Lobbying Effectiveness of Interest Groups in the EU


What determines the lobbying effectiveness of interest groups and how it can be used to influence the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations? In recent years, there has been significant attention on the growing role of professional lobbyists in EU governance. This attention includes both media interest (Lipton and Hakim, 2013: A1) as well as scholarly research (Klüver, 2011: pp. 483-506).

Lobbying in the EU is frequently spoken of as unidirectional activity in which interest groups are the ones looking for access into the policy makers and not the other way around. However, this is not true. Policy makers need the expertise of interest groups to help in the creation of new policies. It is a mistake to regard business lobbying as a unidirectional activity of private actors vis-`a-vis the EU institutions (Bouwen, 2002: 368). This information is essential during the TTIP’s negotiation rounds. The more knowledge EU representatives have, the greater capacity they will have to influence their American counterparts.

Therefore, the more knowledge an interest group can provide, the more access to the policy makers they have. An essential part of lobbying is the transmission of information to decision makers, as information supply is an important instrument through which interest groups can exert influence on political decisions (Klüver, 2012: 491).

In order to gain access to an EU institution, business interests have to provide the access good(s) demanded by that institution (Bouwen, 2002: 365). Good(s) in this case would be the information policy makers need to create new laws in the scope of the European Union. Furthermore, with access comes influence.

Since the European Union is not a single body from a lobbying point of view, it has great implications in how scholars will research the lobbying activity. Even though most activity occurs in the European Commission which is geared towards promoting common European interests as well as promoting its own position (Rometsch and Wessels, 1997: 214), the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers also play a role in the formation of new and existing laws. Therefore, the influence of interest groups in these two last institutions is also fundamental to understanding the logic of access.

Furthermore, besides knowing where in the European Union lobbying takes place, researches of this field should also have knowledge about the different interest groups that promote lobbying in the European Union. This way, he or she can evaluate how different characteristics on interest groups can affect the result of the research.

Interest groups are usually divided into three types of groups: economic groups, (including individual corporations and business organizations), professional groups (such as trade unions and farmers) and public groups (including groups that are concerned with issues such as human rights, the environment, animal rights and health and safety). (Chari and Kritzinger, 2006: 30).

Consequently, to understand how some interest groups can influence the decision making in the heart of the European Union more successfully than others and thus impact the outcome of the TTIP negotiations, it is important to research the characteristics of these different groups and note how they alter their own effectiveness  


Literature Review


Lobbying in the European Union has been studied extensively throughout the years. Some studies focus on the characteristics of lobbying in the European Union (Soimu et al., 2011: 809) while others investigate what factors prompt firms to become politically active at the level of the European Union (Bernhagen and Mitchell, 2009: 156). Some papers go for a more broad view and report research into cross-national differences in corporate lobbying in the European Union (Barron, 2011: 487). However, most studies try to answer what determines the degree of access of business interests to the European Institutions (Bouwen, 2002: 366) or what makes an interest group a winner or a loser in their common effort to influence policy-making (Klüver, 2012: 493).

Soimu, who studied lobbying in the EU, gives a positive view of lobbying and demonstrates that the existence of lobbying is a healthy part of the process of policy making. If it is exercised properly, lobbying can strengthen accountability in government and the participation of citizens in policymaking, (Soimu et al., 2011: 809). To get to this conclusion, he evaluates the amount of lobbying and how much it influences policy making. This quantification is done through empirical research of lobbying activities done exclusively in Belgium where almost 70% of EU policies are created and shaped (Soimu et al., 2011: 809).

The scholars Patrick Bernhagen and Neil J. Mitchell makes a direct comparison between the activity levels of corporate lobbying in the United States and the European Union by comparing lobbying data from these two entities. This study observed data from the amount of political activity done by European companies equated to the total amount of companies with direct interests in certain policies. The same method was then done with American companies.

What Bernhagen really wanted to measure was what makes European companies being as active as the American ones when relating to lobbying. The conclusion was that certain factors determine the level of political engagement of corporations, like the size of the firm and level of involvement with the government, independently from the company’s origin. The conclusion was that American and European corporations have an equal degree of success if the same characteristics are present.

In Andrew Barron’s research on how local culture affects the way businesses engage in lobbying, data was collected from a survey of European Government Affairs Managers. Potential respondents were identified using the European Public Affairs Directory, the European Commission’s register of interest representatives, the list of lobbyists accredited by the European Parliament and the Permanent Representations of individual member states. The survey was distributed via e-mail to a total of 1358 managers with questions regarding how culture influences lobbying or if the local values, whereas more individualistic or collectivist, is also a determinant on the level of lobbying.

