Lobbies in Europe (1/5). Interest representative, advocacy officer, public affairs consultant, lobbyist… The denominations are multiple but all refer to the same reality, that of the professions of influence. Often considered pejorative, the term “lobbyist” has seen the development of a large number of more flattering synonyms. Two cities are considered the lobbying capitals of the world, Brussels and Washington. Our series will mainly focus on lobbying within the European Union and therefore in Brussels.
Robot portrait of a connoted profession
Highly connoted, the actions of lobbying do not only correspond to popular fantasies of corruption and other underground dealings. While bribery is illegal and uses coercion, the lobbying is a legal practice that does not constrain its interlocutors. The very action of lobbying is a daily action by which we are led to mobilize arguments, with the qualified public, in order to satisfy our interests. So the lobbying or the defense of interests is inherent in contemporary societies. the lobbying is a practice subject to rules, which differ according to the States, and that within the European Union differs from the practice across the Atlantic, where lobbyists can directly finance political life.
The European Transparency Register considers as carrying out actions of lobbying “[Toutes] organizations seeking to influence the legislative and policy implementation process of the European institutions.” the lobbying therefore consists mainly in trying to influence public decision-makers (civil servants, deputies, etc.) by providing them with arguments. Based on this definition, both Total and Greenpeace have recourse to actions of lobbying. An example that demonstrates the impossibility of generalizing the actions carried out by the lobbies. The actors are so varied that we find both the multinationals of energy and new technologies, as well as trade unions or the federation of potato producers. Each section of society, each economic sector has interests to assert before the European legislator. The lobbyist is therefore much more banal than it seems and moves away from the occult character that is often attributed to him. the lobbying does not amount to organized corruption, but much more to a desire to influence the decision-making process.
A distinction is made between lobbyists directly employed by a company or a federation of associations on a permanent basis (“in-house” lobbyists) from other existing players. A practice that remains the prerogative of the wealthiest, as opening a Public Affairs department can be expensive. Consulting firms and lawyers also offer their valuable services for a one-time appeal to a campaign of lobbying. More subtly, think tanks are often used, through their funding, in a form of lobbying intellectualized. The use of little-known product defense firms is also frequent. These firms specialize in the production of scientific studies and offer their services to support research campaigns. lobbying.
Lobbyists, a common sociology
There is therefore a myriad of potential employers, but the profiles sought do not have the same diversity. Lobbyists or public affairs consultants usually have a Master’s degree in law, political science or economics. Representation of interests being above all a relational environment, employers value passages in the European institutions.
The daily lobbyists, unknown and source of fantasies, nevertheless follow a well-established routine. In order to carry out a campaign of lobbying, the advocate must first identify the interests that his organization wishes to defend. Then, the whole issue lies in the ability of the lobbyist to address the right arguments to the appropriate interlocutor, so it will be useless to have dinner with Josep Borrell to talk to him about the ban on hunting with hounds. The lobbyist must not only identify the key players but also the interests of other organizations affected by the current legislative process.
To do this, the lobbyist produces interest maps in order to identify potential allies, but also future opponents and their arguments. A step that makes it easier to continue the work, to form coalitions and to refine your point. Interest maps, a preliminary phase, will accompany the lobbyist throughout his campaign. A campaign punctuated by the progress of the legislative process. The public consultation phase is particularly important for lobbyists since it is during this phase that they can formulate the interests of their organization to the European Commission in a few pages in a position paper.
The European Union and the conception of the general interest
The bulk of the legislative work is carried out upstream of the Parliament and the Council, with officials from the European Commission. A preparatory work in which the groups of experts play a fundamental role. These technical groups, responsible for assisting the European Commission on complex subjects, are made up of independent experts, representatives of the States, but also representatives of the stakeholders (NGOs, companies, trade unions, etc.). The groups of experts are frequently taken over by lobbyists, thus influencing the reports presented to the Commission. Then, the lobbyist devotes his time to asserting his positions through appointments with Commission officials. Lobbyists are also called upon to work with MEPs, in particular by proposing amendments before committee meetings.
the lobbying is therefore particularly integrated into the decision-making process of the European Union pursuant to Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union, which enshrines the principle of openness. If this proximity can alert, particularly with regard to the conflicts of interest that these practices cause, the European institutions adopt a very encouraging approach in relation to lobbies. Remember that the directives and regulations negotiated in Brussels concern more than 450 million European citizens. European institutions are frequently accused of being excessively technocratic, disconnected from the realities of the continent or even illegitimate. A lack of legitimacy which, in absolute terms, handicaps the action of the European Union.
In this context, the use of expert groups and public consultations is seen as an optimal means of sounding out European public opinion. It is then considered that the expression and consideration of the opinions and interests of the various stakeholders makes it possible to identify a form of general European interest. An Anglo-Saxon conception of the general interest taken up by the European institutions in opposition to the Rousseauist conception. Aware that it is not possible to stop or prohibit the lobbying, the European institutions prefer to encourage it in order to embrace a certain vision of consultative democracy. By adopting this approach, the European institutions are combating the image of a technocratic machine and above all of political illegitimacy. Indirectly therefore, the involvement of lobbies is perceived as a means of legitimizing the European institutions.
The profession of lobbyist or interest representative does not correspond exclusively to received ideas. The generic term “lobby” contributes to fueling the image of an informal coalition of hidden actors. Concretely, the lobbying rather corresponds to a private attempt to integrate the decision-making process in order to influence its outcome. The most disturbing and dangerous practices for democracy are more often related to gender confusion between lobbyists and public decision-makers than to corruption.