ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Agenda-Setting in Public Administration: The Peculiar Case of the European Commission and Policymaking on Labour Migration

Christina Boswell
University of Edinburgh
Christina Boswell
University of Edinburgh
Open Panel

Abstract

The European Commission is a very unusual sort of public administrative body. Unlike national executives, it is relatively abstracted from the impacts of its decisions. Its actions are not constantly scrutinised by national party politics or the mass media in the way that those of national governments are. This raises the question of how the organisation selects, prioritises and frames issues for policymaking. Given its detachment from party political pressure or societal feedback, the Commission seems to represent an anomoly – and thus an interesting test case – for theories of agenda-setting in public administration. This paper draws on organisational sociology literature to develop a theory of the conditions under which different types of organisations might observe, prioritise and deploy certain sorts of information in their environment. One key insight of this account is that information selection and deployment depends on the organisation’s target audience, its mode of legitimation, and its justificatory style. The paper takes different combinations of these features to produce a typology of information processing in organisations, dividing organisations into four main types: the populist, delivery, technical and bureaucratic organisation. The typology can help explain why an organisation like the Commission might prioritise rather different information sources to those of national ministries. Focusing on the case of labour migration, the paper shows how the Commission DG JLS appeared to be acting consistently with a technical organisation. Relatively impervious to political pressure, the DG failed to pick up discouraging signals from member states about the desirability of a more liberal and harmonised labour migration policy. Instead, it looked to its peer organisations and the network of NGOs and researchers working in the policy area for guidance on how to proceed. It prioritised the information emanating from technical and scientific studies about the dynamics of labour markets, population ageing and the role of skills in the knowledge-based economy, both to indicate policy priorities and to justify its arguments.