Butter Mountains, Brussels coffees and “wealthy bribes”: a quick insight in the unknown-to-most world of lobbying.

di Alessandro Venti

It all began with us staying on a superior stage, looking at each other, not understanding a thing about what was going on in classroom 209. We were grouped together in the center of the room, possibly representing 27 Member States of the EU, whereas him, Adam Steinhouse, was staying next to a window, the proud UK, staring at this shapeless bunch of students/nations whispering to one another, all of us trying to figure out what was to be done in order to start what we thought was the “real thing”, while he was pulling the strings of the play according to his clear plan of the lecture.

Then, probably out of weariness, Sweden started to approach UK and as she moved her first couple of steps all our gazes immediately flew to her and to Spain who was starting to move towards her friend Sweden, thus approaching UK in the process.

“That’s what I meant!”, he said, “this is exactly what politics are all about in the EU!”. Wondering about the secret implications of this line, we all went to our seats ready for one of the most interesting classes I have ever attended in all my life; let’s leave the floor to Professor Marco Cucchini and Dr. Adam Steinhouse.

Recently more and more evidence-based policies are drafted in the EU institutions as a result of the influence of lobbies, which is probably the reason why the European Federalist Movement of Gorizia decided to debate this subject during Europe2Day (8th – 9th May 2015).

Lobbying can be briefly defined as the action of pressure groups aimed at influencing the policymaking process in order to have their interests represented on the desks of politicians. It is often bound to a negative connotation, probably coming from the lack of transparency this phenomenon may cause in many occasions, but it is not necessarily as evil and fiendish as Huntington thought, believing the intervention of wealth in politics could only lead to “wealthy bribes, workers striking, military coups, students riots” and other apocalyptic scenarios.

In particular I would like to quote Professor Cucchini’s reference to R. A. Dahl, who underlined how lobbying could actually be an opportunity for democracies (hence the title of the presentation “Pressuring democracies”) to strengthen their pluralistic approach, giving direct space to individuals and privates’ requests and suggestions in the decision-making process.

Normative references:

In the EU normative system we can find a reference to the lobbying phenomenon in article 11 TEU, which ensures the right for privates and individuals to be consulted in the decision-making process if their interests are at stake. Other references could be also found in the Code of Conduct of MEPs and other personnel of the institutions who need to be transparent at all times during their meetings with lobbyists.

A research conducted by transparency.org clearly shows, though, how regulation of lobbying is unrelated to the incidence of corruption, proving the prejudice about lobbying wrong: corruption is not a consequence of lobbying per se, but it could arise if the lobbying procedures are not transparent enough and if the people involved in the process decide to put their interests before ethics and law.

Professor Cucchini suggested that a draft of regulation about lobbying should particularly revolve around 4 cardinal points which I would like to quote:

  • Registering the agencies, enterprises and organizations exerting lobbying-related activities;
  • A professional approach to the lobbying procedures, in order to render every passage of the process less opaque;
  • Transparency, resulting from the two afore-mentioned points;
  • The chance to lobby for an enterprise or a cause as apro-bono activity, in order to overcome the widely spread belief (which is in many cases actually true) that lobbying is something accessible only to the wealthy.

Different approaches, a common scheme:

What should be immediately pointed out is that lobbying techniques largely vary depending on the aim and the recipient, but also according to the political culture of a country, in particular it seems widely acknowledged that US lobbying is quite different from European lobbying, the former being usually conducted under the major principle of transparency, the latter privileging broader bases of participation in the decision-making process.

This distinction is not the only one to be made, as European lobbying itself may assume different shapes according to the institution it is addressed at. Since lobbying implies establishing contacts with people connected to policy-making in order to persuade them of the relevance of one’s interests, if the hierarchic structure of the institution changes, the methods and ways to affect it must consequently be adapted.

It is now clear how important it is for a lobbyist to be deeply acquainted with the theoretical, but also practical procedures of policy-making and the structure of the body they are trying to influence. In synthesis, one must be able to answer the “who REALLY holds the pen?” question.

If the approaches and prerequisite knowledge is different in the above-mentioned cases, we must keep into account, on the other hand, that lobbying presents some common characteristics which are always needed in order to make it an effective way to influence politics: constance, ruthlessness and skills.

It is fundamental for a lobbyist to commit themselves to the cause, firstly, being physically available for meetings with the staff of the politician he is trying to reach (not only boring stuff, even a coffee in a Brussels bar could be fine, if the right topics are brought up); secondly, being able to build stable connections with the people they meet, since the staff of a politician are the ones who directly speak and impact on his/her decisions.

What is often referred to as bottom-up process is probably what lobbying strategies should resemble the most, contrarily to what is often the case, with people trying to have auditions with politicians directly, resulting in long queues and high probabilities of failure.

Much more has been said during the workshop on the 8th May with Adam Steinhouse and Marco Cucchini, which was a clear and lucid insight in the world of lobbying. It is a widely ignored phenomenon which indirectly (but often heavily) affects our lives through politics.

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Sconfinare è il periodico creato dagli Studenti di Scienze Internazionali e Diplomatiche dell'Università degli Studi di Trieste - Polo di Gorizia. La firma "Redazione" indica comunicati, notizie e pubblicazioni speciali curate da un amministratore o da più autori.

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