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The Influence of Business Associations in the European Decision Making Process

A Case Study of the European Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eurochambres)

Diplomarbeit 2000 112 Seiten

BWL - Handel und Distribution



1. Introduction
1.1 Interest groups in the European Union
1.2 Research on the Role of European Business Associations in the European Decision Making Process
1.3 The Argument
1.4 Method and Methodology
1.5 Structure

2. The Object of Research
2.1 A Definition of Business Associations
2.2 The Five Stages of the European Decision Making Process

3. The Influence of Interest Groups in the Decision Making Process
3.1 The Theoretical Approach
3.1.1 The Pluralist Explanation of Influence
3.1.2 The Neo-Corporatist Explanation of Influence
3.1.3 Summary
3.2 The Requirements of European Policy Makers
3.2.1 The Dependence of the EU Decision Making Process on Interest Groups
3.2.2 Political Resources Required by Policy-Makers Information Legitimacy Miscellaneous Resources
3.2.3 Summary

4. EUROCHAMBRES’ Influence in the European Decision Making Process
4.1 An Operationalisation of the Concept of Influence
4.2 The Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry – An Overview
4.2.1 Origin and History of Chambers of Commerce and Industry
4.2.2 EUROCHAMBRES – Origin and Mission
4.3 The Availability of Political Resources within EUROCHAMBRES
4.3.1 Technical Expertise General Introduction The Availability of Technical Expertise
4.3.2 Budget
4.3.3 The EUROCHAMBRES Network General Introduction Representativeness of the Network The Comprehensiveness of the Network The Usefulness of the Eurchambres Network to Policy Makers
4.3.4 EUROCHAMBRES’ Access to the Decision Making Process
4.4 The Mobilisation of Political Resources - the Organisability of EUROCHAMBRES
4.4.1 The Degree of Horizontal Organisability
4.4.2 The Degree of Vertical Organisability
4.5 Summary

5. Case Studies of EUROCHAMBRES Lobbying
5.1 EUROCHAMBRES’ Role in the European Social Dialogue
5.1.1 Social Policy at European Level
5.1.2 The European Social Dialogue under the Protocol on Social Policy
5.1.3 EUROCHAMBRES’ Position in the Social Dialogue
5.1.4 EUROCHAMBRES’ Lobbying in the Context of the Social Dialogue
5.1.5 Shortcomings of the Lobbying Campaign
5.1.6 Summary
5.2 EUROCHAMBRES and the Issuing of Certificates of Origin
5.2.1 Certificates of Origin
5.2.2 The Position of the National Chamber Associations
5.2.3 The Certificates of Origin Meeting
5.2.4 Summary
5.3 EUROCHAMBRES’ Lobbying in the Gateway to Japan Programme
5.3.1 Exporting to Japan
5.3.2 Prologue – The European Court of Justice Ruling
5.3.3 Fighting for a legal basis
5.3.4 The EUROCHAMBRES lobbying campaign
5.3.5 Summary

6. Conclusion

7. Annex
7.1 Interviews
7.2 Questionnaire

8. Bibliography
8.1 Primary Sources
8.2 Books, Periodicals, Newspapers


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1. Introduction

1.1 Interest groups in the European Union

Since the adoption of the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986 more and more competencies have been transferred by EU Member States to decision makers in Brussels. Beside the objective of the completion of the Single Market the scope of Community policies has widened to political co-operation, technological development, and social policy. In addition, the powers of the European Parliament were strengthened and qualified majority voting was introduced for decisions related to the completion of the internal market. Since the summits of Maastricht and Amsterdam European integration has further gained in momentum. National governments again handed over sovereignty to the European level. Jacques Delors’ famous quote that 80% of regulations impacting on the economic sphere were decided in Brussels today demonstrates the shift of competency. Within the last 15 years Brussels has become an important centre of power.

This transference of power to the European level also has affected the behaviour of interest groups. Before 1986 it usually was sufficient to lobby the own national administration in order to influence regulations.[1] The main function of European peak organisations at the time was on the one hand to monitor events in Brussels and report them back to their member federations on the other hand they formed a transnational network for the exchange of information. The growing power of European institutions and the strengthening of the supranational element within the European Union required interest groups to broaden their participation in the European decision making process. In addition, the technical problems regarding the realisation of the internal market, e.g. harmonisation of services, standardisation of products etc. has triggered off an enormous demand for technical input on the side of the European institutions. Since the adoption of the SEA, thus, interest groups have proliferated. New groups with new interests have emerged. Long established organisations have increased their financial and personnel resources. After Washington D.C., Brussels has become the second biggest boomtown for lobbying activities (Coss 2000: 12). In 1992 the Commission has estimated that approximately 3000 special interest groups with a total of 10,000 lobbyists try to influence the institutions of the European Union (Coss 2000: 12). The directory of interest groups lists 891 European peak organisations.[2] Beside these Eurogroups a myriad form of actors all trying to get their voices heard in the policy process has established offices in Brussels:

- National public representations e.g. the European regions
- National interest organisations e.g. DIHT, CBI
- Associations of multi-national companies, e.g. ERT
- Single corporations, e.g. DaimlerChrysler
- Consultants and law firms, e.g. Edelman, APCO Europe
- Individual professional lobbyists
- European peak organisations of national interest groups, e.g. UNICE, BEUC, ETUC

Figure 1: Interest groups in Brussels

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten Source: Buholzer 1998: 13

Regarding the function of Eurogroups the number of producer interests by far prevails over other groups. From figures alone the influence and power of the various interests, however, can not be derived. Producer groups are so numerous because they all represent a different sector of the market. Often these interests are in conflict, e.g. the producers of furniture do not necessarily have the same interests as those of computers.

