Overview of the presence and influence of interest groups in decision-making in the EU

[this was my essay for the European Integration course]

1. Introduction

From the very beginning of the European Union (EU), interest groups have been an important element in its evolution, an element inextricably interwoven with the functioning of European institutions. The term interest group (IG) is used to describe organisations or bodies that represent trade unions, firms, farmers, local and regional authorities, consumer groups, environmental and animal protection interests etc (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
IG influence greatly contributes to the EU’s democratic legitimacy and to the formation a common reference framework for the various European public spheres. A coexistence of a variety of public spheres can be observed, which are evolving through complex interactions between the many different material and virtual factors that shape European policies (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
As a result, the presence of economic and social IGs has been ever increasing since the mid-1980s, indicating that their political mobilisation has been indeed considerable. This increase has been partly due to the complexity of the EU’s multilevel governance and the central position of highly fragmented European institutions. As a result, a great range of access points has been available to these groups to exert their influence on the decision-making process.
In addition, due to the constant criticism of the democratic deficit (lack of accountability, transparency of decisions and participatory opportunities, Michalowitz (2007)), the European Commission (EC) has demonstrated increasing openness towards IGs (e.g. White Paper on Governance or the Transparency Initiative, Kohler-Koch and Finke (2007)). In fact, nowadays, any explanation of policy outcomes without mentioning the contribution of IGs would be incomplete, especially since the influence of policy outcomes is their main goal.
2. What is influence
Whereas the presence of IGs in European decision-making has been relatively easy to calculate through looking at the numbers and sizes of different IGs (e.g. European Registry), very few studies have been able to empirically test the extent of the influence of these groups. This has been due to three main obstacles (Dur, 2008). The first two are the requirement of taking into account different pathways to influence and the difficulties in measuring influence in quantitative terms.
The third obstacle is the difficulty of defining what is meant by influence. A multitude of definitions exist as a consequence of wide debate by scholars on its best meaning. As mentioned in Michalowitz (2007), a first definition of influence was given by Berry (1979), who defined it as the “fulfilment of IG interests”, i.e. the end results. If this definition is accepted, then policy outcomes should reflect the interests of lobbying groups. In other words, strong lobbying should be correlated to policy outcomes aligning with the IGs’ interests. However, a shift in an initial position of decision-makers does not necessarily mean that the lobbying activities of the IG were decisive in this shift (Michalowitz, 2007).
Michalowitz (2007) defined influence as a weaker form of what Weber (1980) defined as power, i.e. “the ability of an actor to force another actor, even against their own will, to pursue a certain course of action”. In this way, in order to determine whether there has been IG influence – i.e. whether persuasion has taken place – an examination of the factors leading to the policy outcomes and the changes in decision-makers initial intentions can give one an idea of the level of influence that has taken place.
Such a mind change-oriented definition limits influence to changes that are clearly linked to IG activities. This is the definition that will be used in this essay.
The focus of the next two sections will be on what is meant by “decision-making process in the EU”, in order to identify in turn what are the access points available to IGs and who are the decision-makers “whose minds IGs are trying to change”, namely the EC, the European Parliament (EP), and the European Council. A short description will be given of the relationship of each decision-makign body with IGs based on information given in Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni (2009).
This information will be followed by an outline of the conditions of influence i.e. by a discussion on what determines the likeliness of decision-makers changing their minds when lobbied by IGs, as according to Dur (2008) and Michalowitz (2007).
Finally, an example will be given, the ‘ERIKA case’, in order to put all these concepts (summarised from Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni (2009), Dur (2008) and Michalowitz (2007)) together in one specific case.
The decision-making process in the EU is taking place to a great extent away from the traditional authority centres, in the framework of European institutions, at many different levels and it includes many different stages (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). The primacy of the member-states is not challenged directly but gradually undermined by the growing independence of supranational European institutions (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
The multi-level EU governance structure is determined by the following three factors (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). First, decision-making in the context of the EU is collective and based on the division of powers between the three levels of government: supranational, national and subnational. Second, the supranational institutions are protagonists in the European policy-making process. Finally, the ability of social and economic IGs to influence the policy-making process, via two – complementary – routes: “national strategy” route (through influencing the national governments and their influence to the European Council) and the “supranational strategy” route (through directly lobbying European institutions). Which strategy is chosen, depends amongst others on whether the IG publicly states its interests. Furthermore, there are two ways that European Institutions collaborate with IGs: formally through a deliberation process for example, or informally, through classical lobbying, i.e. through myriads of different interactions.
The details of the European policy-making process has been evolving over the history of the EU, but the process always started with the legislative proposal formulation by the EC, initiated either by itself, or in many cases after receiving a demand from the EP or the EU Council.
Nowadays, as according to the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), proposal formulation is followed by the “ordinary legislative procedure”, the name given by this latest Treaty to the co-decision process. The Lisbon Treaty also extended the use of this procedure to nearly all policy areas (including agriculture, fisheries, transport, the entire budget etc), so this is the process that will be described here.
As shown in the Figure 1 below, the ordinary legislative procedure consists of a well-orchestrated sequence of steps. The proposal prepared by the EC is submitted to the EP and the EU Council. At this first reading, the EP decides on its position, which is then sent to the EU Council. If the latter approves of the EP’s position, then the Act is passed. If the EU Council does not approve it, the Council’s position is sent to the EP.
Figure 1 Co-decision process step by step (source: EC Website)
After this second reading of the Act by the EP, if the EP approves the Council’s position, the Act is passed. If, on the other hand, it rejects it, then the Act is abandoned. Finally, if it makes amendments, then these are passed back to the Council for a second reading. If the Council accepts this new text, then the Act is adopted.
Otherwise, the EU Council President, with the agreement of the EP President, form a Conciliation Committee composed of 25 Council members and 25 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), with the purpose of writing a joint text on the basis of the two (Council’s and EP’s) positions (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). If the members of this committee do not agree, the Act is abandoned. On the contrary, if they succeed to write a common text, then the EU Council and the EP (acting by majority) must then approve the text. If either fails to do so, the Act is not adopted.

