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Building the EU’s agenda in energy policy making

Teacher Hans De Keulenaer, Jale Tosun


It is the principal objective of this course to provide insights into the shaping of the European Union’s (EU) political agenda on energy issues. This research focus is promising for several reasons. First of all, political attention to social problems is scarce and yet also consequential. Policy makers are constantly confronted with resource constraints, which prevent them from addressing the practically infinite number of social problems. Therefore, only a small share of the entirety of social problems is given political attention and end up on the political agenda. However, without making it to the political agenda, a social problem cannot be addressed, which indicates why this step is consequential for the subsequent policy-making process. As a result and as acknowledged by the literature, agenda shaping represents an important source of political power. This course will make an attempt to explain various forms of agenda-shaping efforts in a comprehensive manner by concentrating on energy policy.

Studying agenda shaping in the EU is particularly insightful for the following two reasons. Firstly, selecting and placing issues on the agenda of this political system is challenging because further to gaining attention, national governments need to be convinced that an issue requires an EU-wide solution. Secondly, the interaction of many and different types of actors in varying institutional constellations with a vertical division of powers between the EU institutions and the member states and a horizontal division among the different EU institutions offers multiple institutional access points, which should facilitate agenda shaping. Thus, the EU’s institutional setup allows for two classes of competing expectations about agenda shaping: one emphasising the political challenge and the other stressing the extensive opportunities.

EU energy policy comprises rules concerning energy sources, technology and innovation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, the single market for gas and electricity, energy from abroad, energy infrastructure and environmental aspects of energy production, consumption and transit. Even in the area of nuclear energy, the EU has adopted rules which ask the member states to present national programmes, indicating when, where and how they will construct and manage final repositories guaranteeing the highest safety standards. This was made possible by the Lisbon Treaty entering into force in December 2009. It introduced for the first time an energy title to the EU’s treaty framework. Compared to its origins, EU energy policy has developed into a fully-fledged policy field with the Commission having achieved more and more competencies in the course of time. Even more astonishingly, not only has EU energy policy developed in a remarkable fashion internally, but it has also been extended to non-member states through external action like the Energy Community.

When are energy issues likely to be placed on the political agenda of the European Union? Which actors are influential in agenda shaping and what are their strategies? When does agenda shaping lead to legislative action? These are the research questions that guide this course, which gives an overview of the key concepts and research themes, and explains why the field of energy policy is useful for gaining an understanding of agenda shaping in the European Union. 

Duration (hours)