After the completion of the internal market in 1992 the number of interest groups has stagnated or even slightly declined. With the accession of the EU candidate countries it is likely that a new boom of lobbying will set in soon (Coss 2000: 12).

1.2 Research on the Role of European Business Associations in the European Decision Making Process

Research on the role of Eurogroups in general and on European business associations in particular is very rare.“There has been a rapid expansion of such activities [lobbying] over the last few years. However, although this phenomenon has attracted a lot of attention, there is surprisingly little systematic research on the topic” (Andersen and Eliassen 1991). In contrast to the role of interest groups in the US legislative process comparatively little is known about their role in Brussels. Only a minority of the great many Eurogroups has been under examination by researchers so far. While the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has attracted considerable attention research has neglected the European confederation of employers and industry, UNICE. Hardly any studies are available on the multitude of business associations; practically no research has been carried out on the role of consultants, law firms and multinational corporations.

A big discrepancy exists between the important role business groups actually play in the policy process of the European Union and the knowledge about their influence. So far research on the role of the business community and its associations in the European policy process has focused on the following areas:

(1) Case studies on various European business organisations and individual companies

The intention of these case studies is to trace some general trends of EU lobbying. A first group of studies deals with horizontal European business associations. The focus of attention naturally lies on the biggest and most representative group, the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe. The most detailed study on UNICE at the same time also is the oldest. It deals with business associations in the process of European integration in general and with the role of UNICE in particular. The association’s organisation, activities, objectives, and its relation to the European institutions is outlined (Platzer 1984). A more recent study on UNICE deals with the organisation’s influence on the European policy process (Matyja 1997). The structure and internal decision-making process of UNICE also is the subject of two essays (Hellmann and Stöckl 1981), (Collie 1993). Beside UNICE, other horizontal business associations hardly have been analysed. A comprehensive study of various Eurogroups and their organisational features, membership, and contacts with European institutions dates as far back as 1981 (Schwaiger and Kirchner 1981) and a similar study of the Economic and Social Committee even to 1980 (Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuß 1980). Recently various books have been published identifying the general trends of EU interest mediation. Some case studies have been carried out on the role of Eurogroups in the car industry, the Federation of Stock Exchanges, interest representation in the textile polyolefins industry, the CBI, and British corporations in Mazey and Richardson’s study (Mazey and Richardson 1993). Greenwood’s, Grote’s, and Ronit’s publication deals with business interests in the telecommunication sector, the pharmaceutical industry, the consumer electronics industry, and the field of small firms. The edition of Pedler and Van Schendelen (Pedler and Van Schendelen 1994) focuses on lobbying activities of couriers, the car industry, the gas industry, the pharma and biotech sector and the software industry. A few case studies on business associations also can be found in Voelzkow and Eichner (Eichner and Voelzkow 1994).

(2) The function of business associations as employers in the European social dialogue

Usually the studies on the role of business associations as employers are carried out from an industrial relations viewpoint and deal with the perspectives of European collective bargaining. They focus on the main employer organisation UNICE: the organisation’s view on collective bargaining (Klak 1994) its position on European social policy (Hornung-Draus 1998), its role in the labour market (Strøby et al. 1997), and its role in the social dialogue (Hornung-Draus 1996), (Heinrich 1995) are the favourite topics. Another popular research subject when dealing with UNICE is the group’s organisability (Traxler and Schmitter 1995). Another study examines the organisation’s ability to aggregate the interests of its national member associations at European level (Timmesfeld 1994). Essays on the role of the employer organisation for public enterprises CEEP are an exception (Ellerkmann 1994). The role of the association of small and medium sized Enterprises UEAPME in the social dialogue is more or less ignored. Also neglected is the social dialogue on sectoral level and the role of sectoral employer organisations. The great importance that Commissioner Diamantopoulou (DG Employment and Social Affairs) sees in the sectoral social dialogue thereby is ignored (Commission of the European Communities 2000). An exception is Sörries’ recent monograph on the negotiations between sectoral employer and employee organisations (Sörries 1999).

(3) The role of big business in the European policy process

Green-Cowles, in her dissertational thesis, reveals the high degree of influence of multinational companies on the European policy process (Green-Cowles 1994). She deals with the appearance of big business in Brussels at the beginning of the eighties and demonstrates the far-reaching consequences for the system of European interest representation. First she shows, how multinational companies essentially broadened their base of influence inside UNICE through a system of direct enterprise membership. Second she describes the role of the European Round Table of Industrialists, a highly influential association of multinational companies, as a key supporter of the European Single Market and its influence on the decision making process. Third she demonstrates the influential role of American multinationals organised in the Brussels based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham EU) on EU decisions. Other studies deal with the influence of multinational companies on the formation of the ESPRIT information technology programme (Sandholtz: 1992). Greenwood and Ronit demonstrate the important role of the SAGB (Senior Advisory Group Biotechnology), an association of chemical multinationals, in the formation of EU policy in the area of biotechnology (Greenwood and Ronit 1994). All these analyses come to the conclusion that big business dominates in the European policy process.