The institutions involved in the European decision-making process are thus the members of the European institutional triangle: the EC, EP and the EU Council (Chrissomallis, 2009). The function of each in the policy-making process and its relation to IGs will be now described in turn.


The EC takes the legislative initiative for the policy, but it is also responsible for the production of the subsequent executive regulations and for the monitoring necessary for the successful implementation of the policy, when and if this is accepted.
Moreover, it has also adopted a consulting role, through the formulation of recommendations and opinions. Especially important for its relationship with IGs, the formulation of the initial proposal to the EP and EU Council includes consultations of IGs as well as various supranational, national and subnational institutions, in order for the EC to obtain the best available information that will be used to define the contents of its proposal.
The considerable power that the EC enjoys in the legislative process derives from the fact that it is the institution that sets the policy agenda. As a consequence, in order to decide what this will be, it discusses and negotiates with a number of actors and IGs from the very early stages of policy formulation. The provision of information to the EC executives is in fact considered nowadays necessary. The EC executives then combine this information with the EU priorities and available resources, before deciding what should be included in the agenda.
As a result, IGs develop close relationships with the EC Commissioners and their offices, as well as the executives of the Directorate Generals for the policy sector each IG is interested in. It is believed that the proposal stage frequently provides the most fertile opportunities for IG influence, since at this stage IGs have the ability to exercise direct influence through specific processes (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). As according to OJC 63 (1993), the EC promotes “an open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups”, through, for example, putting a lot of effort in the increase of the transparency of its procedures, through the publication of as many of its documents and rules as possible.
But why is the EC so interested in engaging with IGs? First, such an interaction is thought to give to the EC the demographic legitimacy necessary for its role. This is an especially important factor since an agreement by the IGs at the policy formulation stage usually means more support for the policy at later stages. This support is very important for the EC in the case where problems arise between the EC, the EU Council and the EP.

