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Why Lobbying is Essential to a Functioning Democracy

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

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By Ville Rajala


You are engaged in a heated discussion about democracy with your friends. One of them says to you “Lobbying really is the enemy of democracy”. This often-heard sentence, however, is not accurate. Lobbying, despite its bad 'street reputation', plays an essential role in a functioning democracy.


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Bad Reputation?


Lobbying has a reputation for being shady, immoral, and unaccountable. In OECD countries, lobbying has been identified as the key reason for the deterioration of trust in government. In the EU, scandals like Qatargate do not improve the image of lobbying as individuals try to buy influence for themselves.


Additionally, lobbying is often seen as something that Big Business does - leaving normal people without any say or power. The conception persists, even though NGOs and civil society organisations are as active in lobbying as business interests - and are actually better at it.


Lobbying is not reserved just for business interests. Essentially any party who thinks they have a stake in something engages in lobbying. The range of actors engaging in lobbying is vast: from traditional businesses, NGOs, universities, and think tanks, to your neighbour who, in their past-time, participates in the Commission’s public consultations.


However, the negative image hides the more positive aspects of it. Lobbying enhances informed policy-making, ensures equal representation of varying interests, and stimulates cooperation and collaboration between the public and private sectors.


What is Lobbying?


Lobbying is a catch-all term for any kind of attempt to influence public policy by using informal but legal means by private individuals or entities.


It is an exchange between two parties where one party (the lobbyist) provides information to the other party (the institution) in hopes that this information gives access to the institution, which can be transformed into policy outcomes in line with the lobbyist’s preferences.


Lobbying can take many forms: from the classical one-on-one meetings between policymakers and the lobbyist, participation in consultations, to multi-party political campaigns.


Lobbying Enhances Informed Policy-Making


Lobbying remains an essential part of the decision-making procedure for one particular reason - information. EU institutions crave information to formulate policies better. Accordingly, interest groups are more than happy to extinguish the need and also meet their own goals.


At first glance, as per any Eurosceptic, the EU boasts a relatively powerful and sizable bureaucracy. Just the EU executive, the Commission, is already composed of 32000 civil servants. However, when all Eurocrats are spread across all departments, one unit is quite small.


EU policies are complex and technical in nature, and as such it is more than possible that the poor desk officer or the unit drafting a proposal does not possess all the expertise. To fill the expertise gap, civil servants can consult organisations possessing expert knowledge.


Utilisation of expert knowledge in this case has a twofold purpose. Firstly, it fulfils the almost never-ending information hunger that civil servants have - giving them a better chance to formulate actionable policies.


Secondly, by consulting and seeking out expert knowledge, the institution will get a chance to hear what opinions the affected stakeholders have. This exchange of views and opinions allows a variety of different interests to provide input which can foster more informed policy-making and contribute to better regulatory outcomes.


Representation of Diverse Interests


A fundamental principle of democracy is the representation of diverse interests. By allowing lobbying, it can deter a monopolisation of interests in policy-making.


The EU is composed of a vast array of industries, professions, NGOs, and civil society groups, each with its unique wishes and headaches. Lobbying enables different groups and organisations to voice their concerns and advocate for their priorities, ensuring that policy-making reflects the myriad of interests present in modern societies.


Making policymakers consider a myriad of different interests can lead to policies which are more inclusive, robust, and efficient to solve complex societal issues, than if they had only listened to the first person who opened their mouth.


Fostering Cooperation Between Public and Private


As hard as it sometimes is, effective policy formulation requires an open and constructive dialogue between policymakers and stakeholders. Lobbying by its nature brings together policymakers and stakeholders to the same table.


Despite the common conception, the private sector is not always one hundred per cent opposed to regulation. More often than not, the private sector and the institutions have some degree of similar goals. However, they might initially disagree with the means of how to get to the policy objective.


Is Lobbying That Bad, Then?


Despite the negative connotation often associated with it, lobbying embodies more positive aspects.


Lobbying contributes to more informed policy-making by giving policymakers expert information which they did not previously have. Lobbying ensures that a variety of interests are represented and foster further collaboration with the public and private sector.


Lobbying has and will always have a place in a functioning democratic system, giving everyone a voice and the opportunity to have their needs met by the democratic institutions that are supposed to serve them.



Sources: European Commission Press, MJPE, OECD, Sage Journals


Written by Ville Rajala

June 2023


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of MJPE or its Board. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the MJPE concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.





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