However, the studies which are most important for this research design have a greater focus on how effective lobbying actually is (Bouwen, 2002). This effectiveness has been connected to the amount of information interest groups can provide to policy makers. Based on this principal, some studies have focused on what determines how much knowledge an interest group can create and transmit to the different institutions of the European Union (Klüver, 2011; 2012).

Both Heike Klüver and Pieter Bouwen start with the premise that the amount of information interest groups can produce and transmit to policy makers in the European Union will determine their effectiveness. In stating that, both studies focus their research on what distinguish interest groups that can produce large amounts of information from the ones that cannot, so the measure of information produced was essential to start the research.

To accomplish this task, information supply was measured by the number of words contained in interest group’s submissions to online consultations conducted by the European Commission (Klüver, 2011: 498). Using the Prelex (Ec.europa.eu, 2014),  the database on inter-institutional procedures that follows the major stages of the decision-making process between the European Commission and other institutions, Klüver selected 56 policy proposals issued by the European Commission and then gathered information about all interest groups that submitted comments to consultations proceeding the final adoption of these proposals.

To evaluate the amount of information delivered, Klüver counted the number of words by proposals and inferred a direct correlation between the amount of words and the amount of information on each proposal. To be more precise, Klüver deleted stopwords, repetitions of consultation questions, and contact details of interest groups before counting the number of words per interest group submission (Klüver, 2011: 499).

A different approach was taken by Bouwen to evaluate the amount of information. The author has conducted sixty-three exploratory interviews with both business interests (twenty-one) and EU officials and politicians (forty-two). Moreover, a twelve-month period spent by the author in the European Commission in Brussels facilitated his observation of participation in the interaction between private and public interests in the EU arena (Bouwen, 2002: 367). Bouwen also does not limit himself to the European Commission. While past studies have mainly focused on lobbying in the European Commission, Bouwen also analyzes the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Once this direct correlation has been determined, the next step would be to understand what makes an interest group more capable of delivering a greater quantity of information. To accomplish this task, both Klüver and Bouwen focused on the amount of resources interest groups have as well as their internal structure.

For the first task, resources were operationalized by the number of employees concerned with lobbying (Klüver, 2011: 495). According to Klüver, the number of employees is a commonly used indicator for the resources of interest groups since they often refuse to answer questions concerning the amount of lobbying expenses or the size of the budget directed to it. Even if it is not a precise value, it gives a good idea of lobbying engagement since large firms use more resources for planning and undertaking political action than smaller firms (Bouwen, 2002: 373).

The second main determinant for information supply and thus lobbying influence was the structure of the interest group. Within it, several characteristics were researched. One of them was the complexity of the decision making. The more complicated the internal decision-making process, the slower and less flexible is the provision of access goods (Bouwen, 2002: 375).

However, it was Klüver who expressed more precisely how he collected data for each of the structural determinants. The first one was the functional differentiation which was measured by the number of organizational units that deal with lobbying. An organizational unit is defined as at least one employee devoting half his or her working time to a function or subject within the broader task of lobbying. Decentralization was another characteristic researched. It was measured by the number of people involved in deciding on the interest group’s strategy position concerning a new policy initiative of the European Commission.

Finally, professionalization was seen as a determinant for the interest group efficiency in producing and supplying information. To research it, Klüver operationalized it by three indicators: education level of staff, frequency of additional training offered by interest groups, and length of prior working experience of the interest group’s employees. Education level was measured by asking interest groups to indicate the highest level of education of their employees in percentages of the total number of employees concerned with lobbying. Frequency of additional training was measured by asking interest groups how often they offer additional training to their employees and length of prior working experience was measured by the number of years of prior working experience (Klüver, 2012: 501).

Once all this data was collected, a direct correlation was made by comparing the amount of resources and the structural determinants with the amount of information (goods) supplied to the policy maker. Finally, Klüver and Bowen could test their hypothesis and get to the final conclusion of their paper.

Research Design


The purpose of this research project is to evaluate what determines the level of influence from interest groups in the European Union but specifically in one of the most important trade agreement being debated in the European Union. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a trade agreement that is presently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. It aims at removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US (Ec.europa.eu, 2014).

The TTIP negotiations are done in rounds where the European Commission represents all 28 EU members at the negotiation tables with its counterpart, the United States Trade Representative (Ec.europa.eu, 2014). Therefore, what will matter for this research are the negotiations done between European interest groups and the European Commission, since the result of these discussions are the ones which will determine the European position during the TTIP negotiation’s rounds.