Second, collaboration with IGs helps to cover certain administrative gaps that the EC might have. Finally, the EC in this way gains access to the best knowledge, expertise and information that exists outside its boundaries. The latter is useful both in the scientific and technical aspects of the policy to be formulated, but also on the current environment in member-states that will determine the future implementation of the policy, if this is indeed voted by the Council and the EP.


The EP consists of various political groups that are created based on political and ideological convergences. These are composed of MEPs from all member states, but it should not be forgotten that there are also many independent MEPs. The EP’s monthly plenary sessions take place in Strasbourg, whereas the EP meets in Brusselswhen special or complementary plenary sessions are necessary. The EP’s working groups also meet in Brussels. Finally, the administration of the EP is based in Luxembourg, but there are also EP offices in all EU member states.
A gradual enhancement of EP’s role has been observed in order to reduce the “democratic deficit” of the European institutions and the European decision-making process (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). Nowadays, the EP has been clearly ascribed a legislative responsibility. Equally important is the extension of the co-decision process described above to many more policy sectors, according to which the EP is able to veto policies and is jointly responsible with the Council in the development of European policy.
Three are currently its main responsibilities: participation in the decision-making process (as according to the co-decision procedure), exercise of political control of the other European institutions (especially the EC), and the control of the European budget. What is meant by political control of, for example, the EC, is that it gives its initial approval of the members of the EC as these are nominated by the Council, the ability to submit a distrust proposal against the EC, the review of the regular reports submitted to the EP by the EC that concern all the policy areas handled by the EC and, finally, through the regular submission of questions by its MEPs to the members of the EC with aim the clarification of various issues (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
As a consequence of the gradual enhancement of EP’s role, IGs are turning more and more their interest towards the EP (Tsinisizelis, 2001). This is because this enhancement leads to the creation of numerous new opportunities for lobbying. Thus, it is not surprising that IGs’ interests are increasingly focused on the EP for a wide range of policy areas. This is especially the case for non-business IGs, thanks to the less strict structure of the EP – as compared to the EC – but especially thanks to the character of the EP, the fact that it is the democratic institution for the representation of European citizens.
In the same way that the legitimacy of the EC as the legislative body comes from its interaction with IGs, the legitimacy of the EP as the institution for the representation of European citizens is reinforced by the pressures put on it by IGs.

IGs lobby the EP by putting pressure either in the working groups of the various EP committees, or by directly lobbying the political groups that have formed within the EP. This is not to say however that the EP is the first choice for IG pressures: EC is still the first choice.

