A view of a lobbyist
Předneseno 12.4.2007 v FSS, Masarykova universita, Brno
1. Without Lobby there would be no democracy.
By „lobby“ we understand activities aiming at influencing decisions of those who command legislative or executive power. These decisions have impact on people living in the region ruled by the decision-makers in question. Therefore these people “from below” who feel or will feel consequences of the decisions on their skins have right to say their opinions to the decision-makers. And this is the Lobby. It may have very diverse forms – from letters to MPs, personal encounters with MP in lobbies of parliament buildings, interviews in the media to street demonstrations.
Thanks to the Lobby decision-makers learn two informations:
a) That the planned decision will afffect this or that interest and in what way
b) How the afflicted party feels about it
Both informations – if we do not assume that the decision-makers are not omniscient – may not be known to them – often they are not. But awareness of these facto is crucial for democracy´s long-term legitimacy . Without knowing what their decisions really amount to on the ground the decision-makers would not be able to play a role of an arbiter among various interests who tries to balance them.
Despite of this fundamental importance of lobby for the democracy the term lobby evokes negative images and connotations – as something inappropriate at best. The Lobby simply lacks legitimacy.
But how is it possible that street demonstrations or voices in the media that in all respects should also be regarded as lobby are not – as a method – viewed with the same suspicion as personal contacts.
What is it that bestows legitimacy – in eyes of man in the street - to some kinds of lobby in contrast with other forms?
I am convinced that the reason is as follows: articles in the press, speeches in the media and demonstrations – all these events he can hear and see, whereas he is not present at the encounters of lobbyists with lawmakers in the lobbies. This inaccessibility creates suspicions.
That is why there are calls for a greater transparency . EU is preparing a register in which all lobbyistsactive in the EU institutions should register. All these groups or bodies will invited to register publicly whom they represent and what their objectives are. They will be invited to declare funding sources and major clients. The commissioner Kallas - who presented this register last month - said he believed that the register would ensure the Commission as well as the public would be able identify and assess the driving forces behind positions taken and interests presented."
While the system will be voluntary, the commissioner explained that only those lobbyists who were registered would be recognized as speaking for clients or a sector of industry when they contribute to comments on EU policy that are taken into account when new legislation is drafted.
Lobbyists who did not register would only be seen as speaking in their own name, undermining the weight of their comments. Those who gave inaccurate information would face sanctions.
I am afraid that this measure will only put the registered ones in disadvantage in comparison with unregistered ones:
a) They will loose clients who do not like to be seen – if only because they are afraid of revenge from their governments or competitors. Many will use proxies to hire lobbyists.
b) Revealing fees and their structure would force lobbyist to reveal their commercial secrets in front of their competitors. It is naive to assume that they will do that.
Further more the measure leaves in dark
a) huge influence exerted by contacts outside of the compounds of the EU institutions
b) huge influence exerted by sponsors of NGOs such as Greenpeace
c) huge influence exerted by the media by either gullible journalists not aware of being manipulated or just bribed ones
But last but no least: Lobbyists are often presenting technical and economic data and arguments. Why should they be regarded as less (or more) valid only because they are presented by an unregistered (or registered) lobbyist?
Summary: As to the transparency my conclusion is that the planned measure would not help much with respect to making decisions more legitimate in the eyes of general public (after initial optimism). More about it later on.
Important question: Why do companies hire lobbyists instead of lobbying directly – sending their CEOs or other employees to present their case?
a) The clever ones know the intrinsic paradox: the more their people are immersed in their own production the less capable they are capable of presenting their case to outsiders
b) They abhor publicity: the media with their negativist approach to everything but the media themselves
2. Lobbying in the EU
Let me declare openly that legislative process in the EU is vastly superiour in its openness and inclusiveness than the one in my country (and I am sure in any country of the EU). Anyone is invited to contribute to the earliest stages of the drafting of legislative acts and it usually takes years of discussions and – yes – lobbying before the directive or regulation is adopted (18 years for Community Patent).
For a successful lobby on behalf of one´s client, first thing to do is information gathering – monitoring of what is going on in the EU, what is threatening and what - on the contrary –are new opportunities
- Monitoring various studies, discussions and conferences the Commission is procuring in order to find out what is or is not regarded as problem. (Energy security).
- Reading various green and white papers, draft proposals, judgments of the Courts (interpreting the legislation in force)
- Interviewing the Commission’s officers and committees members (pesticides, merger) for so-called soft information
B) Defining what you want to achieve.
