The rise of interest and business-groups in recent decades has been a worthwhile topic to study, especially in regards to how the interest-groups have adapted to a changing political environment.
Alongside the development of a European economic and political community, there has been the rise of interest-groups. One of the reasons is that the European Union has grown in its reach of governance, i.e. what is now under its control. For example, the EU is now covering areas such as transport, environmental and monetary policy, as well as foreign policy, mutual recognition of high-school diplomas and exchange of criminal records (Griffith and O’Callaghan: 2003, p.99).
Long and Lorinczi say that ‘the growing army of EU lobbyists has not left the national battlefields void. It has simply doubled the amount of lobbying to take into account a multiple decision-making venues’ (2009, p. 169). Consequently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of groups wanting to have access to decision makers who develop policy at a regional level. This is creating challenges for interest-groups in terms of which part of the political process they should influence.
Since the European Union is the new level of government, these interest groups are attempting to understand the system and keep up with the changes that occur. Long and Lorinczi describe the EU-lobbying relationship as being a ‘multi-arena, multi-level decision-making system’ (ibid). In many ways this organisational structure gives Interest Groups more opportunities to represent the views and needs of their citizens; this multifaceted access poses logistical challenges for groups as they try to cover all levels.
Neill Nugent points out that ‘the long complex and multi-layered nature of the EU process provides many points of access for interest groups, and many opportunities for them to keep themselves informed about developments and press their cases with those who influence, make and implement decisions’ (2010, p.249). This shows that it is more than just about Interest Groups influencing EU policy; it is also keeping up-to-date about what is being negotiated in the political arena in Brussels. Long and Lorinczi go on to highlight where Interest Groups have been successful when they say that ‘NGOs are generally regarded to be most effective in the first, second and fifth stages…..NGOs networking skills make consultation exercises in stage two particularly fruitful’ (2009, p.170).
Several stages have been identified in the EU policy development process. Each stage lends itself well to particular inputs from interest groups. Long and Lorinczi do say, for example, that ‘the intense legislative activity in stage three is not always amenable to NGO lobbying’ (ibid). This shows how complicated the system is. If Interest Groups do not have intricate knowledge about which stage they are at in their consultation, they are less likely to be successful as a lobby group.
The main challenge to interest groups is understanding the complex EU political system and at which point is it best to focus their attention and resources. However, it must be said that that their job is made much easier by the greater points of access to EU Officials as well as voter disinterest and political apathy.
List of References
Nugent, N. (2010) The Government and Politics of the European Union (7th ed) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan)
Long, T and Lorinzi, T (2009) “NGOs as Gatekeepers: A Green Vision” in Coen, D and Richardon, J. (eds) Lobbying the European Union: Institutions, Actors and Issues. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Griffith, M and O’Callaghan, T. (2003) International Relations: Key Concepts (New York: Routledge)