(4) Lobbying guides for successful business strategy

Recently several guides have been published by individual lobbyists that give practical tips for European lobbying activities. These publications usually do not have any theoretical background but rather deal with the practical experiences of their authors as lobbyists and show best practice for businessmen on how to lobby the institutions of the European Union. Two prominent examples are the guides by Gardner (Gardner 1991) and Andersen (Andersen 1992).

(5) Research on EUROCHAMBRES

So far hardly any research has been carried out on the role of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the European decision making process. Existing studies are obsolete. On the role of Eurochambres in the European policy process only two publications have been edited. Both of them date back to the early eighties. Up to date information on the role of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce is not available. Research was carried out by the Economic and Social Committee in 1980 as part of a study on European interest groups (Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuß der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1980). Organisation, decision making bodies, structure and the Secretariat are studied. Regarding the level of European integration the analysis comes to the conclusion that in comparison to UNICE or COPA it is low (Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuß der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1980: 136). The study continues that EUROCHAMBRES lobbying activities in trade policy, internal market and regional policy mainly focus on the Commission while the European Parliament rather was lobbied by the national Chamber associations. According to the study the degree of influence of the organisation on the policy process was difficult to determine but rather low.

In another study Kirchner and Schwaiger as part of their wider research on the role of Eurogroups also published some information on EUROCHAMBRES. According to them EUROCHAMBRES due to the specific tasks of the national Chambers in the field of export had developed good working relations with DG I External Relations. Contacts also were maintained with DG XV Finances and DG XVI Regional Policy, as well as with DG III Internal Market (Schwaiger and Kirchner 1981: 101). In their study the two authors outline that the national Chamber associations had given only little support for their office in Brussels. They conclude that EUROCHAMBRES had to increase its financial and political commitment to catch up with more influential groups like UNICE.

1.3 The Argument

So far comparative research on the influence of interest organisations in the EU mainly has concentrated on differences in the distribution of influence between employer and employee associations (Nollert 1997: 117). Usually in these research studies the organisability of the labour and capital side is compared. Then conclusions are drawn on the unequal distribution of political influence in the policy process (Offe and Wiesenthal 1980). Similar studies exist for the European level. Traxler and Schmitter compare the organisability of the European employer and employee camp and from this draw conclusions on the insufficient capacity of the organisations of labour and capital to operate as autonomous European actors in the EU decision-making process.[3] Nollert criticises this approach as it can not fully explain the process of European interest mediation: ”Nicht zu erklären ist damit jedoch das große Einflußgefälle innerhalb der Unternehmerschaft” (Nollert 1997: 108). He bases his argument on recent studies assuming that asymetries in influence on the European level not only exist between employee and business associations or producer and consumer interests, but also among the various groups of organised business. Single multinational enterprises and their associations and at most some sectoral big business associations seem to play an important role in the European policy process. Horizontal business groups representing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have lost in importance (Kohler-Koch and Eisling 1994: 175). “Relatively few Europeans are aware of the systematic way in which transnational corporations [...] have succeeded in influencing a wide range of EU policies” (Balanyá et al 2000: xii). Other studies also come to the conclusion that multinational corporations dominate the European policy process (Green-Cowles 1994). Even though a general trend in European interest mediation has been established research on Eurogroups still presents itself rather as a jigsaw than an accepted theoretical model. The empirical data available still is too thin to draw the conclusion that big business rules. Research on the influence of business associations representing SMEs has not taken place at all nor has a comprehensive comparison of the various European business groups been carried out.[4] My intention is to contribute to reduce this empirical gap and provide a case study on the influence of a business association speaking for small and medium sized enterprises. I have chosen the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (EUROCHAMBRES) as my object of study for the following reasons:

- EUROCHAMBRES is one of the most established and representative interest organisations in Brussels. It has an office in the European capital since 1958 and today represents 14,000,000 businesses in 34 European countries. The position of the organisation, however, is not reflected in research. Whereas UNICE has attracted the attention of analysts mainly due to the organisation’s participation in the social dialogue little so far is known about the role of EUROCHAMBRES.
- Beside UNICE, CEEP, UEAPME etc. EUROCHAMBRES is one of the few European horizontal business associations.
- In contrast to the role of multinational companies in the European policy process the influence of business associations representing SMEs has not been under examination at all. EUROCHAMBRES as the spokesperson for SMEs is an ideal research object to broaden the knowledge on the role of SMEs in the European decision making process.
- So far hardly any empirical data on the organisation's structure, role, and influence is available.

