MAKING PUBLIC PRESSURE AGAINST PRIVATE INTERESTS THROUGH INCREASING TRANSPARENCY.

Bernat Kun Masvidal.

 

INTRODUCTION

The objective of this investigation is to use public information concerning the possible conflicts of interests of the members of the EU Parliament in order to assess if they could be lobbied by ancient members of their political group. Two questions will be tackled: first, is the information available sufficient for making an idea of how our representatives act vis-à-vis the issue of conflicts of interests? And mainly, can we conclude whether decision-makers might be influenced by the phenomenon of revolving doors? The theoretical framework that guides this study is based on the Non-Weberian conception of “influence”, that presupposes that interest groups tend to lobby individuals with similar concerns.

Pressure groups can be conceived as organizations that represent the interests of their members without seeking being democratically elected (Eising 2008[1]).The institutional design of the EU ensures that formal power is exerted by elected representatives. However, it is crucial to determine the ways and the extent to which important decisions could be lobbied by certain interests (Farrell and Héritier, 2003)[2].

Interest groups may be useful for society if they are able to offer relevant information for the government (Becker, 1983)[3]. At the EU level, some of the decisions being made by representatives are so complex that receiving advice from experts in different fields becomes mandatory to acquire enough judgment. However, when pressure groups are given the opportunity to get contact with policy makers some private interests could be promoted in detriment of public ones (Chalmers, 2011)[4]. As a consequence, transparency becomes very useful tool to assess what is the relationship between lobbies and power.

Measuring the impact of pressure groups on actual policies and laws is very difficult since influence is a very vague concept[5]  (Eising 2008). The term “conflict of interest” refers to the situations where policy-makers could be unduly influenced by interests different from the social ones. A “revolving door case” implies the movement of an individual from public office to a job in the same sector of a lobby (Transparency International EU, 2017)[6]. According to Dolan (2016)[7], the phenomenon of revolving doors is increasing, which implies that conflict of interest should be rigorously policed in the EU.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRANSAPRENCY AND TRUST FOR LEGITIMACY

Democratic values and public-interest may be undermined by the revolving door relationship between European decision-makers and lobby position jobs. It is crucial for any public institution to count on the citizens’ trust in order to ensure that the democratic values work correctly. This brings about the debate about legitimacy. Are the EU institutions really acting against possible conflicts of interests? The Corporate Europe Observatory (2007)[8] argues that the EU has failed to block revolving doors.

During the last years many initiatives have tried to gather information into databases freely accessible online. The RevolvingDoorWatch was created to fight against revolving doors and conflicts of interests8. Similarly, the European Union has rolled out the Transparency International EU project that advocates for a strong transparency6. This interactive tool allows citizens to get access to relevant information about the nature of the behavior EU politicians.

The objective is to allow the expansion of political capital that leads to political trust, a necessary condition for democracy (Seligman 1997)[9].

 

EXPLORING REVOLVING DORS AND CONFLICTS OF INTERESTS

Assuming that the Non-Weberian theory is valid at the EU level, policy makers would tend to be lobbied by pressure groups with similar ideologies or concerns. We will try to identify if it is possible that members that used to belong to a certain political group of the EU Parliament might be trying to lobby their “friends”, that is, active members of the political group in question. Therefore, we will focus on each one of the political groups that from the EU Parliament (see footnote[10]).

Influence will be measured using the variable “outside income”, which refers to the amount of earnings that members of the EU Parliament receive from external activities. We are assuming that receiving outside income may be related to acquiring attachments with an external actor, for instance, a pressure group. This may cause conflicts of interests.

The hypothesis that synthesizes our analytical approach is the following one:

For a certain group of the EU Parliament, the more frequent are the cases of revolving doors towards lobbies of the private sector, the bigger will be the influence that active politicians receive.

  

Two variables are used in order to assess how revolving doors might affect decision-makers:

  • (Independent variable): % of members for each political group that continue their career in lobbies from the private sector when they leave politics (revolving-doors)[11].
  • (Dependent variable): % of members for each political group that earn more than 000€ per year from outside activities. This second variable is considered dependant on the previous one.

The data obtained can be represented in the following graph:

 

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN REVOLVING DOORS AND OUTSIDE INCOME IN EU PARLIAMENT

 The purple line summarizes a positive correlation. Our results seem to support the hypothesis stated before: more revolving doors cases tend to be followed by higher percentage of members that receive an external income exceeding 6.000€.

 

CORRELATION DOES NOT MEAN CAUSALITY

Can we conclude from the graph that receiving an external income is a consequence of having “friends” in lobbies? This assumption can’t be made at the light of this investigation. It could well be that the causal relationship worked the opposite way: receiving an external income makes it probable that the parliamentary chooses a job in the lobby in question when leaving politics. There are many variables that may affect the results.[12]

Secondly, data used from Transparency International might be incomplete, since it is extremely difficult to gather all the information concerning the operations of EU lobbies. Actually, it is not compulsory for them to register in the officials databases. There might be ex- members of the parliament lobbing without being registered.

All in all, the results obtained are clear enough to observe that there is a common trend (amongst the 8 groups) that is consistent with the Non-Weberian concept of influence, since policy-makers could be influenced by close lobbyists. However, more evidence is needed to allow significant conclusions concerning the integrity of EU parliamentarians.

 

IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESARCH

If the obtained results could be contrasted with additional research with similar trends it would be possible to derivate some implications concerning the issues of conflicts of interest and the possibility of being some parliamentary groups more likely to have conflicts of interests than others due to the phenomena of revolving doors.

Let us conclude this study by pointing the fact that the data offered by Transparency International EU is easy to access for citizens that wish to monitor the level of integrity of public servers. This tool may act in favor of public trust towards representatives.

However, more resources should be invested in scrutinizing revolving doors and integrity. This combined with improved mechanisms of accountability could be the clue to more legitimate EU institutions.

 

REFERENCES

 

Notes:

  • [1] EISING, R “Interest groups in EU policy-making”, Living Rev. Euro. Gov. 3, (2008), URL (cited on 16/12/2017): http://europeangovernance-livingreviews.org/Articles/lreg-2008-4.
  • [2] FARRELL, H. and HÉRITIER, A. (2003), “Formal and Informal Institutions Under Codecision: Continuous Constitution-Building in Europe”. Governance, 16: 577–600.
  • [3] BECKER, G “A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 98, No. 3 (Aug., 1983), pp. 371-400, URL (cited on 16/12/2017): http://www.thecre.com/oira/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Becker1.pdf.
  • [4] CHALMERS, A “Interests, Influence and Information: Comparing the Influence of Interest Groups in the European Union”, Journal of European Integration (2011), 33:4, 471-486.
  • [5] The capacity of political mobilization of interest groups is considerable and there is a huge segmentation into different sub-groups. Making generalizations that facilitate the understanding of these political actors is quite difficult. There are many methodological approaches developed by different studies concerning the lobbies operating at the EU. Therefore, it is not clear what all this investigation has accomplished in understanding how influence plays its roll at the EU institutions.
  • [6]Transparency International EU advocates for strong transparency measures within EU policy, as well as greater transparency in decision-making at the EU level”. Transparency International EU (2017). URL (cited on 16/12/2017): http://transparency.eu/
  • [7] DOLAN, C “The revolving door is here to stay: this is how to deal with it”. Transparency International EU (2016). URL (cited on 17/12/2017): http://transparency.eu/the-revolving-door-is-here-to-stay-this- is-how-to-deal-with-it-2/.
  • [8] According to RevolvingDoorWatch, “the EU institutions – the commission, parliament, council and agencies – fail to take effective action to block the revolving door. Brussels is home to one of the highest concentrations of political power in the world and the revolving door is one of the most important ways in which lobbyists can influence the political agenda in Brussels”. Corporate Europe Observatory (2017). URL (cited on 16/12/2017): https://corporateeurope.org/revolvingdoorwatch.
  • [9] SELIGMAN, A (1997). The Problem of Trust. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • [10] Those groups are: European People’s Party (EPP), Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), The Greens–European Free Alliance (Greens–EFA), European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL), Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and Non-Inscrits (NI). There is not enough data available about Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENL) to include them in the study.
  • [11] This percentage summarizes to what extend the members of the group tend to enter lobbies that represent interest of the private sector. The variable is obtained calculating the percentage of members (from a given political group) going to private sector lobbies out of the total amount of members (of the same group) that enter any kind of lobby. EPP, ECR and ALDE are the parliamentary groups with a higher rate of members going to private sector lobbies.
  • [12] For example, 37% of the members of GUE-NGL receive more than 6.000€ as external income despite having 0 revolving doors.