The European Commission and the COVID-19 pandemic: a pluri-institutional approach

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According to a widely held view, the European Council decides how the EU should respond in times of crisis, since the European Council alone has the authority to lead. Other institutions, meanwhile, adopt at best a secondary role. An alternative perspective has emerged, however, which contends, first, that the European Council’s influence on the EU's crisis response is variable and, second, that other EU institutions, in particular the European Commission, are able to shape EU action, including through interventions made independently of the European Council. This article builds on this alternative view to argue that the respective role played by the European Council and the European Commisson is contingent, first, on the policy area where a crisis strikes and second, on leadership or agency on the part of the Presidents of the two institutions. The dynamics of the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic support this view. Acting on its powers in public health and other affected areas, and with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen taking a highly pro-active approach to outbreak of the virus, the Commission intervened early, framed the pandemic as a crisis, and set and then expanded the EU’s agenda. Although its decision-making role was important, the European Council largely followed the Commission's lead.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-634
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number4
Early online date18 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The European commission
  • the European council
  • Ursula von der Leyen

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