« Contrary to popular opinion, business lobbyists are less effective than NGOs»
This title summarises an important study carried out in 2015-16 by three professors at the London School of Economics (LSE) with a specific focus on consumer protection and the environment. The statement might appear shocking, but in fact I arrived at the same conclusion 10 years ago in my book “European Lobbying”.
My analysis at the time, and that of LSE, converge to give reasons for this lack of performance among business lobbyists. The first lies in the fact – indisputable in my view – that the EU agenda is in practice inspired by NGOs. GMOs, pesticides, nuclear, endocrine disruptors – on all these issues and others, industry is on the defensive. However, in lobbying, defensive strategies are destined to lose in the long term.
The second reason is directly linked to the first. According to the three LSE professors, systems moving towards more regulation – certainly the case in the European Union – give more of an advantage to NGOs than to industry. This is another common point of our analyses.
The post-Lisbon decision-making process is unfavourable to industry
The frequency of first-reading agreements via trilogues is definitely not a good thing for business lobbyists. Some of them have clearly been blacklisted and cannot obtain the “4-column documents”, without which no lobbying is possible. Such practices are unacceptable.
Trilogues also have the effect of limiting the basic legislative act to general principles, shifting the substance of the regulatory framework down to delegated and implementing acts. This shift is often bad news for sectoral associations as they do not know these procedures very well and are reluctant to intervene strongly against the Commission which, now more than ever, remains the master of this “new comitology”.
Better Regulation: another constraint for industry
Although welcomed by the main business lobbies (among them Business Europe) as a tool for better governance, Better Regulation is surprisingly turning out to be a new constraint for industry.
First of all, it prolongs the decision-making process for technical rules that need to be adopted rapidly. Already, we are seeing certain sectors in danger of not adapting their industrial processes as required by basic directives, due to delayed adoption of corresponding secondary legislation.
Moreover, the increase in impact assessments and consultations has, in our view, a negative impact for industry, as it creates a kind of “false democracy”, giving the illusion of objectivity in decision- making which is not actually the case. The introduction of public consultations for delegated acts and important implementing acts, far from guaranteeing neutral decision-making, seems to us rather to favour interpretation and manipulation.
European associations: a useful tool in need of a major reshaping
European sectoral associations were closely involved by the Commission in the achievement of the Single Market about 25 years ago. In the meantime, everything has changed in the structure of the EU and its governance, except one thing – business lobbyists have not adapted their structures and tools as a result.
Too defensive (as we said before), too technical and not legal enough, insufficiently priority-oriented, failing to communicate and governed by the lowest common denominator, business lobbies are suffering in comparison to NGOs which are lighter, more united, more agile, more proactive, more media-savvy and giving a strong voice to their convictions.
While, of course, there are business lobbies that perform well, they are in a minority. For the others, they must urgently give up their old habits – otherwise they will lose what remains of their influence.