Skip to main content Accessibility help

Explaining political attention allocation with the help of issue character: evidence from the European Council

  • Petya Alexandrova (a1)

Policy issues compete for the attention of political actors, and the size of the agenda an issue can occupy is largely determined by the way in which it is defined. This logic constitutes a simple agenda-setting model in which factors related to the participants in the policy process and their context influence the attention a single issue receives after being problematised. In order to be able to apply this model to the construction of a whole agenda, we need to add an intermediate step. This study proposes to do so by incorporating the notion of issue character and offers an empirical application of the adapted model to the European Council, a crucial informal player in European Union (EU) agenda setting. Using a dimensionality reduction technique, the composition of the agenda is broken down to two constitutive dimensions – core vs. non-core themes of government and economic vs. non-economic character. Since the first structuring element is in line with existing knowledge and the role expectations for the European Council, the analysis concentrates on the second type. Changing saliency levels of the economic issue character of the agenda are used as a dependent variable in a model, including predictors related to the nature of the institution and contextual factors. The results show that leftist European Council party ideology and growing government deficit in the EU contribute to the increasing prominence of the economic dimension, which in turn explains rising levels in attention to various issues, especially of the non-core themes type.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Alexandrova, P., Carammia, M. and Timmermans, A. (2012), ‘Policy punctuations and issue diversity on the European Council agenda’, Policy Studies Journal 40(1): 6988.
Alexandrova, P., Carammia, M., Princen, S. and Timmermans, A. (2014), ‘Measuring the European Council agenda: introducing a new approach and dataset’, European Union Politics 15(1): 152167.
Atkinson, R. (2001), ‘The emerging ‘urban agenda’ and the European spatial development perspective: towards an EU urban policy?’, European Planning Studies 9(3): 385406.
Bachrach, P. and Baratz, M.S. (1962), ‘Two faces of power’, The American Political Science Review 56(4): 947952.
Baum, M.A. (2002), ‘Sex, lies, and war: how soft news brings foreign policy to the inattentive public’, American Political Science Review 96(1): 91109.
Baumgartner, F.R., De Boef, S.L. and Boydstun, A.E. (2008), The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Birkland, T.A. (1997), After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events, Washington: Georgetown University Press.
Black, E.J. (2009), ‘EU equality commitments and shifting meanings of gender equality’, Review of European and Russian Affairs 5(1): 5282.
Borg, I. and Groenen, P.J.F. (2005), Modern Multidimensional Scaling: Theory and Applications, 2nd edn., New York: Springer.
Candel, J.J.L. Breeman, G.E., Stiller, S.J. and Termeer, C.J.A.M. (2014), ‘Disentangling the consensus frame of food security: the case of the EU Common Agricultural Policy reform debate’, Food Policy 44: 4758.
Carmines, E.G. and Stimson, J.A. (1980), ‘The two faces of issue voting’, The American Political Science Review 74(1): 7891.
Cerna, L. and Chou, M. (2014), ‘The regional dimension in the global competition for talent: lessons from framing the European scientific visa and blue card’, Journal of European Public Policy 21(1): 7695.
Cloos, J. (2008), Analyse des conclusions du Counceil Europeen depuis 1979. Note interne.
Cobb, R.W. and Elder, C.D. (1971), ‘The politics of agenda-building: an alternative perspective for modern democratic theory’, The Journal of Politics 33(4): 892915.
Cox, T.F. and Cox, M.A.A. (2001), Multidimensional Scaling, Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Daviter, F. (2011), Policy Framing in the European Union, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Daviter, F. (2014), ‘An information processing perspective on decision making in the European Union’, Public Administration 92(2): 324339.
de Schoutheete, P. and Wallace, H. (2002), Study on the European Council, Brussels: Notre Europe.
