Which factors account for successful policy reform and what role does discourse play in the process? This article examines this empirical puzzle with reference to the issue of Greek reform failure. A matched comparison with Italy in the area of pensions reveals the salience of path shaping and the use of political discourse in narrowing down reform options and facilitating change. The Greek case of limited public information, incoherent preparation of the problem, and inner-circle decision-making, is contrasted with the Italian government's information-sharing and consensus-building campaign for the establishment of a pro-reformist discourse. Findings confirm the salience of institutional conditions but suggest that pure institutionalist accounts premised on rational choice thinking and the power of veto players should be complemented with more agency-driven accounts of public policy.