This paper adopts an interdisciplinary approach to analyse the role of the European Commission's expert groups (EG) in policy-making. Whilst a number of scholars have investigated the effect of 'soft sanctions' on preference-shifting amongst senior commission officials and European political elites (Hooghe, 2005; Trondal, 2001), little work has been undertaken of such processes within the groups offering expert advice to policy makers. Yet, by advising at the pre-legislative phase, these groups have an important role in formulating policy. Borrowing from the fields of constructivism and social psychology, the paper investigates how argumentative persuasion results in preference shifts amongst those actors responsible for advising policy-makers and argues that, within each EG, certain individuals are 'cognitively central' to the group (Kameda, 1997). The paper suggests that these 'primary actors' may effectively control the policy agenda and proposes a number of hypotheses to be tested in future research. Building on work on the implementation of European higher education policy (Ravinet, 2008; Beerkens, 2008), this research will focus on the advice proffered at the pre-legislative phase to investigate the extent to which this is a product of internal coalitions and alliances.
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