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Interests, demands and network ties in Brussels: explaining interest groups' lobbying success across EU policy areas

Final Report Summary - EULOBBYING (Interests, demands and network ties in Brussels: explaining interest groups' lobbying success across EU policy areas.)

The research project examined interest groups’ participation in the European Union policymaking during the policy formulation and policy shaping stages of the decision-making process. The project addressed several fundamental questions related to interest representation at the supranational level of governance: Under what conditions are interest groups’ policy demands integrated into the policymaking process and translated into policy outcomes? What explains the process of interest groups’ policy preference formation across issues and policy areas? What explains interest groups’ evaluation and preferences expressed in relation to key aspects of EU governance such as the European Commission’s public consultations regime, the Better Regulation policy or the regulation of lobbying activities through the EU Transparency Register? The research project examined interest groups’ expressed policy positions, lobbying activities and organizational characteristics in the context of several carefully selected policy events marking recently the development and evolution of the EU policymaking and system of governance.

The research project engaged equally in theory-building and theory-testing, and included a systematic data collection effort recording information on interest groups’ policy positions, demands for reform and levels of preference attainment across a set of policy proposals and policymaking events, alongside information about their organizational characteristics and lobbying resources. Interest groups’ lobbying behavior and preference attainment were studied in the context of a sample of policy events that included significant policy developments marking the process of European integration in the recent years, such as the adoption of the ‘Better Regulation package’ and the signing of an ‘Inter-Institutional Agreement on Better Lawmaking’, the adoption of a new set of `Stakeholder Consultation Guidelines’, and the proposal for a mandatory Transparency Register.

The empirical analyses reveal important findings regarding interest groups’ participation in European Union policymaking and system of governance. The article published in the European Journal of Political Research shows that the EU stakeholder consultation regime managed to alleviate bias in interest representation at supranational level as indicated by interest groups’ evaluations and demands for reform and change expressed in relation to the existing consultation rules and practices and to the proposed new consultation guidelines. The study distinguished empirically between ‘policy insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and found evidence that the consultation regime does not seem to privilege the former over the latter. The methodological articles published in the European Union Politics and the European Political Science journals make a substantive and methodological contribution to the systematic study of interest groups’ policy preferences and preference attainment in the context of EU policymaking. They provide an in-depth theoretical and empirical discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative and quantitative text analysis techniques applied to the study of lobbying and interest groups in the context of EU policymaking. The article published in the European Union Politics on the importance of inter-organizational ties for interest groups’ preference formation illustrates empirically the existence of coordinated advocacy and lobbying campaigns organized by interest organizations very early on in the EU policymaking process in the context of open consultations. This article shows and measures the extent to which interest groups’ sharing formal institutional ties articulate identical preferences for policy outcomes in the context of European Commission online open consultations. The findings have important policy implications insofar they provide interesting insights into interest groups’ lobbying behavior and influence strategies in the context of a lobbying venue that was design with the aim of increasing the legitimacy and inclusiveness of the EU system of governance and was recently the subject of an important reform as part of the EU Better Regulation package (May 201), namely the public stakeholder consultations. During this reform process, the issue of how to legitimately and effectively manage the policy input coming from such coordinated lobbying campaigns was highly debated. The article examining stakeholders’ demands for the direction of Better Regulation reforms in the EU (currently under review with the Regulation and Governance journal) shows that the policy space describing this policy debate is structured by interest groups’ preferences for the Better Regulation tools rather than by perceived failures of the EU regulatory regime. The empirical analysis reveals that stakeholders’ demands for the reform of the EU Better Regulation policy clustered around four different dimensions: (1) ‘technocratic deregulation’, (2) ‘technocratic policymaking’, (3) ‘participatory policymaking’ and (4) ‘social Better Regulation’. The analysis unveils a complex structuring of stakeholders’ position alignments across Better Regulation issues. This has important policy implications: first, this complexity facilitates compromise solutions and consensual decision-making. Decision-makers may adopt measures that may please a wider variety of stakeholders for different reasons. This partially explains the rather broad appeal of the Better Regulation rhetoric. Second, a complex policy space may easily result in weak patterns of stakeholders’ alignments and unstable advocacy coalitions. In the context of weak ‘policy signals’ about what is the most preferred policy options on behalf of stakeholders, the agenda-setter (usually a core executive body) may use this lack of structure and constraint in order to pursue their own interest and agenda and thus shape to a significant extent the outcomes of the Better Regulation reforms. Third, this observed complexity renders most media and public debates about Better Regulation reforms as rather simplistic, superficial and inadequate when reducing it to the issue of deregulation. Additionally, this complexity makes it difficult to evaluate the level of success in the implementation of Better Regulation reforms. Finally, the two studies examining interest groups’ evaluation of the EU lobbying regulation regime in 2012 and its proposed reform towards further institutionalization in 2016 indicate relevant and significant difference between interest groups in their satisfaction with the existing EU lobbying regulatory scheme. The 2012 analysis reveals the existence of three clusters of interest groups: the first cluster consists of organizations that are satisfied with the functioning of the Joint Transparency Register during its first year of functioning; the second cluster consists of organizations interested in improving the regulation of lobbyists’ access to the European Parliament; while the third cluster consists of interest organizations that criticize the register for its principles and implementation. The first cluster included mostly business organizations, while the third consisted mostly of organizations representing public interests. The 2016 analysis reveals as well a tripartite clustering of interest groups’ in their evaluation of the Transparency Register: a group of ‘supporters’, a group of ‘improvers’ and finally a group of ‘informational naggers’. This time, business interest organizations were found in the group of stakeholders criticizing the register while public interest organizations were amongst its supporters. Both analyses show however that in the analyzed samples, half of stakeholders expressed positive evaluations of the EU Transparency Register.