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Federico Faleschini (ID 10902214) Module Convenor: Paolo Dardanelli Module: PO885 (Decision-making in the European Union) 15 November

2010 Essay 1 (word limit: 2500; actual words: 2485)

How can the concepts of agenda-setting and veto power be applied to EU decision-making?

The purpose of this essay is to assess whether the concepts of veto player (VP) and agenda-setting (A-S) can be used to promote the understanding of the decision-making (D-M) process in the European Union (EU). My argument is that both concepts are useful tools in the analysis of the complicated EU's D-M process: on the one hand VP theory provides a deep insight into the far-reaching significance of D-M rules, on the other hand A-S can help to identify the most important actors for different issue-areas. The EU D-M process refers to the day-to-day legislative process which influences the life of European citizens in many different and important ways. These research area is not covered by the approaches which focus on the history of the integration process (neo-functionalism and intergovernmentalism). Other theories and concepts are thus needed to provide a reliable description of the D-M process, in order to be able to make correct predictions on the outcomes of this important source of legislation. The essay is organised as follows. The first section briefly expounds the basics of VP theory (Tsebelis G., 2002: 17-63) and provides an example of application of the VP theory by analysing the consequences of the Nice Treaty on the EU D-M. The second section gives the definition of formal and informal A-S and presents two different patterns of A-S in the EU DM process. The third section concludes.


A VP is an individual or collective actor who can prevent any change from the status quo (SQ) (Tsebelis G., 2002: 17), that is, who has the power to stop the decision-making progress. A system in which it is very difficult to change the SQ is said to have high 'policy stability'. Tsebelis employs an Euclidean spatial model to illustrate how the interaction between VPs defines the D-M process. In this space each point represents a possible policy outcome/alternative. The VP's preferences determine his 'ideal point' (i.e. his ideal policy outcome), which is the centre of his 'circular indifference curves': the VP will prefer all the points closer to his ideal point and will be indifferent to the points which lay on the same 1

indifference curve (i.e. the VP will consider those policy alternatives equal in value). The intersections of the VPs' indifference curves which pass through the SQ determine the 'Winset of the SQ' (hence 'W(SQ)'), that is, the set of alternatives that can beat the SQ once the appropriate voting rule is applied (i.e. the set of outcomes which are closer to the ideal point of all the VPs in respect to the SQ or at least of all the VPs needed to approve a change under the appropriate voting rule). At the same time the area comprised between the ideal points of the VPs is the 'Core', i.e. the set of outcomes which can not be defeated by any other outcome once the appropriate voting rule is applied (so if the SQ is located inside the core, there will always be at least one VP which opposes the change because there can't be mutual gaining for all the VPs in the case of the unanimity core, the opposition of one VP is sufficient to prevent the change). From these basic concepts Tsebelis builds some fundamental propositions which form the foundation of VP theory: 1. 'The addition of a new veto player increases policy stability or leaves it the same' (ibidem: 25) either because it decreases the size of W(SQ) or increases the size of the unanimity core or leaves both the same; 2. If a new VP is added whose ideal point happens to be in the unanimity core of the previously existing VPs, he will have no effect on the policy stability (he will be absorbed by other VPs' circular indifference curves, that is, his preferences will overlap with the ones of some or all of the others VP); 3. The greater the distance among the VPs (that is, the more distant their preferences), the higher policy stability will be, because of the expansion of the unanimity core and of the shrinking of the W(SQ); 4. The VP who is also agenda setter (that is, the one who can make a 'take-it-or-leave-it' proposal to the others VPs) has a considerable advantage because he can select the outcome in the W(SQ) which is closer to his ideal point. Tsebelis identifies three corollaries of this proposition: 'A single VP is also the agenda setter and has no constraints in the selection of outcomes' (ibidem: 35); The importance of A-S 'declines as policy stability increases' (ibidem: 35) because the W(SQ) shrinks; 2

The importance of A-S increases 'as the agenda setter is located centrally among existing veto players' (ibidem: 35) because chances that he will be located inside the W(SQ) increase. VP theory is a comprehensive approach and covers all aspects of the working of political institutions. To see how this approach can be applied to EU D-M I will expose the analysis by Tsebelis and Yataganas (Tsebelis G., Yataganas X., 2002) of the consequences of the Treaty of Nice (TN). They argue that the TN had profound repercussions on the entire EU D-M process by changing the voting rules in the Council. The main reason for this reform was the 2005 enlargement to the eastern European countries, which for the first time would have separated 'the three majoritarian criteria (weighted votes in the Council, majority of countries, and majority of the population)' (ibidem: 283). The TN introduced a 'double majority assisted by a safety net' (ibidem: 285) which became effective from I January 2005. With an EU of 27 Member States the qualified majority rise to 74.48% (up from 71.26% before TN) and at the same must represent the majority of Member States. In addition, any Member State can ask for confirmation that the majority embodies at least 62% of the population of the EU (the 'safety net'). The positions of the Member States delegations during the summit provide evidence that the higher qualified majority was preferred by the larger Member States while smaller Member States strongly demanded the majority of Member States criteria. While the qualified majority threshold did not rise significantly, the additional restrictions (majority of member states and 62% of the population) invalidate many possible majorities. According to VP theory, on the one hand the increase in qualified majority increases the qualified majority core, on the other hand the invalidation of many possible majorities means that the qualified majority core expands even more: as a consequence, there is a large increase in policy stability of the Council. The increase in policy stability in the Council has widespread effects on all EU legislation. The most important consequence is that the Council becomes the most relevant actor because its veto power on new legislation augments. Tsebelis and Yagatanas draw a comparison between co-decision II procedure and bicameral institutions (the Council and the European Parliament being considered as the two chambers): if chamber A has more rigid restrictions for reaching the majority (as Council does in respect to the European Parliament

after the NT), then the set of possible outcomes will be smaller and nearer to chamber A than it would have been the case with similar majorities in both chambers (as it was the case before the TN). This switch in outcomes is likely to be negligible when both actors have similar preferences; nevertheless, the opposite scenario has so far been the norm, with the Council and the European Parliament 'on the opposite sides of the political spectrum' (ibidem: 300). Finally, the entrance of eastern European countries in 2005-2007 increased the heterogeneity of preferences in all EU D-M political institutions: it is indeed likely that the eastern European countries have different preferences from the old member states. Therefore the core of both the Council and the European Parliament expanded, making EU legislation even more difficult. Thus according to VP theory, the combination of the new D-M rules and the addition of new VPs with more heterogeneous preferences has strongly increased policy stability and has augmented the influence of the Council on policy outcomes.

We already know from VP theory that A-S is the power of an institutional actor to restrict the possible legislative outcomes to the ones that are closer to his ideal point. I shall now define more precisely the concept of A-S. Pollack (Pollack M.A., 2003: 47-56) distinguishes between two kinds of A-S, 'formal' and 'informal'. Formal A-S consists in the right of the agenda setter (hence AS) to 'set the procedural agenda [by putting forward to the final decision makers] proposals that can be more easily adopted than amended' (ibidem: 47). The crucial variables to determine formal A-S power are the 'rules governing who may propose legislation' (ibidem) (e.g. the Commission has this exclusive right in many areas of the I pillar), 'the rules governing voting among legislators' (ibidem) (qualified majority voting increases AS's power versus absolute majority) and 'the rules governing amendments to the agenda-setter proposals' (ibidem) (the more difficult the amendments i.e. if there is a closed rule for amendments the stronger the AS; judging by this criteria the Commission lost much of his formal A-S power under co-decision II procedure because it hasn't any voting rights during the conciliation phase) (ibidem: 84-85,

