as well as member states governments (Princen and Rhinard,
2006, p. 1125). While this proposal made little headway at first, more member
states became increasingly open to the idea by the late 1990s given the greater
scientific 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 of
participation in the debate to those who supported greater EU regulation in
this area, effectively excluding the Tobacco industry. This explains why the
Commission was able to push through a number of anti-smoking measures in the
1980s and 1990s, as well as a directive (albeit watered-down) banning tobacco
advertisements within the EU in 2003 (Princen, 2009, p. 155; Versluis, van
Keulen and Stephenson, 2011, pp. 110-111).

The strategy that the actor must use in
order to overcome these blockades differs depending on the type of blockade.
One may ‘beat’ horizontal blockades by reducing the number of participants that
have access to the debate in order to remove those that do not favour your
position (Richardson, 2012, p. 37). Using the same approach in the case of
vertical blockades will probably not yield the desired results. Instead, here
one should widen participation in order to find a policy-maker that is
sympathetic 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 the
EU level either by framing the issue as a European one (for instance, the issue
affects the internal market) or by citing “common challenges” facing EU member
states which would be more effectively addressed at the EU level. Princen calls
these two strategies “claiming authority”. Having established the principle
ways through which a proponent of an issue may overcome blockades I shall now
provide examples of these strategies within EU policy, starting with horizontal

When it comes to EU policy, one also has
to distinguish between its ‘governmental agenda’ where issues are discussed but
no proposals have been put forward, and its ‘decision agenda’ where proposals
are being drawn up and the issue is being actively tackled. While an issue may
experience relatively little resistance when it is on the governmental agenda,
opposition will most likely arise once that issue is being pushed onto the
decision agenda (Richardson, 2012, pp. 35-36). Actors attempting to bring an
issue from the EU’s governmental agenda onto the decision agenda may be met by
two obstacles, called ‘blockades’. One may be a ‘horizontal blockade’ whereby
the conflict arises on the substance of the proposal or issue, and which may
thus give rise to competition between different EU policy-makers who have
diverging interests. The other blockade may be vertical. This refers to
resistance exerted by some member states who do not believe that the particular
issue 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 people
outside government closely associated with those officials, are paying some
serious attention at any given time.” Rogers and Dearing (1988) further
differentiate between three types of agendas; the political agenda, the public
agenda and the media agenda. First, the political agenda refers to the issues
or subjects which capture the attention of policy-makers. The public agenda, on
the other hand, consists of issues that the general public pays attention to
and deems important. Finally, the media agenda comprises the issues that are
prioritized on different media sources, such as the internet, television, radio
and print media (Lelieveldt and Princen, 2011, p. 208). From these definitions
we can see that, be it for the policy-makers, public or media, agendas consist
of a number of issues. We understand the latter as a “conflict between two or
more identifiable groups over procedural or substantive matters relating to the
distribution of positions or resources” (Cobb and Elder, 1972, p. 82). 

In this essay I shall first provide a
number of brief definitions relating to agenda-setting theory in order to
establish in what context vertical and horizontal blockades may be faced when
an actor attempts to bring an issue onto the agenda. I will then provide
concrete examples of this within European Union (EU) policy, and explain how
these blockades were eventually overcome. The policy areas chosen are the EU’s
anti-smoking policy and the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union


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