EU Council

Even if the role of the EP has been greatly expanded, the Council, as the body expressing national state interests, is the most powerful legislative institution of the three, since without the agreement of the Council, no policy can be made. As a consequence, it is an equally important receiver of pressures from IGs, especially those that act only at the National level. The main pressure route that these groups use in order to influence EU policies, provided that they are able to act at the National level, are the members of the National parliaments and consequently the members of the Council.
These IGs, however, also apply pressure to the non-elected actors related to the Council, such as members of the COREPER (Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union), which consists of the head or deputy head of mission from the EU member states in Brussels. Attempts to influence Permanent Representatives are in fact more likely to succeed, given that their role is to prepare the agenda for the Council meetings and to oversee the work of some 250 committees and working parties made up of civil servants from the member states. Consequently, in most cases, decisions are taken at this stage, rather at the Council of Ministers, so any lobbying to the permanent representatives is likely to be more effective.
According to the co-decision process described in the previous session, it becomes obvious that in many cases the Council is the last stage of the decision-making process, the last access point for IGs. Of course it is not impossible to stop a policy at this stage, but in most cases EC’s pressures manage to influence the Council so that the policy passes. In the case of a non-compliance of a member state, the EC could bring the member-state in front of the European Court, which could in turn impose sanctions on the member state. But even at this stage IGs can exert influence: IGs whose efforts are being sidelined by the non-compliance of a member state, become allies of the EC usually through the “complaint submission” process.
It has been claimed that when IGs concentrate on lobbying National governmental actors in order to affect Council’s decisions their efforts are rarely effective for two reasons. First, since, as mentioned above, the Council decides at the final stage of the policy making process. The second reason is that since Council’s decisions are a result of extensive negotiations and compromises, these IGs base the success of their efforts on these very unreliable discussions. Therefore, it is very often likely that the Council’s decision could be opposite to the IGs’ interests, due to exchanges, alliances and balances unrelated to the policy in question.
Some IGs are able to change decision-makers’ minds more easily than others, as determined by a number of factors. In recent years, a number of studies have started to investigate what are these basic parameters affecting the degree of IG influence.
According to Dur (2008) there are four broad clusters. First, IG influence is determined by the resources available to each IG. The types of resources that have been considered to be important by Dur (2008) were: money, legitimacy of the IG, political support, and knowledge, expertise and information. These are determined in turn by structural characteristics of the IG, such as size, type of membership, internal organization, the degree of geographical distribution of the IG membership.
Second, political institutions affect the degree of interest group influence on policy outcomes mainly by shaping their access to the policy-making process. Despite, the studies carried out, there has been no agreement so far on whether the vertical and horizontal division of power in the EU facilitates or impedes the IGs’ access to decision-makers.
Third, the characteristics of the issue in question are also thought to determine whether IGs will be able to achieve their goal. These include the type of the policy, the degree of technicality of the issue and the extent of public salience.
Finally, even if IGs are aiming to employ their resources most effectively in order to maximize influence, the strategies they adopt are not necessarily the optimal ones, since they have to take into account in their formulation a number of sometimes contradicting factors, including the structure of the institutions they are planning to lobby as well as the needs of their membership.
Similarly, Michalowitz (2007) classified the conditions that affect the success of the IG lobbying efforts in three categories. First, is the degree of conflict either between IGs or between IGs and the institutions mentioned in Section 3, at the outset of the negotiation process.
In the former case, IG influence depends on the degree that IGs form coalitions with other IGs that share the same interests or the degree that IGs have to fight against a wide-range of opposed interests, since both of these parameters will influence the strength of the voice of the said IGs.
More importantly, whether the IGs and the institutions they lobby are part of the same advocacy coalition also affects the effectiveness of their efforts. IGs consider it easier to target those institutions or members of institutions that are already members of their advocacy coalition, i.e. those that already support their view. Of course, this is more likely to be the case when IGs are trying to maintain the status quo. When IGs are trying to change the status quo, a large degree of conflict is necessary for policy change, as well as the existence of change-supporting conditions and strong advocacy coalitions.
Nevertheless the degree of conflict can be sidelined as a factor affecting the influence, if IGs manage to lance an issue at the right time of an attention cycle and/or when favourable contextual factors have arisen.
The second factor mentioned in Michalowitz (2007) is the structural conditions of influence. This refers to all the characteristics of each of the institutions mentioned in the previous section, but also to the willingness of the European institutions to include IG influence in the overall process. For example, part of institutions may blame other institutions for having blocked IG input in one or another stage of the decision making process, because of the established checks and balances embedded in the decision-making process. When IGs do not have access to the institutions, they are unable to have a strong negotiating position. As a result, this factor will be especially important when degree of conflict has been found to be high.
Finally, the type of influence, whether directional (i.e. IGs are running counter to the political interests of decision-making institutions), or technical (i.e. IGs are not running counter to the political interests of decision-making institutions). If IGs are trying to change the political core interests in the draft legislative acts (directional influence), this is far more likely to lead to conflict. In contrast, where technical influence is attempted, a mind change of decision makers is more likely.