The objective of the case study will be to determine what influence EUROCHAMBRES as a business association representing SMEs has on the European decision-making process. This question immediately triggers off a whole set of subordinate questions. What are business associations? What is the European decision making process? What are the criteria and factors that determine the influence of interest groups on the policy process in general and on the EU decision making process in particular? What are the indicators that tell us whether an interest organisation can meet these determinants of influence? Does or in how far does EUROCHAMBRES meet the criteria that are relevant for influence in the European decision making process? In my study I will provide answers to all of these questions.

1.4 Method and Methodology

My analysis is designed as a case study. Case studies deal with one particular object, e.g. a country, a political system, an institution, an organisation etc. Depending on the research situation case studies can have two functions: case studies either try to arrive at generalisations or they aim to describe the singularity of a case. The latter usually are used when no comprehensive theoretical background has been established in the field of research and it is still necessary to collect data in order to set up hypotheses (Kriz 1994: 128-9). My analysis of EUROCHAMBRES rather falls within the second category as no research on business associations representing small and medium sized enterprises has been carried out so far. The objective of the study therefore is to reduce the empirical gap and contribute to the establishment of a theory of European interest mediation.

In order to arrive at relevant conclusions empirical data has to be collected. For that purpose in political science a variety of different research methods are applied. Methods describe the way and the procedure of collecting relevant quantitative and/or qualitative data on the object of research. The choice of individual methods or a mix of methods is not determined in advance but has to be selected by the scientist depending on his object of study and his or her research design (Kriz 1994: 162-4). For the purpose of my study I have chosen a mix of three methods: observation, expert interview, and content analysis. They are the most widely applied methods in qualitative research. I have been able to aply these research methods during a three months traineeship from 10 April to 7 July 2000 with EUROCHAMBRES.

(1) Observation

Scientific observation is a method to classify behaviour and incidents in a structured and systematic way. Its objective is to determine the authentic behaviour of actors. The biggest advantage of this research method is that the observer can study individuals as they actually behave in social and political situations. Its biggest disadvantage is the difficulty of separating the role of participant in the process of observing and the function as researcher. Another problem is to get access to relevant political decision making arenas. The function of the observer either can be participatory or non-participatory depending on his involvement in the process of observing (Alemann 1995: 109-13). As part of my traineeship with EUROCHAMBRES I was able to apply this method as participating observer. Via the traineeship the problem of access was reduced as I was able to participate in events that usually are not open to the outside, e.g. meetings and direct involvement in the organisation's lobbying activities. The observation took place in an unstructured way. I took notes on behaviour relevant for my research design and only later categorised and structured them. The observation was open in so far as my role of researcher was known to the staff of the organisation.

(2) Expert Interviews

Interviews in political science are used to trigger off verbal reactions of the interviewee. The interview is organised by a more or less structured questionnaire. In contrast to standardised interviews in quantitative empirical research, expert interviews rather take place in a non-standardised manner. The objective of expert interviews is to detect those rules and procedures that determine the functioning of the research object. Experts are people that have competency and responsibility in the research field and can provide answers to the research objective. The disadvantage of expert interviews is that the interviewees might provide socially desirable answers to the interviewers questions (Alemann 1995: 113-7). During my traineeship with Eurochambres I have been able to interview most experts defined in the above sense of the organisation at least once. The interviews were carried out in a semi-structured way taking a questionnaire as a general guideline. The semi-structured approach offered the opportunity to focus on interesting points outside the scope of the questionnaire should the course of the interview make this necessary.

(3) Content Analysis

Content analysis is an empirical research method that offers a systematic and inter-subjective description regarding the content and the formal features of documents. Content analysis is one of the most often applied methods in political science. The biggest advantage of document analysis is the researcher’s independence from the co-operation of other people (Alemann 120-4). During my research I have analysed several categories of documents:

- The statutes of EUROCHAMBRES
- The press coverage on the organisation
- EUROCHAMBRES publications (annual reports, position papers etc.)
- Relevant publications and legislation of EU institutions
- Internal documentation and communication of the organisation

The table below gives an overview on the methods I have applied as part of my research design:

Figure 2: Research methods

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Source: Alemann 1995: 108

The benefit of this threefold method mix is the compensation of disadvantages of one method by the advantages of another method. The shortcomings of expert interviews e.g. can be eliminated by the advantages of content analysis. As a result the source for errors can be minimised.

1.5 Structure

The research objective will be pursued in four consecutive steps. First of all the basic terminology of the research design, business associations as well as the European decision making process, have to be defined: definitions serve as a conceptual framework for research. Their function is to assign meaning to a selected part of reality. Conceptual ambiguity can be eliminated.[5] The specific features of both business associations and the European decision making process will be explained and defined. In a second step the concept of influence of interest organisations will be introduced. This will be done by looking at how the two most prominent theories in political science dealing with interest mediation account for the influence of interest organisations. Based on the general findings of pluralist and neo-corporatist theory I will then look into the more specific concept of influence of interest organisations in the decision making process of the European Union. In a third step the concept of influence of interest organisations will be operationalised. Indicators for the influence of interest organisations on the EU decision making process have to be established before via the application of these indicators the influence of my research object EUROCHAMBRES can be determined. Finally, the findings on the influence of EUROCHAMBRES on the European decision making process will be examined by looking into three lobbying campaigns of the organisation.

