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Policy & Stakeholder Analysis
7 min read

Ten steps for successful EU policy analysis

by Sophie Pornschlegel

You are very likely to come across the EU at some point in your think tank career, even if you focus on national policies; the EU has a say in many policy fields, with varying degrees of competencies. However, all too often the EU is mentioned en passant, as an addition to national policy. The EU might seem familiar to many, as it is often mentioned in policy discussions, yet this does not mean that EU policy is always easy to understand: Brussels’ internal workings differ widely from those at the national level. 

This 10-step guide will help you to better integrate EU policy analysis into your work and thereby expand the impact of your research beyond national borders. 


1. Check EU relevance

The first question you should ask yourself is whether it is worth discussing your topic at the EU level. Does the EU have any competencies in your field of research? And if yes, how much do you want to focus on the EU in your recommendations? Depending on your policy field, the EU’s role and powers can differ extensively. Decide early on whether to include the EU level in your research and, based on that decision, adapt the focus of your paper and your policy recommendations.

Toolbox GlühbirneDecide early on whether to include the EU level in your research

2. Pick your angle

EU analysis can have various objectives and each objective calls for a different approach. Do you want to convince EU decision-makers to improve existing policies, by opting for a more technical and realistic approach? Do you want to give them useful background knowledge, using a broader approach that contextualises a certain policy issue? Would you like to bring a national perspective to Brussels, or an EU perspective to your member state, thus improving the political dialogue between the different levels of EU policy-making on a certain issue? Be clear about your preferred angle and stick with it.

3. Invest necessary resources and time

Once you decide to focus your research on the EU – or add an EU angle to it – make sure to integrate it from the start into your research design, core analysis and advocacy strategy. Often, researchers include the EU by default in their work but forget to spend sufficient time and resources to delve into it appropriately. Be aware that EU policy analysis takes more time than regular policy analysis at national level – it is a complex political system involving numerous institutions (European Council, European Parliament, European Commission) as well as 27 governments rather than one.  

Useful question to ask yourself at the start: 

  • What competencies does the EU have in my research field? If (close to) none, could the EU play a relevant role in the future?
  • Which EU decision-making process (e.g. unanimity or qualified majority) applies to my field of research and how feasible are my recommendations?
  • Should I consider a transnational and/or interdisciplinary approach for my research to be comprehensive and relevant? 
  • Which EU institutions (or national governments) should I target with my analysis? 


4. Map your stakeholders

As in any other field, you cannot write good EU policy analysis without a fair amount of background research. However, at the EU level, this step will likely require substantially more time than it would in the national context. You might want to consider research from other EU member states, and to contact people who are not necessarily in your regular (national) networks.

Toolbox GlühbirneThink about the ‘national goggles’

We all tend to have ‘national goggles’ on, which limit our ideas to one perspective on a specific EU policy area – even if you consider yourself rather ‘neutral’ or don’t have strong national feelings. Avoid blind spots by speaking to experts and decision-makers from other member states and in Brussels.

5. Build your EU network

More so than at the national level, you will not be able to conduct proper EU policy analysis without a strong network in your field. Make sure to proactively build and sustain your network in Brussels, for instance by regularly organising trips to the European capital and organising meetings with relevant stakeholders, or by attending annual gatherings, such as the CEPS Ideas Lab or the EPC Annual Conference. Also try to speak to your peers in other national capitals working in your policy field. Consider transnational cooperation on research projects from the start. While requiring more coordination work, it will double your impact, make your EU focus *actually* European, and help you build your European network. 

6. Monitor your EU policy field

Monitoring political initiatives and legislative processes is a core part of every research project. An added layer of complexity for EU analysis is that media coverage on EU affairs is very sparse and often lacks depth and nuance – sometimes outlets even spread wrong information. Following trusted sources regularly and over longer periods of time is thus crucial. A lot of EU monitoring goes through informal channels: talk to your network and invest time in regular bilateral meetings with experts and decision-makers to find out the exact stage of the political process and determine what kind of impact you could have. If you would like to get up to date with the ‘state of play’ in your field, your network will be particularly helpful. Talking to a colleague who has been following the topic for a few years will be quicker than investing time in desk research, as many EU policy initiatives are quite difficult to grasp without a preliminary contextualisation.

Toolbox GlühbirneRemember that the EU is constant ‘work in progress’

EU powers and competencies can evolve (e.g. new competencies for the Commission) and have several ‘layers’ (e.g. Eurozone, Schengen, etc.). It might seem straightforward but keep it in mind when reading older EU analyses. In certain areas, the EU’s evolving character might also provide more flexibility than at the national level (e.g. for new competencies in health policy). This means that your recommendations, if timely and relevant, have a chance of getting the attention of EU policy-makers.

Useful sources for EU monitoring: 


7. Tailor your policy recommendations to your target audience

Remember that EU institutions differ widely in their roles and functioning – and are often in competition with each other. Not all of them are easily accessible; the more power an institution has, the more difficult it is to meet its representatives. Therefore, it’s best to avoid giving broad recommendations for ‘the EU’: be specific about your target audience. The EU is a multi-level governance system, so tailoring your recommendations is particularly important, for instance to the European Commission, European Parliament or a particular Council formation. Also keep in mind that some people you might want to target do not sit in Brussels, but in national ministries. Identify relevant players and channels from the start, for instance by developing a stakeholder map (see #4). 

8. Avoid jargon

The EU is infamous for using its own unintelligible jargon. You might think that mimicking this language might help you reach the relevant players, but EU officials also prefer readable pieces. However, in meetings with EU officials, make sure to tailor your messaging – and focus on aspects of your research that might be the most interesting for them. 


9. EU advocacy and research roll-out

Make sure you invest sufficient time for outreach and communications, even if there is little energy left after finalising your piece. The easiest way to grab policy-makers’ attention is to organise an event with them in Brussels or try to get invited as a speaker at a conference or roundtable. If your research includes data from another country, try to find a partner organisation in the member state in question to gain visibility through their networks. Invest time in media outreach and keep repeating the main findings in interviews or background talks with journalists. Invest the time to curate a Twitter thread explaining your research outputs and tag relevant stakeholders.

10. Enjoy

EU policy-making can seem nerdy, technical and complex. But once you get the gist of it you will realise that it is even more diverse than policy analysis at the national level and that you can have considerable impact with it. 


Sophie Pornschlegel 

Connecting Europe Project Leader and Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Center (EPC)

Sophie Pornschlegel


Sophie Pornschlegel joined the European Policy Centre (EPC) in July 2019 as Project Leader of the joint EPC-Stiftung Mercator project 'Connecting Europe', which aims to connect the projects supported by Stiftung Mercator with the Brussels policy community. In addition, she is a Senior Policy Analyst in the European Politics and Institutions Programme. Her research focuses on European integration, German and French EU policy, Franco-German relations and European party politics. Before joining the EPC, Sophie worked as a Project Manager at the Berlin-based think tank 'Das Progressive Zentrum' where she headed the Democracy Lab. Sophie previously worked as a public affairs consultant, in the political section of the European Commission Representation in Germany and for a Labour MP in Westminster. Sophie was an executive board member of the grassroots think tank Polis180 between 2016 and 2019.