Evaluation of the information supplied


To perform this research, like other scholars in this field had done before, the first data collection will be the amount of information interest groups can supply to the EU Commission, since, as explained above, a direct correlation was found between the amount of information supplied and influence or effectiveness of lobbying. To calculate the amount of information supplied, the strategy of previous studies will be followed, using Prelex to access proposals and counting the number of words on each one.

Once this data is assembled and the quantity of information is evaluated, the research will focus on the amount of resources dedicated to lobbying by interest groups along with the specific characteristics of each company or association. A third source of data will be an empirical examination done by participating in the meetings between interest groups and policy makers to determine what forms of negotiations are most effective.


Amount of resources by interest group


In order to calculate the amount of resources each interest group use for their lobbying practices, the same strategy used by Klüver will be employed. The number of employees per interest group concerned with lobbying will be used to estimate and compare how much is spent on lobbying. To be more precise, the estimated salary by position will also be evaluated as different positions have a greater cost than others (managers in comparison with analysts, as an example). Furthermore, in addition to previous researches, in the case of companies who delegate the lobbying activity to a third professional party, the cost per hour of this service will be acquired through direct contact with the specialized lobbying company. Even though prices per hour can be negotiated differently between different clients, a good estimate can be reached.


Focus on the structure


Secondly, when looking at the structure of the interest groups, the research will also focus on the same three characteristics evaluated by Klüver. Starting with functional differentiation, it should be determined which interest groups have a specific area devoted to lobbying, how many employees are in this area or if it is outsourced.

Professionalization will be determined by the educational level of the interest group’s employees, working experience on the lobbying field and amount of training regarding lobbying. This task will be accomplished by directly contacting the interest groups and soliciting these numbers. Since it is expected that a certain portion of these groups will not be willing to supply the data needed, an estimate based on comparison with similar companies or organizations should be made. Decentralization will not be considered for this research since it was not regarded as essential in determining information supply.


Checking for unexpected data


Thirdly, empirical research will be done by attending a fair number of meetings between interest groups and the European Commission. This final stage has the objective to discover any specificity or out of the curve data that has not been raised in the first two parts of the research. An example would be an interest group that does not supply a great amount of information to a policy maker but at the same time is effective in influencing the decision making.

This last approach has not been tried by other researches. They did attend meetings by lobbying groups and policy makers, but not with the intent of finding odd cases of successful lobbying that cannot be explained by the amount of resources or group’s structure. If such event comes to happen, it will add a new source of investigation for future research and it will further improve the reliability of the same.

To conclude, this research, in general, followed the same paths used by Klüver and Bouwen’s paper, adding specifically the cost per hour of services from professional lobbying parties and the physical presence on negotiations meeting aimed in finding possible new data sources.





Barron, A. 2011. The impact of national business cultures on large firm lobbying in the European Union: evidence from a large-scale survey of government affairs managers. Journal of European Integration, (33:4), pp. 487–505.

Bernhagen, P. and Mitchell, N. J. 2009. The determinants of direct corporate lobbying in the European Union. European Union Politics, (10:2), pp. 155–176.

Bouwen, P. 2002. Corporate lobbying in the European Union: the logic of access. Journal of European Public Policy, (9:3), pp. 365–390.

Chari, R. S. and Kritzinger, S. 2006. Understanding EU policy making. London: Pluto Press.

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Klüver, H. 2012. Informational lobbying in the European Union: the effect of organisational characteristics. West European Politics, (35:3), pp. 491–510.

Klüver, H. 2011. The contextual nature of lobbying: Explaining lobbying success in the European Union. European Union Politics, (12:4), pp. 483–506.

Kohler-Koch, B. and Finke, B. 2007. The institutional shaping of EU–society relations: a contribution to democracy via participation?. Journal of Civil Society, (3:3), pp. 205–221.

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Rometsch, Dietrich and Wessels, Wolfgang (1997) ‘The Commission and the Council of the Union’ in Geoffrey Edwards and David Spence (eds), The European Commission, London: Catermill Publishing.

Soimu, S., Margarit, A., Andrisan, D. S. and Stefan, I. 2011. Lobbying in the European Union: Practices and Challenges. EIRP Proceedings, 6.

Ustr.gov. 2014. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) | Office of the United States Trade Representative. [online] Available at: http://www.ustr.gov/tpp [Accessed: 21 Mar 2014].


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