by Henri Erti. Originally published on 2013/12/29
Lobbying is often misperceived by the public as a form of legalized corruption. Approximately 15,000 lobbyists are currently operating in Brussels, trying to dictate the substance and direction of Pan-European legislations. Critics argue that the lack of transparency, exacerbated by the influence of lobbyists, hinders the democratic legitimacy of law-making. However, such a pre-judgment is based on exaggerated assumptions and therefore, draws false conclusions on the influence and power of lobbyists.
First and foremost, the public currently does not have a comprehensive definition of lobbying per se. First, the art of lobbying enhances the competition of convictions. Through the constructive process of debate, the correct path can be found with the guarantee that the stronger and better-qualified arguments will dictate the decision-making process. The fallacious public opinion assumes that all lobbyists are part of a cabal, collaborating on vicious schemes against the public interests. However, it is often forgotten that competition within the lobbying industry is, in fact, fierce and cruel. Second, lobbying bridges the private sector with the political and legislative realm. Because the private sector uses a language different from the political spectrum (profit incentive vs. pursuit of public good), the task of a lobbyist is to mediate between these two sides using a language that both are capable of understanding. Furthermore, given the constraints of policy-makers’ resources -most notably time- obtaining relevant data and empirical knowledge is limited. Therefore, the role of the lobbyist initiative is to provide such critical information, which would otherwise be difficult to acquire. After all, the most important aspect of policy-making is the use of knowledge that is available.
Admittedly, the general public has stigmatized the lobbying industry with the help of myopic journalism. Whenever journalists write about the power of lobbyists, they have rarely spoken directly to the people involved in the process. Nor have they been present in the negotiations between the stakeholders. Therefore, the media has a tendency to exacerbate different cases without concrete evidence or facts. Furthermore, journalists have little incentive to investigate highly successful projects, which were established through the effective collaboration of the legislative and lobbying bodies. Such a detrimental attitude is bound to create a myriad of biased conclusions, which unfortunately, dictate the public view. Perhaps the inconvenient truth for many is that the world benefits from good decision-makers, who are connected to various stakeholders’ views, experiences and recommendations. Consequently, effective lobbying may in fact drastically reduce the probability of information asymmetries between the parties involved. Nevertheless, measuring the success of lobbying is seldom possible in terms of quantitative tools. The only evidence of effective lobbying is the decision-makers’ consistent acceptance of valid and quality argumentations from the lobbying bodies.
Citizens, businesses, NGOs and civil servants have the responsibility to avoid accepting government proposals or lobbyist arguments without an active participation. In other words, nothing should be taken only on its face value. Furthermore, lobbying always involves at least two entities: the lobbyist and the lobbied. Therefore, lobbying should be considered as a pivotal part of “good governance”, which sheds light on the topic, project or legislation that is being lobbied. Unfortunately, the public suffers from an intellectual inertia, which assumes, that lobbying always and necessarily has a proclivity to pursue the interests of the private sector as opposed to supporting the labour unions’ interests. On large-scale issues, trade unions, in fact, have a stronger influence on the decision making process. Simply so, because one trade union may represent tens of thousands of people, whereas a private sector lobbyist might only represent the interests of one specific company or a conglomerate of several companies. Consequently, decision-makers may lean towards trade unions, which ensure politicians more political power and votes.
Consequently, it would be only fair to conclude that lobbying is as much needed for the private sector as trade unions are needed for the labour force. Therefore, if one rejects the premise for the lobbying industry, similar attitude has to be applied to the labour unions. It would be naive to believe that similar interest groups in trade unions would behave altruistically and support the pursuit of social efficiency at the expense of themselves.
The author is a former EST Ambassador to Croatia and currently a research associate at the Ludwig von Mises Institute-Europe.