Döring, H. and Manow, P. (2012), Parliament and Government Composition Database (ParlGov): An Infrastructure for Empirical Information on Parties, Elections and Governments in Modern Democracies. Version 12/10–15 October 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2014 from
Eggermont, F. (2012), The Changing Role of the European Council in the Institutional Framework of the European Union: Consequences for the European Integration Process, Mortsel: Intersentia.
Foret, F. (2014), ‘Legitimacy in numbers? Communicative aspects on the post-Lisbon EU’, in F. Foret and Y. Rittelmeyer (eds), The European Council and European Governance. the Commanding Heights of the EU, London: Routledge, pp. 147166.
Goffman, E. (1974), Frame Analysis. An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Boston: Northeast University Press.
Green-Pedersen, C. and Mortensen, P.B. (2010), ‘Who sets the agenda and who responds to it in the Danish parliament? A new model of issue competition and agenda-setting’, European Journal of Political Research 49(2): 257281.
Guigner, S. (2004), ‘Institutionalizing public health in the European Commission: the thrills and spills of politicization’, in A. Smith (ed.), Politics and the European Commission: Actors, Interdependence, Legitimacy, London: Routledge, pp. 96115.
Hix, S. and Høyland, B. (2011), The Political System of the European Union, 3rd edn., Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jaworska, N. and Chupetlovska-Anastasova, A. (2009), ‘A review of multidimensional scaling (MDS) and its utility in various psychological domains’, Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology 5(1): 110.
Jennings, W. Bevan, S., Timmermans, A., Breeman, G., Brouard, S., Chaqués-Bonafont, L., Green-Pedersen, C., John, P., Mortensen, P.B. and Palau, A.M. (2011), ‘Effects of the core functions of government on the diversity of executive agendas’, Comparative Political Studies 44(8): 10011030.
Jeon, Y. and Haider-Markel, D.P. (2001), ‘Tracing issue definition and policy change: an analysis of disability issue images and policy response’, Policy Studies Journal 29(2): 215231.
Jones, B.D. (2001), Politics and the Architecture of Choice, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jones, B.D. and Baumgartner, F.R. (2005), The Politics of Attention. How Government Prioritizes Problems, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kingdon, J.W. (1995), Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies, 2nd edn., New York: HarperCollins College Publishers.
Kjellberg, F. (1977), ‘Do policies (really) determine politics? And eventually how?’, Policy Studies Journal 5(s1): 554570.
Klüver, H. (2011), ‘The contextual nature of lobbying: explaining lobbying success in the European Union’, European Union Politics 12(4): 483506.
Kruskal, J.B. and Wish, M. (1978), Multidimensional Scaling, London: Sage.
Littoz-Monnet, A. (2012), ‘Agenda-setting dynamics at the EU level: the case of the EU cultural policy’, Journal of European Integration 34(5): 505522.
Lowi, T.J. (1964), ‘American business, public policy, case-studies, and political theory’, World Politics 16(4): 677715.
Lowi, T.J. (1972), ‘Four systems of policy, politics, and choice’, Public Administration Review 32(4): 298310.
Mahoney, C. (2007), ‘Lobbying success in the United States and the European Union’, Journal of Public Policy 27(1): 3556.
Mörth, U. (2000), ‘Competing frames in the European Commission – the case of the defence industry and equipment issue’, Journal of European Public Policy 7(2): 173189.
Moschella, M. (2011), ‘Getting hedge funds regulation into the EU agenda: the constraints of agenda dynamics’, Journal of European Integration 33(3): 251266.
Nugent, N. (2010), The Government and Politics of the European Union, 7th edn., Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Peters, B.G. (1994), ‘Agenda‐setting in the European Community’, Journal of European Public Policy 1(1): 926.
Peters, B.G. (2001), ‘Agenda-setting in the European Union’, in J. Richardson (ed.), European Union. Power and Policy-Making, 2nd edn., London: Routledge, pp. 7794.
Plein, L.C. (1991), ‘Popularizing biotechnology: the influence of issue definition’, Science, Technology & Human Values 16(4): 474490.
