The Political Economy of Policy Vacuums: The European Commission on Demographic Change

Leonard Seabrooke*, Eleni Tsingou, Johann Ole Willers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearch


Supranational organisations can only confront politico-economic issues that are recognised as important. Typically, issues gain recognition either when they provide an external shock to the system, shaking political actors into action, or when they are framed as important in policy networks concerned with developing the appropriate scientific approach. Ideally political and scientific actors align in creating pressures to recognise the issue as salient and to mobilise organisational responses. Issues differ in their capacity to be driven by both political and scientific pressures, creating crisis management, technocratic, and reform agenda outcomes. Here we explore a further variation, where pressures around an issue are insufficient, creating a policy vacuum. We examine one such policy vacuum in Europe: demographic change. This issue belongs to no particular Directorate-General in the European Commission, but is subject to policy frames from DG EMPL and DG ECFIN. Without sufficient political and scientific pressures, no particular policy position is occupied and advocated despite recognition of the issue’s importance. We discuss the role of policy vacuums and the need for their identification in political economy research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Political Economy
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1007-1021
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 26. September 2019


  • Demographic change
  • Agenda setting
  • European Commission
  • Policy vacuums
  • Expert networks

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