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What role do organised interests play in the EU policy making process?


1)      Intro

2)      definition Organised interest –. Groups that influence, other than parties.

3)      Theory - Democracy/authoritarian

a)      corporatist/pluralist

b)      Rational individuals as members/post-modernists as members.

4)      EU policy making

a)      Several points of entry? Council Commission, but Council hard. COREPER? EP increasingly important.

b)      Commission – little resources, open.

c)      Organised interests in practice

d)      a large amount. Mostly with commission.

e)      Growing (data 3000 groups in brussels, low politics)

f)        Must be receiving benefits from membership – possibly because others are already there. hard to measure the actual outcomes

g)      mostly through agenda setting

5)      Implications – increased legitimacy? once groups are there you can only increase access. mostly open now, groups produce papers. however, recent commission scandal. however, discrimination. not all can finance. thus biased?

6)      conclusion – very important

a)      useful – fill design deficiency.

b)      But also damgerous destabilising, unaccountable. being addressed.

c)      integration – neo-functionalism

d)      not uniform. some sectors more important and style differs

The following essay is about the hotly discussed topic of interest groups in European Union. There are two issues here, how do the groups affect the general policy outcomes and how do they affect the legitimacy of the EU and its decision making style in general. Pressure groups are regarded as essential (Mazey), especially for agenda setting, however, there are areas like the issues around high-politics were their impact is not very big.

The following essay first defines the pressure groups. It then looks at the different theoretical and historical formulation of pressure group activity, followed by an overview of the decision-making procedure in the EU. Finally, then I will explore the role that pressure groups play in the EU and what the implications of these roles are for the numerous institutions in EU.

Organised interests are normally composed of individuals with either similar background, or who fight for the same issue. They are groups, excluding parties, that influence the decision-making procedures directly. Directly related to this is the issue of democratic accountability, because groups do not have the explicit support from the people. I do not wish to explore this issue to great lengths, except to point out that groups that are likely to be successful in the EU level normally have support from the majority of the institutions concerned with the issue. It can be argued that as they are most affected the representative span of the group is sufficient. Furthermore, the successful groups normally make it clear whom they represent (Hull) and as the final decision makers are elected or appointed by elected members, then the democracy is not sacrificed. This is the pluralist view of the group behaviour, of course, corporatist view looks the relationship between the government and most important pressure groups representing capital and labour as very close and protective, and not democratic. EU system, however, is normally seen as pluralist (Mazey).

How does the EU function then and how can groups access its decision-making procedures? First, EU is consists of four main institutions: the Council of Ministers, the Commission, The European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. This allows pressure groups to have several access points to the EU decision making. It also means that the process of following your proposal from the beginning to the end can be quite complicated and time consuming.

Commission is the first instance of lobbying. It is the only institution that originates legislation in the EU and thus has considerable appeal to pressure groups. It has been found that the most effective lobbying can be done at the very early stages of a proposition, when Commissioners have just a blank sheet of paper and need the ideas to make it into a policy proposal (Hull). The nature of the Commission also favours lobbying. It has an open-door policy, tries to listen to as many views as possible and normally has not got adequate resources to carry out all the research necessary to back its proposals technically.

Difficulties arise mainly because the agenda is changing very rapidly. Thus, the pressure groups that have no good information sources will find it very difficult to find out about the policies that affect them before they are far advanced in the agenda. Also, once a proposition has been argued out it is very difficult to renegotiate it, because package deals are often secured and renegotiating them is difficult. Thirdly, the Commission is understaffed and has to deal with many policies at the same time. Thus, it can be argued that all parties might not have time to have an equal say. Finally, pressure groups have limited influence in the high-powered policies of for example environment, where there the public has strong views. The Commission tries to overcome this effect by breaking these policies into smaller issues that can be dealt technocratically. For example the reduction of the CFC-s issue was broken down to sectors, and then the maximum reductions in rubber industry, freezers, etc were negotiated (Mazey). All and all, the pressure groups play a very significant role in the initiating stages of Commission. Although one can argue that the influence is not always unbiased, very often it is more important to have a standard legislation in place, as opposed to no legislation at all. Thus pressure groups are competing with each other to be as quick and as effective as possible, which surely is a good thing.

Secondly, the lobbying to the Council is normally done through national officials. The tradition to lobby national politicians has a long tradition, and historically countries have often took a national champion view and defended the interests of a company. However, the Committee of Permanent Representatives is now often lobbied as well. The advantage of Council lobbying is that there is no need to reach consensus among the similar producers at the EU level. National officials are also often more listening than the officials in EU. However, the major disadvantage is that with the introduction of qualified majority voting, there is lots of trading going on at the EU level, and some interests can be sacrificed with package deals. As the Council has no right to initiate legislation, so the lobbying to Council concentrates once an issue has been brought up. The most useful lobbying can be done at the implementation level, as the actual decision process is very secret. Especially British argue that there is a strong implementation gap in some of the southern countries, and thus EU legislation is not converted into law. The lobbying often turn to whistle blowing, as was the case with environmental groups in Britain, who pointed out that the UK is not following the EU directive on NO2 levels in drinking water. So, the role of interest groups in Council is also important, especially at the implementation level.

The lobbying in the European Parliament has increased significantly over the years. This is the result of the increased powers given to the EP. In particular, with the SEA there is now a co-operation procedure with the EP and other institutions, co-decision was introduced in Maasticht and is extended with the Amsterdam treaty. This means that the EP can add amendments to the legislation, and the Council can only reject them by unanimous vote. Thus, the pressure groups use EP to keep up with the legislation, and often to introduce some technical amendments. However, the lobbying in EP is not as extensive as in the Commission, even for keeping up with the legislation, more lobbying is done in the Commission. Still, in the future, the powers of the EP are likely to be increased, and thus the role of the interest groups in the future is likely to be lobbying the EP.

Finally, the ECJ is sometimes used for lobbying as well. The controversial cases bought to ECJ often attract considerable lobby group support. This is especially true for weaker groups with a broad base, like women’s rights. However, it is unlikely that the actual decision in the ECJ is affected by lobbying. Still, the lobbying is important in the agenda setting stage.

It is clear that lobbying is done at every level, in the initiation stage, formulation stage and implementation stage. Compare with the US experience, which I cannot do. The most important is implementation and agenda setting. This means that the groups should not really make the EU undemocratic in nature. Instead, they play a major role in integrating Europe into increasingly supranational institution (the neo-functionalist theory). It is also clear that there are no obvious alternatives to the present lobbying system.  The danger that bribery was occurring in Commission was addressed by EP recently, and although with no actual material outcomes, it still served as a useful warning.

Finally, the conclusion about the role that the pressure groups play is very hard to make because the inherent complexity of the lobbying system. The groups differ wildly and have wildly different implications (Agricultural groups and Car producers for example have completely different motives). Furthermore, even if one can assign the roles to the pressure groups ad hoc, it has very little predictive capacity. Thus, I find it hard to conclude anything other than that the pressure groups are extremely important and involved at every stage of the EU, mostly because of the design of the EU, and that their major global effect is the spill-over effect they create that makes Europe more integrated.

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