Voice and access: Political practices of diffuse and specific interest associations in European policy making

What strategies are chosen by interest associations seeking to influence EU policy? This article investigates the pursuit of (i) access to policy networks and (ii) voice by political campaigns and finds the strategies to co-exist at the EU level.

ARENA Working Paper 39/2002 (pdf)

Jan Beyers

This article examines to what extent interest associations combine public political campaigning with seeking access to policy networks. Two theoretical approaches explaining choice of influence strategies are presented; one focusing on the interest association itself and another considering the institutional context in which political activities are embedded. Empirically we look at Euro-level interest mobilisation. In the literature on the EU the notion of network governance is dominant; that is, by drawing on expert knowledge and by inclusion of private and public actors, government becomes de-politicised. In general, gaining access to policy networks is viewed as more relevant than public campaigning, and so societal interests prefer access strategies instead of publicly politicising their demands. However, our evidence collected among public officials and interest associations challenges this view. We find no contradiction between both forms of political mobilisation and we observe that, in general, associations both use and combine voice and access strategies. It is also demonstrated that, although the institutional supply of access might be somewhat biased in favour of specific interests, the EU contains important opportunities for those who aim to expand the scope of political conflict. In particular, we show that institutions such as the European Parliament, but to some extent also the Council, considerably attract attempts to politicise demands publicly.

Tags: policy networks, interest representation, institutions, political opportunity structure
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM