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.