The table below gives an overview on the guiding questions of each chapter:

Chapter Two: What are functions and features of on the one hand business associations on the other the European decision making process?

Chapter Three: How do pluralist and neo-corporatist theory account for the influence of interest organisations? What are the conclusions to be drawn for the influence of interest organisations in the European decision making process?

Chapter Four: How can the concept of influence of interest groups be operationalised for the decision making process of the European Union? In how far does EUROCHAMBRES meet the indicators of influence?

Chapter Five: In how far are the findings on the degree of EUROCHAMBRES influence confirmed by individual lobbying cases?

2. The Object of Research

2.1 A Definition of Business Associations

Business associations are a sub-category of interest organisations. As such they can be defined as intermediary organisations that fulfil an intermediary role between enterprises and the legislator. They are an organised group of actors with similar political and economic interests that represent, aggregate and articulate concerns and positions of businesses towards the state agencies. In contrast to parties they do not take part in elections (Buholzer 1998: 10). Three types of business associations can be distinguished according to function, characteristics, and origin: Employer Associations, Trade Associations, Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Figure 3: The three pillars of business associations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Sectoral business associations are by far outnumber horizontal organisations. Non sectoral representation in the EU becomes less and less important. Usually sectoral organisations are also more successful in their lobbying activities than horizontal associations. This is in stark contrast to the dominant position of horizontal organisations in research (Buholzer 1998: 15-6).

2.2 The Five Stages of the European Decision Making Process

The European decision-making process can be defined as a dynamic and interactive process in which the participating actors contribute input which is transformed into output in the form of decisions by the political system. Decisions at European level either can be legislation (e.g. directives) or pilot projects and support programmes (e.g. programmes within the structural funds, projects within the framework programme etc.) (Buholzer 1998: 160).[9] Of course, this is a strong oversimplification of the complex EU decision-making procedures.[10] However the analysis serves the purpose of the research design. The European decision making process can be split into five stages:

(1) Agenda Setting

As the name already suggests during the initiation phase the agenda is set. Formally only the European Commission can take the initiative. In reality other actors, e.g. interest groups, the Council, Member States etc. can lobby the Commission to set their priorities on the agenda (Buholzer 1998: 166-8). When European interest groups try to take the initiative this is often described as proactive lobbying.

(2) Drafting

During the drafting phase decisions are prepared. The Commission dominates this stage. Bills are formulated with assistance of interested actors inside and outside the Commission. Internally the Directorate General co-ordinates the drafting with the Legal Service and other DGs. Informally the Commission also is in contact with policy makers in the Member States. Because of the Commission’s dominance at this stage of the decision making process, the institution is the focus of interest organisations. Lobbyists try to assist policy makers in drafting technically and legally well founded bills (Buholzer 1998: 169). Once the Commission official has finalised a bill it is discussed in the Committees with representatives of the Member States and interest groups in order to improve it technically and legally but also to add political legitimacy. Via the Directorate General in charge of the bill it is then passed on to the Heads of Cabinet of the Commissioners. Three opportunities for interest groups to influence this stage of the policy process exist: (1) The Commission official sits over the document in his office and is in the process of drafting the bill. (2) The bill is discussed in the Committees. (3) The bill is discussed by the Heads of Cabinet. The best chances to exercise influence for interest organisations exist during stage (1) when the Commission official still sits in front of a blank sheet of paper.

(3) Adoption

Once the Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions have commented on the Commission’s document it is passed on to the Council of Ministers. There working groups subject it to a technical examination before it is transferred to the COREPER. There the permanent representatives try to find compromises on disputed topics before the respective Council of Ministers decides. depending on the policy field it adopts the bill either by unanimity or qualified majority voting. If adoption fails the bill can be passed on to the European Council where package deals may be arranged. Since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union the European Parliament as co-decision maker is involved in some policy fields (e.g. Internal Market, education, environment, research etc.) in the adoption phase.[11] The important aspect resulting from this for the analysis is that interest groups now can not ignore this stage of the decision making process anymore. In Parliament major political shifts in the orientation usually do not take place; changes rather are of a technical nature. Points of contact at the Parliament for lobbyists are the rapporteurs and the presidents of the various committees and Intergroups. The Parliament often is very open for approaches by interest organisations because they are seen a welcome mechanism for input and increased public interest. In contrast to Parliament the Council is not interested in a participation of interest organisations in its consultations. Adopting decisions among the 15 Member States is difficult enough. A multiplication of actors via a participation of interest groups just would lead to the breakdown of the whole process.

(4) Implementation

Once the decisions have been passed at European level they are transfered to the Member States for implementation. Before that the Commission is responsible for the fine-tuning of the adapted decisions. For a large majority of policy fields the Member States are responsible. Exceptions are the EU structural policy and the implementation of programmes. The majority of the latter often are implemented by interest organisations.[12] Successful implementation of Community programmes offers interest organisations the opportunity to raise their profile.

