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ECPR General Conference 2020, University of Innsbruck

Target Groups Matter! Explaining Varieties of Governing Individual Behaviour in Two EU Policy Areas

European Politics
European Union
Policy Analysis
Policy Change
Jan Pollex
Osnabrück University
Jan Pollex
Osnabrück University

note: the paper should be part of the panel 'Emerging Perspectives on Policy Change' by Nils Bandelow

Research on the policy process deals with a variety of aspects and analytical approaches that help us capture the impact of, e.g., problems, actors or coalitions. Yet, the relevance of target groups (Who’s being addressed? Who benefits from policy? Who has to pay?) for the formulation and design of policies is still rather unclear. While some research has dealt with target groups and their interpretation (e.g. Schneider, Ingram 1990) there is still limited knowledge on how to systematically capture target groups as an element in policy-making processes.
The proposed paper focuses on two policy areas of European Union politics in which individual behaviour is being addressed. In the case of sustainable consumption policy, we see a focus on rather conventional approaches to impact individual behaviour: Since the early 1990s this sub-area of environmental policy concentrates on the provision of information through product labels. In the case of tobacco policy, we can see a different pattern: While this sub-area of EU health policy relied on product information (e.g. on nicotine levels) a redesign of instruments has changed the policy approach towards a behavioural instrument. By using warning messages (e.g. ‘smoking kills’) since 2001 and pictures underlining these messages since 2013 the instrument has gradually shifted from an (neutral) information instrument to an explicit warning message aiming at ‘shocking’ consumers to detain them from consuming tobacco. The difference in the instrument design seems puzzling since both areas focus on a common good (health and sustainability) and center on the relevance of individuals and their behaviour to attain the policy goals. The paper seeks to explain the difference between the two approaches by focussing different interpretations and assumptions on target groups. I argue that these interpretations are a relevant factor enabling policy change (in the case of tobacco policy).
Conceptually, the paper relies on an interpretative approach to policy analysis and traces interpretations in the policy-making process. I concentrate on the idea that various elements are coupled in the policy-making to create convincing policy packages. By using Kingdons (2003) approach to streams and Hajers (2003) concept of story-lines, I show how target groups are incorporated in the policy-making and impact the policies’ design. Empirically, the paper draws upon an intensive qualitative analysis of policy agendas and concrete policies in both cases and relies on several expert interviews.
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