The European Employment Strategy (EES) has opened up new dynamics of Europeanization in the area of social policy. This article proposes to pay more attention to national core executives and their strategic use of the EES when considering its impact. Through core executives, the EES may not only affect domestic policy agendas, but also decision-making on reform. A comparative case study of activating employment policy reforms in the Netherlands and Germany evaluates expectations about how these agents upload and download ideas to and from the EU level. The findings indicate that uploading is facilitated by holding the EU presidency and a good fit with EES prescriptions, while downloading does not seem to depend on prior uploading and degree of fit but on other domestic factors. True strategic use of the EES by core executives following a sequence of uploading and downloading appears to be contingent on several contextual factors.