When these three factors are considered together, a number of conclusions could be drawn. Lack of conflict over an issue dramatically increases the probabilities of IG influence being successful. This is the case when IG interests are in line with political intentions of other IGs and/or European institutions, or when the change is of a technical nature.
IGs can be equally successful when the institutions are disinterested in the policy outcomes or when they themselves want to see a certain policy change. In both of these cases, the arguments provided by IGs are more likely to be heard, and transparent i.e. favourable structural conditions act as a supporting factor.
In a similar spirit, but with the opposite result, when influence is directional – even if only weakly – decision-making structures are not transparent and when there is strong counter-interest by the European institutions, there is a very low likelihood of influence-gaining, especially when all three are combined.
Michalowitz (2007) outlined four scenarios of influence conditions (Table 1).
Table 1 Scenarios of influence conditions (taken from Michalowitz (2007))
Likeliness of Influence
Degree of Conflict
Structural Conditions
Type of influence
low or weak
technical or directional
low or weak
lack of transparency
5. The ‘ERIKA’ case
One of the examples described in Michalowitz (2007), the ‘ERIKA case’, will be used in this section, in order to demonstrate all the concepts mentioned in the previous sections in a real case.
The IG involved was the oil industry’s association called Oil Companies International Maritime Forum (OCIMF), a voluntary association of oil companies with an interest in the “shipment and terminalling of crude oil, oil products, petrochemicals and gas”. As mentioned in the association’s website[1], their mission is “to be the foremost authority on the safe and environmentally responsible operation of oil tankers, terminals and offshore support vessels, promoting continuous improvement in standards of design and operation”.
The legislation in which OCIMF had interests concerned the increase in maritime safety, which was a reaction to the oil pollution of 400 kmof French coast, due to the accident of the tanker Erika in 1999.
Based on the above, given that oil is still the main source of energy around the world and that oil companies are some of the richest and largest companies in the world, the resources available to OCIMF – first cluster of determinants of influence considered by Dur (2008) as summarised in the previous section – can be predicted to be extensive, especially when we consider the financial endowment of this IG. As a consequence, OCIMF could be hypothesized to enjoy wide political support, especially since they are very likely to be able to sponsor political candidates in many countries around the world. As it will be discussed further down, this group was able to hire top quality political consultants to influence members of the EP, demonstrating that the above hypothesis concerning political support is indeed valid.
A number of other structural characteristics of the IG also have a very positive effect on its influence. The current membership of OCIMF comprises 90 oil companies, from more than 30 countries around the globe. This makes it a very large IG, with a very large degree of geographical distribution of its membership. As a result it enjoys great legitimacy and is able to provide high quality and very specific knowledge, expertise and information when decision-makers require it. In addition, OCIMF’s committee structure is highly hierarchical comprising the Executive Committee at its head and four senior standing committees (General Purposes, Ports & Terminals, Offshore Marine, and legal) with the power to establish sub-committees or forums as necessary.
Adding all these characteristics together, OCIMF can be considered as an IG rich in resources (financial, political, expertise, etc), with a wide geographical reach and a very solid internal structure, which enables solid strategy formulation.
As a response to the Erika accident, the EC created six proposals for legislative acts, two out of which were targeted by the OCIMF: the fast phasing out of single hull tankers that would have led to a potential shortage of ships for hire and the planned establishment of a European compensation fund, complimentary to an already existing American one, which would have incurred additional costs for the oil industry.
This was the first step in this decision-making process: the EC set the policy agenda (see Section 3). As the agenda maker, the EC enjoyed considerable power in the discussions relating to the policy (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009). Normally, at this stage the EC discusses and negotiates with a number of actors and IGs.  This is usually the case when highly technical issues such as this are concerned (questions that could have been posed could be, for example, what are the technical reasons that double hull tankers will be safer than single hull tankers). Dur (2008) considered the technicality of an issue as an important determinant of an IG influence (third cluster of determinants i.e. the characteristics of the issue in Section 4). As a consequence of this high level of technicality, OCIMF was able to enjoy an advantage in its interaction with the policy makers, which would have not been the case if the issue discussed was less technical.
At this very first stage, high degree of conflict was observed between OCIMF and the regulatory efforts of the EC for maritime safety, with an absence of intentional interest advocacy coalitions (Michalowitz, 2007). Structural conditions were also unfavourable for OCIMF, since heavy political pressure led the EC to move fast, allowing only two weeks for comments, obliging OCIMF to concentrate its lobbying efforts at the next stage, in other words to lobby the EP where conflicts were even more pronounced (Michalowitz, 2007). Since there was heavy political pressure to move fast, it can be assumed that the OCIMF interests touched upon the core political intentions of decision-makers. The type of influence attempted by OCIMF would therefore be described as ‘directional influence’.
It should be noted, that the structural conditions mentioned in Michalowitz (2007) are similar to Dur’s (2008) second cluster of determinants, i.e. the ability of political institutions to shape IG access to the policy-making process. In this case, by greatly constraining the time available for IG input, the EC and influences from the other European institutions effectively blocked this access point for the OCIMF.
The strong political will from the side of the European institutions, was based on the fact that at the time of the accident, the then called Directorate-General for Transport and Energy DG TREN (now part of the
Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport and Directorate-General for Energy) had launched a White Paper in which the promotion of increased levels of maritime transport was announced. This White Paper was threatened by the consequences of the Erika accident, meaning that from the point of view of the DG TREN, quick measures were required.
Conflict with other private factors, namely environmental organisations, should have been high. Given however that their interests were aligned with those of the EC, these groups chose not to be involved. Moreover, ECSA (European C Ships Association) was also not involved to act against OCIMF, out of fear of upsetting their clients.
It should be mentioned that strong lobbying took place at the National level as well, both from the side of the IG, since TotalfinaElf the company to whom Erika belonged and who is member of the OCIMF, but also by environmental groups (“national strategy” mentioned in Section 3). Given that the EU Council is the body expressing national state interests and the most powerful legislative institution of the three mentioned above, the efforts of TotalfinaElf to influence national decision-makers could be seen as an initial strategy to influence the decision of the EU Council, i.e. to convince the French member EU Council to reject the policy submitted by the EC. If it succeeded the policy would be immediately abandoned.
As stated above, the EU Council is an equally important receiver of pressures from IGs, especially those that act only at the National level, such as TotalfinaElf, since for them the members of the Council are the main pressure route used to influence EU policies (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni, 2009).
According to Dur (2008) (third cluster of determinants of IG influence in Section 3), the large public salience of an issue would have a negative effect on the IG’s influence, if the other IGs interested in these issues had acted accordingly. Indeed, the pressures imposed by environmental groups at the National level in this example worked far better than those of the IG Michalowitz (2007), since the issues of energy and the environment, both of which would have been affected by these policies, have seen an increasing interest from the general public and consequently from politicians. Overall, however, the efforts of these environmental groups were not thought to be an important factor in the shaping of the policy outcomes according to Michalowitz (2007).
Despite the fact that both degree of conflict and structural conditions were particularly unfavourable for the IG, it could be said that the policy outcomes were in favour of OCIMF’s arguments, mainly due to the third factor the type of influence.
Given the short time period for comments, OCIMF, with a political consultancy at its service, focused on lobbying the EP, i.e. OCIMF focused at the next stage of the decision-making process. At this next stage, it was certain that some sort of legislative act was going to be voted, but what was not clear was what this would include.
As a result, OCIMF decided that since the EC’s political agenda could not be overcome, its strategy should have been to embrace the EC’s wish for regulatory measures and aim at changing the details of the legislative act, so that they can be in its favour. In the case of regulation and the proposed planned Fund for the Compensation of the Oil Pollution Damage in European waters (COPE), OCIMF argument was that the conversation should be shifted at the international level in order to achieve an even distribution of costs, to ensure that competitors would have to deal with the costs as well. The second issue in question, was the phasing out of single hull tankers, OCIMF’s argument was that it would be impossible to sufficiently increase double hull tankers by 2015 in order to keep up the oil transportation.
By focusing on these technical details, OCIMF managed to bring both of these issues at the international level, i.e. the entire legislative process within the EC was frozen in order to wait for an international decision: it was so enlarged by the EP after the first reading that it did not pass through the Council and the second reading by the EP (see diagram in Section 3). The international fund was enlarged instead of a European fund, and in the case of the tankers, the decision was left to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), provided the body was capable of releasing a regulation within a satisfying period. This led to an international regulation that was adopted at the European level within the Erika I package.
As stated in Michalowitz (2007), one of the reasons that the IG’s efforts were considered to be successful, was that they chose the correct strategy, which allowed them to maximize their influence. This also relates to the fourth cluster of determinants mentioned in Dur (2008), who mentions that the strategy chosen by an IG can have a very large effect on the outcomes seen after the involvement of the IG in the decision-making process.
Based on all of the above, the following conclusions can be drawn. Even if the preferable lobbying access point for the IG was the EC, there was no time available and therefore OCIMF focused on the second stage of the decision-making process, i.e. targeted the EP (Michalowitz, 2007).
Even though the main reason for such a strategy change was the lack of time during the proposal formulation stage, this change could also reflect the gradual enhancement of EP’s role in the policy-making process, which leads to as stated above to IGs turning their interest increasingly towards the EP (Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni (2009), Tsinisizelis (2001)).
Specific interests of the MEPs proved to be high obstacles for the IG. According to Michalowitz (2004), even if OCIMF managed to change the mind of the EP (the EP put forward an amendment in order to enlarge the directive to the chemical industry as well in order to issue a warning to the chemical industry as well whose goods are also transported by sea), the case looks successful from the point of view of the IG because both EC and Council slightly changed their position: they accepted the conversation to be shifted to the international level. In reality, however, this is probably not the case since they did not change their views on the particular issue, rather agreed to discuss maritime safety at a global level rather than simply a European one.
In this essay, an overview was given of the presence and influence of interest groups in European decision-making. First, what is meant by influence was discussed before focusing on the details of the ever changing European decision-making process, including the main supranational decision-makers: EC, EP and EU Council. Then, the IG characteristics that make their influence more effective and the conditions for influence were outlined as according to Dur (2008) and Michalowitz (2007). Finally, an example of a successful IG was given, in order to demonstrate all these concepts. Indeed it was found that in the Erika case many of these factors were clearly present and lead to the observed policy outcomes.

