2. The European policy making process and the power of the legislative organs
3. Lobbyism in Brussels
Limits for air pollution in our cities, the approval of chemicals in everyday objects such as baby bottles or the protection of data on the internet: The laws of the European Union have a large and direct impact on all citizens in the member states of the European Union. Consequently, there are a lot of stakeholders who try to influence the European legislation. Recently 948 industry associations, 645 companies and company groups, 444 lobbyist agencies and estates, 244 labor unions and 454 non-governmental organizations are in Brussels to influence the European policy making process1. There are approximately 3 lobbyists per parliamentarian in the capital of the European Union2. Therefore, Brussels behind Washington D.C. has the second highest lobbyists density in the world. These high numbers explain why a lot of people call lobbyists the „fifth power“.
However, the European legislative process is regularly judged to have a lack of transparency and to be very complex because of the many different decision-making-levels and partners involved. That’s why the word „lobbyist“ often has a bad connotation and is connected with one-minded representation of industrial interests, with legislation made in back rooms or even with corruption. But contrary, lobbying contributes to the variety of opinions and within fulfills the pluralism of opinions and views in the political dialogue. Thus, the question arises, does interest groups participation enhance the democratic quality of supranational policy making or deteriorate it?
Firstly, in the following term paper will be pointed out how the European policy process is structured, and which institutional organs are involved. Therefore, it will be stated where and how interest groups can effectively influence these institutions and how the interaction between lobbyists and EU-officials is regulated. In a next step, it will be explained what kind of interest groups particularly interact on the EU-level and why they spend so much money on their lobbyism work. Thereby, the advantages and disadvantages of lobbyism in the European Union will be weighted. Finally, improvements for more equality and transparency in the lobbyism context will be presented.
1. The European policy making process and the power of the legislative organs
There are three legislative organs in the European policy making process which form together the European legislation. In the following will be explained how these organs work, how they can be influenced by interest groups and which regulations they are subjected to.
Firstly, the Council of the European Union, which is often called Council of Ministers because member states can only be represented by a minister. The composition of the Council of Ministers consequently depends on the topic. Therefore, the Council has nine different formations. For example, there is are council for transportation, telecommunication and energy or another one for the environmental issues where the responsible minister from the member states participate. The council convenes quarterly to set objectives and priorities for the general European legislation. Even though the council has no right to initiate a new legislation, it is on the one hand possible to bring in topics or issues through the national commissioners in the European Commission while on the other hand the council can ask the commission to make a legislative proposal to which the commission must comply3. Moreover, the council has an important role in the decision procedure because it has the power to introduce amendments for a legislation proposal and additionally its approval to the parliament’s amendments is necessary.
The Council of the EU is a good opportunity for big national companies because it represents the strongest union body for national issues. On the one hand interest groups can exert their influence on a national level through the minister’s party, his fraction in the national parliament or even directly to the concerned departmental minister. However, it is mostly not enough to only convince the minister of the company’s home country because the decisions are often made through a qualified majority. A qualified majority is achieved by changing percentages of consenting member states and their amount of people they represent. The percentages depend on the current topic4. Therefore, lobbyists can influence the policy making on a European level through the Council of the EU. The most effective way to do so is to connect with members of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper). The Coreper consists of ambassadors of the EU member states and its purpose is to prepare the Council’s work5. Therefore, interest groups can present their interests, arguments and information to members of the Coreper which may thereupon be included in the decision template for the council. To improve the standing of interests within a discussion and consequently to have a greater impact on the decision template, it is often helpful to also interact with Coreper members from different nationalities. The interactions between lobbyists and members of the Coreper are often criticized because of its lack of transparency.
The access to members of the EU Council is regulated individually on national level by the member states and collectively on the European level. The member states have their own national prescriptions how to handle interest groups and how transparent contacts should be. The European regulations only demand compliance of the official staff regulations and the employment conditions of the EU6.
Secondly, the European Parliament is the most democratic organ because it is directly voted by the European citizens every five years. The unique, multinational parliament is the only European organ where the people can directly vote their representatives. Therefore, it is the parliaments duty to interact with the European people and to represent their interests. It is the parliament’s function, together with the European Council, to design the budgetary policy, through which the parliament can set political preferences. Besides, it has on the one hand the power to vote for the commission`s president and on the other hand the ability to vote out the whole commission. Consequently, the commission must report regularly and answer the parliament’s questions which should create more transparency7. Additionally, the parliament can ask the commission for a legislative proposal to which the commission must comply.