(5) Evaluation and Verification

The European Court of Justice is responsible for the legal verification while the Court of Auditors is in charge of the financial evaluation of decisions. Interest organisations do not have any access to these EU institutioms; they can, however, appeal to the Court and so try to reverse or modify decisions adopted in the legislative process. The Commission as guardian of the Treaty has to verify that decisions are properly implemented by the Member States. Interest organisations can function as supervisors in the Member States and so keep the Commission up to date on the development of the implementation.

Interest organisations theoretically can exercise influence on the decision making process during all stages of the decision-making process. Most important for them is the drafting stage as by then the process has not yet taken any particular direction and policy makers are in need of input.

3. The Influence of Interest Groups in the Decision Making Process

3.1 The Theoretical Approach

In science we use theories to structure the infinitely rich form of reality. Theories are principles and definitions that help to organise selected aspects of the empirical world conceptually. Reality does not speak for itself. Without structuring the empirical world all observations remain meaningless: "All social phenomena have to be observed through some sort of theoretical framework which allows the evidence to be interpreted and hence understood" (Williamson 1989: 3) Answering such questions as how do we measure influence is not just a matter of observation. In order to arrive at meaningful explanations we have to observe reality through a theoretical framework. In the realm of interest groups different theoretical approaches offer different explanations and interpretations of reality. This results in a distinctive analysis of the role of interest organisations and their influence on the decision making process. In political science two theories, pluralism and neo-corporatism, provide explanations for the influence of interest organisations on the legislative process.

3.1.1 The Pluralist Explanation of Influence

Pluralism was the first theoretical framework to deal with the role of interest organisations in liberal democracies. It developed in confrontation with state theories that interpreted the state as the sole carrier of sovereignty, guardian of the general will and the common good. The common good in state theories exists a priori and is essentially normative. Particularist interests, state theorists argued, undermine the role of the state and distort the general will. In a normative sense the influence of interest organisations on the state is rejected and the state praised as the ultimate authority. Pluralist theories fundamentally contend this viewpoint.[13]

In the view of pluralists, the preferences, values, and interests of individuals are expressed through collective action and represented by groups. A multitude of autonomous and competitive interest groups are at the core of the political process. Pluralists argue that these groups participate with equal rights, opportunities and chances in the decision making process. All interests are considered:

No one group regularly sees its preferences fully realized in political decisions. Instead influence is widely dispersed, resting in the hands of the many rather than the few. Influence over political decision is widely dispersed because of the relatively open and competitive nature, not only of elections, but also of interest group activity (Williamson 1989: 52).

Even if an interest is not organised and represented in the political system, pluralists emphasise, it will organise and enter the political arena once it feels it is losing out against other interests: When the influence of business becomes too strong employees will increase their efforts to restore the balance of power. The principle of countervailing power in the eyes of pluralists guarantees a balanced representation and influence of interests in the political process. The free political market contributes to a system in which particular interests are neutralised. The common good is the result of this competition of interests and thus only exists a posteriori.

The state in pluralist theories is not regarded as an important actor. Early pluralist theory went so far as to deny its very existence. In more recent pluralist writings the state is regarded as a neutral actor with no interest of its own. Some pluralists argue that it is an arena where interest groups bring their pressures to bear. In other approaches the state is regarded as an arbiter that keeps the various interests in check and guarantees a balance of power among conflicting groups.

Whichever view of neutrality is adopted, the essential argument is that, as a fundamentally neutral set of institutions, the state does not act collectively against the balance of societal preferences, but simply reflects them, or keeps them in balance, or is an extension of them (Williamson 1989: 56).

Important in this respect is the view that the process of politics is seen as a one way road. Interest groups approach the state and try to influence it by exercising pressure. The state is put under pressures and counter-pressures and as a referee tries to mediate between these. As a neutral actor without self interest the state does not try to exercise pressure or influence on interest groups. The whole process only has one direction; a reciprocal exchange between the state and interest groups is ruled out.

Summing up, pluralism is based on the following core elements:

- An asymmetric distribution of influence among the various interests on the policy process does not exist. Influence is widely dispersed.
- The political process is based on competition between interest groups.
- The principle of countervailing power keeps the political influence of interest organisations in a balance.
- The state has no self interest. As a neutral actor he plays the role of a referee.
- The process of politics is a one way road. Influence primarily is seen as pressure exercised by interest groups on the state, hence the term pressure group in pluralist writings.

3.1.2 The Neo-Corporatist Explanation of Influence

Neo-corporatist theories have developed in alternative to pluralist models.[14] Pluralist theories they argued could not provide plausible explanations for empirical phenomena like the intervention of the state into the realm of interest organisations or the uneven distribution of influence between various interests. Consequently, neo-corporatist writers developed a totally new way of looking at the relationship between the state and interest organisations.

In contrast to pluralists, neo-corporatist writers argue that an intense competition between interest organisations does not exist. Unlike pluralists they think that interest groups do not participate with equal rights, opportunities and chances in the decision-making process. The influence of organised interests is distributed asymmetrically.

In general terms corporatists have taken a less benign view of the democratic credentials of group politics than the pluralist one. This has been not simply because they suggest such associations are not exclusively representative, but also because they attach much greater significance to what is seen as the unequally distributed social and economic attributes around which interests organize. For them socio-economic inequalities are reflected in, and indeed reinforced by, the politics of organized interests to an extent not adequately explored in pluralist discussions (Williamson 1989: 3).