Even though major steps have been made in the study of IG influence in the context of the EU, there are a number of obstacles that scholars are still faced with in order to determine IG influence: the difficulty of universally defining what is an IG and what is influence, the changing nature of the European polity and finally the limited availability of studies that have looked at IGs as a whole, rather than analysing specific units of observation. The more scholars focus on these obstacles, the greater our understanding of IG influence in European decision-making will be.


Kohler-Koch B and Finke B (2007) “The Institutional Shaping of EU-Society Relations: A Contribution to Democracy via Participation?” Journal of Civil Society 3(3): 205–221.

Michailof I (2007) “What determines influence? Assessing Conditions for decision-making influence of interest-groups in the EU” Journal of European Public Policy 14(1):132-151.

Labdas, Mendrinou, Hatziyanni (2009) “Policy-making and interest groups in the EU (Παραγωγή πολιτικής και ομάδες συμφερόντων στην ΕΕ)”, in Stefanou, K, Tsinisizelis M, Fatouros A, Christodoulidis T (Editors) “Introduction to European Studies Volume A (Εισαγωγή στις Ευρωπαικές Σπουδές, τόμος Α)”, Sideris Publications, Athens, Greece.

Dur A (2008) “Interest groups in the European Union. How powerful are they?” West European Politics 31(6):1212-1230.

Weber M (1980) [1921] Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 5th edition, Tübingen: Mohr.

Berry J (1979) The Interest Group Society, Harlow: Longman.

Tsinisizelis MI (2001) Quo Vadis Europa? Smirniotakis Publishing, Athens, Greece.

Michalowitz I (2004) “The EU in search for its balance: democratic standards, political autonomy, and the influence of interest groups. Examples from the IT and transport sector” Paper prepared for the conference “Interest groups in the 21st century in France and Europe. An inter-disciplinary perspective”, Paris, 24 & 25 September 2004.


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