Furthermore, the European Parliament is the most open legislative organ of the EU for interest groups. Klemens Joos shows in „Lobbying im neuen Europa“8 four different ways to influence policy making processes by the European Parliament. One way is, to talk directly and individually to a member of the parliament to present one’s interests. By doing so it makes sense to approach representatives who are responsible for the underlying specific topic and who probably can take advantage out of the interest group’s expert knowledge. The need for data, information and expert knowledge can be explained by the fact that parliamentarians do not have a larger group of employees or regular access to consultants. Moreover, it is rational for interest groups to talk directly to a representative of their interested fraction because he is responsible for checking the commissions set proposal and preparing the parliament’s decision. To get in contact with the representant it is favorable for an interest group when both share the same home destination, or the representative has another personal relation to the topic. In general, it is difficult to directly contact a parliamentarian therefore lobbyists try to stay in closer contact to their employees. Additionally, the access to a parliamentarian gives the lobbyists access to parliamentarians from other committees and even to all files from the parliament concerning this topic. This context shows the importance of networking for lobbyists and the advantages well connected lobbyists get. That’s why wealthy companies spent a lot of money on lobby agencies which advertise with their big networks. Likewise shows Amy McKay, in her study about the effects of Lobbyist’s resources on their policy success, that „the time people work as lobbyists and how many influential people they know“ is an important factor for their policy success9.
Furthermore, there are „intergroups“ which function as permanent teams, across party lines, created to discuss special topics, for example the EU’s digital agenda or religious freedom10, where lobbyists can also provide their data, information and expert knowledge. Similarly does the European Parliament hold public hearings where experts can supply new information about a specific topic.11 These hearings can be used by interest groups to present their opinion through neutral information. In this context Joos points out that hearings are not notably important for lobbyists because there are more specific ways to show their influence. As one can see interest representation is often equal to data, information and knowledge transfer.
However, there are also regulations about the interaction between lobbyists and parliamentarians to secure transparency and equality and to hinder bribery and corruption.
In general, parliamentarians must abide after the European Parliament’s general rules of procedure and since 2012 lobbyists and parliamentarians must follow a code of conduct to get admission. The code of conduct prescribes parliamentarians „to act in the public interest and do not seek any direct or indirect financial benefit or any other benefit“12. In particular, the code of conduct sets that parliamentarians have to inform about every financial support they receive over 5.000 € per year. Moreover, are the parliamentarians not allowed to accept any present that is worth 150 €13 or more. But while reimbursements of direct expenses are possible, doors for legal limbo are opened. Interest groups on the other hand have to sign up in a „transparency register“ to get access to the European Parliament with the exception of interest groups not coming from the EU. Additionally, since January 2019 the European Parliament decided that the committee chairman should mandatorily publish every meeting with lobbyists which thereby influenced the legislation.14
The third organ is the European Commission consisting of 27 commissioners where every member state provides one commissioner for a session of five years. The Commission’s function is to monitor compliance with EU rights and its subsequent provision. Additionally, the commission is the executive organ that consequently observes the implementations of European legislations. Its outstanding competency is the sole right to initiate legislation and it has therefore „the full decision-making power at the end of the policy-making process“15.
The commission is responsible for the design of guidelines’ and regulations’ as well as their specific content and formulation. Dedicated employees to the committee draft the formulation for guidelines and regulations. In practice the exact formulation and the details make a big difference for industries, companies and organizations. That’s the reason why these employees are the most important target for lobbyism16. But there are also other ways to influence the policy making process through the European Commission. For instance, the cabinet chiefs who prepare the weekly commission meetings by discussing the decision templates in correspondence to the general secretariats are another attractive target. The cabinet’s function is comparable to the task of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in the Council of the EU. Therefore, is the personal contact to a cabinet chief very helpful for an interest group to present their arguments and to contribute their information and knowledge. However, these meetings are criticized accordingly to the meetings with the members of the Coreper because of its lack of transparency. Furthermore, do few major economic companies have the advantage to be directly connected to a commissioner, who has contact to other commissioners and the power to support the lobbyists interests in the commission, especially if they strive for an amendment or a completely new legislation.
1 Brauns, Bastian: „Die Schwachstelle der EU“ in Cicero, (29.04.19)
2 Gersmann, Hanna: „Die zweitmeisten Lobbyisten weltweit“ in TAZ (29.04.19)
3 ZDF, heute-plus: „Was lenkt was in der EU?“
4 „Glossar: Qualifizierte Mehrheit“ In: eur-lex.europa.eu
5 „Glossar: Ausschuss der Ständigen Vertreter“, in: Parlament.gv.at
6 Joos, Klemens: „Lobbying im neuen Europa“ (2011)
7 European Parliament: „Ein kurzer Leitfaden zum Europäischen Parlament“ (2017)
8 Joos, Klemens: „Lobbying im neuen Europa“ (2011)
9 McKay, Amy: „Buying Policy? The Effects of Lobbyist’s Resources on their policy success“ (2012)
10 Europäisches Parlament: „Die interfraktionellen Arbeitsgruppen des Europäischen Parlaments“, in: europarl.europa.eu
11 Europäisches Parlament: „Anhörungen“, in: europarl.europa.eu
12 NN: „Verhaltenskodex für EU-Abgeordnete“, in: Lobbyipedia.de
13 NN: „Neuer Verhaltenskodex für Abgeordnete angenommen“, in: Europarl.europa.eu (01.12.2011)
14 NN: „EU-Parlament will Einfluss auf Lobbyisten offenlegen“, in: Zeit Online (31.01.2019)
15 Greenwood, Justin: „Interest Representation in the European Union“ (2007)
16 Joos, Klemens: „Lobbying im neuen Europa“ (2011)
- Quote paper
- Viva Heines (Author), 2019, Interest Groups in the European Union, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/506488