Princen, S. (2007), ‘Agenda-setting in the European Union: a theoretical exploration and agenda for research’, Journal of European Public Policy 14(1): 2138.
Princen, S. (2010), ‘Venue shifts and policy change in EU fisheries policy’, Marine Policy 34(1): 3641.
Rhinard, M. (2010), Framing Europe: The Policy Shaping Strategies of the European Commission, Dordrecht: Martinus Nijnhoff Publishers.
Rochefort, D.A. and Cobb, R.W. (1994), The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda, Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
Rosenau, J.N. (1966), ‘Pre-theories and theories of foreign policy’, in R.B. Farrell (ed.), Approaches to Comparative and International Politics, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, pp. 2792.
Schattschneider, E.E. (1960), The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist's View of Democracy in America, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Scholten, P. and Timmermans, A. (2010), ‘Setting the immigrant policy agenda: expertise and politics in the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom’, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice 12(5): 527544.
Sheingate, A.D. (2000), ‘Agricultural retrenchment revisited: issue definition and venue change in the United States and European Union’, Governance 13(3): 335363.
Sigelman, L. Sigelman, C.K., Walkosz, B.J. (1992), ‘The public and the paradox of leadership: an experimental analysis’, American Journal of Political Science 36(2): 366385.
Steyvers, M. (2002), ‘Multidimensional scaling’, in Lynn Nadel (ed.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, London: Nature Publishing Group.
Strom, E. and Cook, A. (2004), ‘Old pictures in new frames: issue definition and federal arts policy’, Review of Policy Research 21(4): 505522.
Talbert, J.C. and Potoski, M. (2002), ‘Setting the legislative agenda: the dimensional structure of bill cosponsoring and floor voting’, The Journal of Politics 64(3): 864891.
Tallberg, J. and Johansson, K.M. (2008), ‘Party politics in the European Council’, Journal of European Public Policy 15(8): 12221242.
Underdal, A. (1979), ‘Issues determine politics determine policies: the case for a ‘rationalistic’ approach to the study of foreign policy decision-making’, Cooperation and Conflict 14(1): 19.
Van der Brug, W. (1999), ‘Voters’ perceptions and party dynamics’, Party Politics 5(2): 147169.
van Grinsven, P. and Melissen, J. (2002), ‘Europese raad tussen marginale aanpassing en radicale hervorming’, Internationale Spectator 56(9): 421425.
Veen, T. (2011), ‘The dimensionality and nature of conflict in European Union politics: on the characteristics of intergovernmental decision-making’, European Union Politics 12(1): 6586.
Volkens, A. Lacewell, O., Lehmann, P., Regel, S., Schultze, H. and Werner, A. (2011), The Manifesto Data Collection. Manifesto Project (MRG/CMP/MARPOR), Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB).
Wendon, B. (1998), ‘The Commission as image-venue entrepreneur in EU social policy’, Journal of European Public Policy 5(2): 339353.
Werts, J. (2008), The European Council, London: John Harper Publishing.
Wessels, W. (2008a), Das Politische System Der Europäische Union, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
Wessels, W. (2008b), The European Council: a bigger club, a similar role?’, in E. Best, T. Christiansen and P. Settembri (eds), The Institutions of the Enlarged European Union: Continuity and Change, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 1633.
Wilson, J.Q. (1973), ‘Organizations and public policy’, in J.Q. Wilson (ed.), Political Organizations, New York: Basic Books, pp. 327347.
Wilson, J.Q. (1980), ‘The politics of regulation’, in J.Q. Wilson (ed.), The Politics of Regulation, New York: Basic Books, pp. 357394.
Yagade, A. and Dozier, D.M. (1990), ‘The media agenda-setting effect of concrete versus abstract issues’, Journalism Quarterly 67(1): 310.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 1755-7739
  • EISSN: 1755-7747
  • URL: /core/journals/european-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed