The political agenda is the set of issues that policy-makers give serious attention to.
Agendas are important in politics and policy-making because they determine which issues will be taken up for decision-making and which will not.
Political actors actively seek to place issues on the agenda or keep them off. As a result, agenda-setting is a highly political process.
Besides the political agenda, we can also discern the media agenda and the public agenda. Political systems differ in the way these three types of agenda are related. Cobb, Ross and Ross distinguished between three models in this regard: the outside initiative model, the mobilization model and the inside access model. In the EU, the inside access model is relatively more important than in other political systems, although the other two models also occur.
Political actors may have various reasons for wanting to put an issue on the EU agenda: tackling cross-border problems, circumventing domestic political resistance, creating a ‘level playing field’ between competing firms, ‘spreading the word’ for an issue one believes strongly in, or satisfying institutional interests in expanding organizational tasks and resources. In reality, many issues are pushed onto the EU agenda out of a combination of motives.
Although agenda-setting processes are not formalized, certain steps tend to occur in many EU agenda-setting processes. These steps form the sequence of a ‘typical’ agenda-setting process. In concrete cases all kinds of variations on this sequence may occur.
Three (set of) factors are particularly important in understanding why issues (do not) make it onto the EU agenda: issue framing, institutional structures, and timing.
Issue framing consists of defining an issue in such a way that some aspects are emphasized while other aspects are ignored.
The existence and remit of institutional venues determine how receptive policy-makers are to certain claims and issues.
Issues rise to the top of the political agenda during so-called policy windows or windows of opportunity. These windows often occur suddenly, as the result of a highly-publicized focusing event or a change in political circumstances.