227). Informal A-S on the contrary is not dependent on any institutional rule and is indeed defined as the ability of the AS to design proposals 'around which bargaining can converge' (ibidem: 50), either assuming perfect or imperfect information. The AS is described as a 'policy entrepreneur' (ibidem: 51) which relies on personal qualities of leadership, negotiating skills and persistence: both EU's supranational institutions and member governments possess these skills. Pollack claims that the A-S power of supranational organisations is maximised when there is imperfect information and either 'unclear preferences among member states or an asymmetrical distribution of information in favour of supranational organisations' (ibidem). His claim is widely supported by the existing literature (ibidem: 54-55). Another way of using the concept of A-S to understand EU D-M is provided by Princen and Rhinard (Princen S., Rhinnard M., 2006: 1119-1132). Resting upon the American literature on A-S dynamics, they distinguish four stages of A-S initiation, specification, expansion and entrance and two ideal-type processes of A-S in the EU, the 'high politics' (HP) route and the 'low politics' (LP) one. In the HP route the issue emerges (initiation) as a shared political problem between high-level political figures in the European Council: it is thus essentially a political route. The European Council only sets the general 'outlines of a common approach' (ibidem: 1121) (specification) and then leaves to lower level institutions the definition of details (expansion). The entrance of the issue on 'the formal agenda of EU decision-makers' (ibidem: 1122) is often related to an emblematic event which emphasizes the need for a common approach. The LP route on the other hand is a technocratic process. Initiation of the issue takes place between experts of the same issue-area working in low level institutions and is often gradual as consensus emerge. Issue specification is carried out as the formulation of 'specific and technical proposals' (ibidem: 1122) which are then presented to higher-level institutions (expansion). Issue entrance may be successful if the series of seemingly small and unimportant technical decisions has built sufficient impetus to enter the EU agenda. Princen and Rhinnard analyse two case studies to demonstrate that the interaction of different routes at different stages has a significant influence on final outcomes. I will resume only one of the case studies, the anti-smoking policy at the European level (ibidem: 1123-26). EU activity in the field of anti-smoking legislation has grown more and more important since the mid-'80s and through all the '90s. Issue initiation took mainly place mainly among experts 5

at the supranational level (Commission) but was also boosted by the government-backed 'Europe against Cancer' programme. Issue specification and expansion followed the LP route: the Commission tried to overshoot the limited competences in the public health field given by the Single European Act by framing the issue 'as an internal market issue' (ibidem: 1124) and often succeeded. Even the Commission proposal 'to ban tobacco advertisements and sponsorships' (ibidem), clearly disconnected from concerns of market regulation, was approved by qualified majority in the Council. However Germany filed an appeal to the European Court of Justice, which annulled the directive and thus prevented entrance in the EU agenda for that particular issue. As Princen and Rhinard themselves recognize, their findings are not supported by a sound statistical analysis. Nevertheless they help to understand EU D-M. The most interesting finding is that a single issue can follow both routes at different stages and that this interaction can bring to really different policy outcomes (however it seems more probable that policy stability is increased rather than diminished by this interaction: indeed either the LP route gets blocked when it transforms into HP route, as shown above with the smoking issue, either the HP route gets fragmented when meets the LP route, because consensus between experts grows gradually and can not be simply be created to answer a pressing political problem (ibidem: 1128)). Given the highly fragmented institutional structure of the EU, this interaction is very likely and hence should be always born in mind.

In this essay I have tried to briefly resume the concepts of VP and A-S and to show how can they be applied to EU D-M. I am now able to answer the initial question which underpins the whole essay: are these concepts useful to advance the understanding of EU D-M process? My answer is affirmative. Veto players theory translates political institutions into VPs and predicts the characteristics of each political system from the number and the disposition of the VPs, regardless of its political institutions. I argue that this characteristic allows for a meaningful analysis of the EU D-M process and of its fast-changing rules and actors (in respect to national politics). VP

theory is able to encompass a wide variety of D-M rules and actors and to predict the consequences of D-M process on all the aspects of a political system. Agenda-setting is a crucial dimension of any D-M process and its importance in EU D-M process has been the subject of a considerable debate. The concept of A-S, originally developed in the literature on the legislative politics of US Congress, can be easily applied to the EU D-M: it is indeed a key element to understand the real influence of different actors at each stage of the legislative process and the distinction of formal and informal A-S is particularly helpful in this respect.

BIBLIOGHRAPHY (in alphabetical order)

Pollack M. A. (2003), The engines of European integration : delegation, agency, and agenda setting in the EU, Oxford University Press, Oxford Princen S., Rhinard M. (2006), 'Crashing and creeping: agenda-setting dynamics in the European Union, Journal of European Public Policy, 13: 7, 1119 1132 Tsebelis G. (2002), Veto players : how political institutions work, Princeton University Press, Princeton (N.J.) Tsebelis G., Yataganas X. (2002), Veto Players and Decision-making in the EU After Nice: Policy Stability and Bureaucratic/ Judicial Discretion , Journal of Common Market Studies, 40: 2, 283-307