Neo-corporatists argue that in modern liberal democracies an imbalance of power among interests exists. They deny the existence of a multiplicity of voluntary interest groups that compete with each other on equal terms for members, resources and influence. In contrast to pluralists, neo-corporatists claim that a trend towards a monopolisation in the “state - interest group relationship” exists. Powerful groups are incorporated into the policy process by political and bureaucratic actors:

Corporatism is associated with a political dualism which entails certain interests [...] being afforded privileged access whereby their compliance to interventionist policies is 'bought' at the expense of other interests which are excluded from such access, and where the electoral channels of representation have diminished in importance. Privileged access may not be equally afforded under corporatism because of the different power that different producers can mobilize (Williamson 1989: 224).

The pluralist axiom of the passive and anticipating role of the state. In neo-corporatist theory the state is a self-interested actor in its own right and plays a highly active role via its ability and desire to include or exclude specific groups in the policy process (Cox and O' Sullivan 1988: 5): "Gerade in der Interessengruppen­forschung hat man nachweisen können, daß der Abgeordnete oder Politiker keineswegs ein wehrloser Spielball äußerer Einflüsse von Interessenten ist" (von Beyme 1980: 230). Neo-corporatist writers claim that specific interest organisations are "recognised or licensed (if not created) by the state and granted a deliberate representational monopoly" (Schmitter 1979: 13).

In contrast to pluralism, neo-corporatist theory sees the relationship between interest organisations and the state not as a one way road but as a reciprocal exchange process in which interest organisations supply the political system with relevant input in exchange for political influence.

Für Lehmbruch werden korporatistische Arrangements von einer politischen Austauschlogik zwischen Staat und Verbänden getragen. Diese basiert auf wechselseitigen Vorteilen: der Staat kann Interessen Gehör, Einfluß und Berücksichtigung gewähren, während der Verband v.a. Informationen und Loyalitäten zur Verfügung stellen kann (Schmid 1998 S.39).

In his early neo-corporatist writings, Schmitter explains the state's behaviour by the desire to observe certain controls over associations, e.g. the selection of leaders and articulation of demands (Schmitter 1979: 13). Schmitter together with Streeck in later writings changed his initial explanation and provided three reasons for the behaviour of the state (Schmitter and Streeck 1985: 22-4).: Policy makers benefit from the information provided by interest groups as they are a good source of expertise for the drafting of legal regulations. Second interest groups can provide legitimacy and assist in the implementation of regulations. "In other words, associations not only negotiate agreements on the members' behalf (a representative role), they also apply the contents of such agreements to their members (a regulatory rule)" (Williamson 1989: 99). As a result political costs for implementation of regulations are minimised. Third the state may reduce its administrative costs. Even though not all neo-corporatists agree on all aspects of this explanation they support the basic concept: the state involves interest organisations in the decision making process in exchange for political resources, e.g. information and legitimacy. The relationship between state and interest associations is based on a process of intermediation. In exchange for input on the side of the interest organisation policy makers give it access to the decision making process.

Summing up, neo-corporatism is based on the following basic theoretical assumptions:[15]

- The influence of interest groups in the policy process is not distributed equally, but essentially asymmetric.
- The state is not a neutral actor. Politicians and bureaucrats actively pursue their own interests.
- The concept of interest mediation lies at the heart of neo-corporatist theory. In exchange for relevant input interest groups are given a form of participation in the decision making process. This participation can be more or less strong: it can just be a loose exchange of viewpoints or even a closure of the whole process to other groups by a monopolisation of access, e.g. tripartite agreements of trade unions, employer organisations and state agencies.[16]
- The debate on the exact nature of this input among neo-corporatists seems rather unclear. Some argue that influence is exchanged for an involvement of the state in genuinely internal group affairs (election of leaders etc.). Others argue that input consists of legitimacy (loyalty, implementation of regulations, self-regulation), of a reduction of administrative costs, or of information (expertise).

3.1.3 Summary

In political science basically two theoretical models deal with the role of interest organisations in modern liberal democracies. Pluralism has been the dominant model of explanation up to the late sixties and early seventies. It became clear, however, that the theory had too many shortcomings and was not able to give an account for empirical findings that contradicted some of its basic assumptions. Pluralism, e.g. was not able to explain the uneven distribution of influence of interest organisations in the decision-making process. Cawson argues that "corporatist theory promises a more useful set of tools with which to examine such relationships [state - interest groups] than is offered within the perspectives of pluralism" (Cawson 1985: 3). Specifically, neo-corporatism has to be merited in so far as it "has posed a number of distinctive questions about the role of organised interests and their relationship with the state" (Williamson 1989: 201). These questions relate to the concentration of representation among a few organisations; the self-interested role of the state in its relationship with interest organisations; the increasing quasi-public regulatory role of associations; the privileged access for some interests and exclusion of others; and the emphasis that is put on the concept of exchange and intermediation.