This must be done - in the final analysis - by the client. But thanks to lobbyists the client is well informed.
C) Reconnaissance: who is (potentially) friendly who is (potentially) unfriendly. Working out the arguments to be used (different for each target group) example: the steel fund opening
D) Fanning out to approach the selected targets
Who are the targets of lobbying:
· The Council (working groups)
· The European Parliament
· The Commission (committees, officers)
Description of the spectrum: verboten --- can do but not obliged - obliged
· The Individual Member States (who really counts in their political hierarchy)
B) Those who influence the decision-makers
· National political parties
· National and European Interests Groups
· Afflicted subjects (complaints to the Commission)
· The Media
3. Partial versus general interests – a gloomy view.
I think that all misgivings among general public about „sinister“ power of lobbyists is caused by something completely different than „nontransparency“. Let me give an example – Common agricultural policy in the EU.
- It makes food more expensive. So it is in general interest – the affluent and opulent people excepting – to have it scrapped
- Any attempt by any politician to dismantle it and make food less expensive would end in disaster – for the politician´s career, that is!
- The millions that would profit from the scrapping of the CAP just would not raise their voice.
- The reason is no mystery – a “below sensitivity threshold” interest felt by innumerable numbers does not add to anything comparable to a very strong interest felt by few.
- There are thousands other examples in the area of international trade. Liberalisation of international trade that brought about numberless benefits to people – and especially to non affluent and non opulent ones – is being attacked by stringent and well organized alliances of afflicted capitalists, well-meaning fools and ever present ill-meaning opportunists while all who benefited from it stand by and sometimes even sympathise with protesters.
The conclusion: The distrust felt by the public about the lobbying is just a reflection of its own passivity vis-à-vis well organized special interests. But the passivity of the public is not the fault of special interests – the blame should be put squarely at the feet of the public itself and the media
The solution is to raise awareness and sensitivity. No transparency initiative will help in this regard if the general public itself will remain oblivious to fighting for its interests.
In this regard the best situation is in the USA with thousands of the PACs.
Without active and alert population particular interests will almost always win even at the cost of general interest. This sad situation will not be changed at all by constraining lobbying or making it more transparent. Such measures will be wholly inefficient against real dark interests and their channels of influence
4. There is a myth in need of debunking: that media are neutral bystanders.
In fact the media are a lobby with deadly capability to bend the will of decision-makers
A) banalization + vulgarization
Czech Radio 1 news recently: (1.Persian Gulf incident, 2. the Brno Zoo chimpanzee’s health improving 3. weather forecast
- Terrible simplification” lack of journalists expertise, lack of interest from the public, lack of time and lack of space all contribute to issues being simplified or obscured.– or even completely falsified
The most common disinformation: The term “Brussels or the EU” used thoughtlessly covering vastly different events – in some case the Commission acting in other case Member States acting in the Council or the ECJ delivering its judgment. And sometimes bodies which are not of the EU at all (Council of Europe). Thanks to this sloppy reporting vast majority of the EU citizens (and with perhaps CIA excepting whole USA government) really believe that directives and regulations are decreed by the European Commission (“faceless unelected bureaucrats”)
B) negativism + (over)dramatization
- (only bad news sell or keep sales steady) – vast segments of reality just left out of the picture
The net result is that unique achievements of the EU are rarely if ever mentioned whereas every “negative” side of the EU is highlighted with gusto, exaggeration and without any context. Example: Bier tax, diesel tax, banana shape. The EU is a favourite whipping boy for politicians eager to score cheap points with ignorant public.
And ignorant it is. The media are useless when it comes to portray realistically diverse issues the EU is dealing with daily and in which thousands “bureaucrats, MEP, lobbyists” are taking part trying to hammer out a useful compromise. Too boring, too technical, too complex with no good guy-bad guy scheme, too positive? Thus the essence of what the EU really is is obscured or hidden from public eyes.
The net result of this boycott is that the EU-level political life is seen as unimportant by national political parties and therefore they do not communicate with their colleagues in the European Parliament.
This is not bad only for us lobbyists who cannot rely on national political parties to guarantee that their MEP would behave the way they had promised during the elections to the EP. It is also very bad for their own countries:
The lack of political capital the national parties see in any Brussels activities means that the decision power devolves into the hands of bureaucrats. This process is beautifully described in the famous book “Yes, Mr.Minister”. So when an important new directive is debated at a committee or working group the position of the Czech Republic is determined – with few exceptions (bier tax) – by an obscure bureaucrat from formally relevant ministry or scientific institute .