In how far, though, can the analytical framework of neo-corporatism be used to determine the influence of interest organisations. Summing up, neo-corporatists in this respect argue that interest organisations "buy" influence and a participatory role in the policy process. The currency is the input required by policy makers (Buholzer 1998: 85). This approach is shared by theories of new political economy: "Die größten Gemeinsamkeiten des Ansatzes der Neuen Politischen Ökonomie mit dem korporatistischen Ansatz liegen in der gemeinsamen Betonung des Tauschaspektes in den Beziehungen Interessengruppen - Staat" (Buholzer 1998: 95). Game theory supports neo-corporatist findings as well: "In all game-theoretical models [...] the distinctive feature of the influence of interest groups is the strategic transmission of information" (Sloof 1997: 6). The neo-corporatist conclusion is that the influence of interest organisations depends on their ability to provide decision makers with relevant input. Interest groups therefore “must be organized in such a way as to offer sufficient incentives to enable them to gain access to and exercise adequate influence over public authorities [...] and, hence, to extract from this exchange adequate resources (recognition, toleration, concessions, subsidies etc.) enabling them to survive, even to prosper” (Schmitter and Streeck 1981: 49). Interest groups have to adapt their logic of membership, i.e. their internal structure and the fragmented and specialised interests of their members to the logic of influence, i.e. the demands set by policy makers.


[1] “Before July 1987, when the SEA came into effect, most decisions affecting business were taken by unanimity in the Council of Ministers. This meant that companies and federations concentrated their lobbying nationally. If they could convince their national minister of the justification of their cause, the minister could veto the measure at the next meeting of the Council, or use the threat of veto to obtain concessions” (Tyszkiewicz 1991: 94).

[2] The Secretariat of the Commission has set up a database, the so called directory of interest groups where European peak organisations can register. It can be accessed under


[3] Traxler believes that the success of an interest association essentially depends on its organisability (Traxler 1991).

[4] The exception is Nollert who has established various criteria for successful interest mediation and applied them to several Eurogroups (Nollert 1997). However, his study is rather superficial.

[5] Definitions of basic concepts are important to avoid misunderstandings. Sometimes scientists use the same label for two totally different ideas. A famous example is the so called positivist dispute between Adorno and Popper. Both philosophers used the same terminology for entirely opposing ideas. Misunderstandings rather than a scientific dispute were the result.

[6] Horizontal business associations in contrast to sectoral organisations represent enterprises from the whole economy and not just companies from one specific sector.

[7] At European level the functional distinction between employer and trade associations is not reflected in an organisational separation. At horizontal level both functions are combined in one association.

[8] Only a small selection of the hundreds of sectoral European business associations is listed here.

[9] Legislative process and policy process are used as synonyms of decision making process in this essay.

[10] It can not be the task to provide a comprehensive analysis of the political system or the decision making process of the European Union here. The debate on the exact nature of the political system of the European Union is an ongoing process with no generally accepted model in sight. Therefore, I will only discuss those parts of the EU decision making process that are relevant for the interest mediation of Eurogroups. It is not my intention to give an exact account of the nature of interest mediation in the European Union as a whole. The legislative process is too dynamic, complex, segmented, and fragmented for such an undertaking. This complexity is a result of the multi-layered character of the EU decision making process: a supranational, international, and national level. In addition competencies are not only spread vertically but also horizontally within the institutions themselves. In the Commission, e.g. one policy field can cut across several Directorate Generals. Even within one policy field differences regarding actors, approaches, and institutional arrangements can be found (Grande 1996: 394). Thus we can not speak of a uniform system of interest mediation; each arena of decision-making and each policy field has developed its own style of co-operating with interest groups, e.g. case studies indicate that in the policy field of information technology interest groups seem to have more influence than in other areas (Nollert 1997: 126).

[11] For a detailed analysis of the complex co- decision making processes cf. Buholzer (Buholzer 1998: 181-4).

[12] The Commission also implements programmes itself, e.g. in research policy the Commission’s Joint Research Centre carries out research projects.

[13] Before I outline the main ideas of the proponents of pluralism it has to be noted that there is a richness of concepts all summarised under the label of pluralism. Here, I can only provide an overview on the main ideas and the basic concept of the pluralist view of interest organisations.

[14] The 'neo' is used to distinguish it from earlier authoritarian forms of corporatism.

[15] I am aware of the fact that neo-corporatism has many facets, the following theoretical points are shared, however, by most of neo-corporatists and clearly distinguishes them from pluralist frameworks of analysis.

[16] The views of neo-corporatists differ in this point. While some claim that only a strong incorporation of interest groups and a monopolisation of the channels of access describes the neo-corporatist model others argue that any exchange between the state and interest organisations is part of neo-corporatist theory. The views differ on whether strictly speaking only a regulatory role on behalf of interest groups best describes the phenomenon of neo-corporatism or if a participatory role in the policy process already falls within the category of neo-corporatism. I support the latter view that there are different degrees or levels of involvement on the side of interest groups in the policy process that all can be labeled under the term of neo-corporatism.


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Freie Universität Berlin – Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften, Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaften
europäische union handelskammer wirtschaftsverbände wirtschaftsverband industrie-



Titel: The Influence of Business Associations in the European Decision Making Process