Regulate lobbying: The producers win at the expense of consumers

Consumers and tax payers lose out when EU lobbyists fight the cause of producers. Researcher from Aarhus BSS recommends that lobbying should be regulated to improve the conditions of the common interests.

[Translate to English:] ”Principielt set er der fri konkurrence om at komme til orde i EU, og lobbyisme kan være med til at give et nuanceret billede af en sag, hvis alle relevante parter høres. Men i mange tilfælde giver det et forvrænget billede af forholdene, og lobbyisterne indsats kommer til at fremme snævre interesser på bekostning af almenheden," siger professor i statskundskab ved Aarhus BSS Gert Tinggaard Svendsen. Foto: Colourbox.com

The train fare itself would exceed the economic benefits which a consumer could ever hope to gain by going to Brussels and lobby in favour of e.g. lower sugar prices. Despite a large consumer group, producer groups, such as sugar producers, often have the most to gain and also have the greatest means for fighting their cause.

“The decision-makers in Brussels often end up hearing just one side of the story - the attitudes and advise of the producers -, while the voices of large groups such as consumers, taxpayers and e.g. environmental organisations are not heard to the same extent,” says Professor in Political Science Gert Tinggaard Svendsen and continues:

“In principle, everyone can fight to be heard in the EU, and lobbying may contribute to providing a nuanced picture of a specific issue provided that all relevant parties are heard. But in many cases, lobbying creates a skewed picture of the state of affairs, and the efforts of the lobbyists end up promoting narrow interests at the expense of the common good”.

In the book “The Politics of Persuasion”, recently published by Edgar Elgar Publishing, Gert Tinggaard Svendsen and Urs Steiner Brandt ask the following question: Should lobbying be regulated in the EU? Their own answer is yes, and they offer eight clear recommendations for the EU decision-makers in relation to regulating lobbying.

A struggle over €142 billion

If lobbyists are registered and regulated, it would be possible to get an overview of who the lobbyists work for. This would make it easier to evaluate whether the parties are on equal footing. In this connection, the consumers could also be assigned to a fixed representative, which is already the case in the Scandinavian corporatistic model, the researchers suggest.

In many cases, this would enable the decision-makers in Brussels to make decisions on more balanced and complete grounds for the benefit of both the EU and Denmark. For example, the agricultural  sector receives subsidies constituting more than 30 per cent of the total EU budget of €142 billion. This has a significant effect on the tax payers in terms of higher taxes and more expensive agricultural products.

“Regulating the kind of lobbying that has a detrimental effect on the economy will lead to more free trade and economic growth in the EU. We would also be able to achieve the European Dream of increasing our competitiveness and becoming the world’s leading economy,” says Gert Tinggaard Svendsen.

Clear rules may reduce corruption

Without regulation, it is difficult to find out who the lobbyists work for and what expenses they have. This kind of information is already registered in the US, and the researchers recommend that we follow their example.

In the EU, data is self-reported by the lobbyists, and only vague rules exists for good lobbying behaviour and practices. The problem is that many lobbyists choose not to register themselves, and that there is a need for a well thought out set of common rules to increase the level of transparency and reduce the risk of corruption.

Another challenge is the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, which in organisational terms is part of the EU Commission.

“At times, employees of the Commission feel that they are not being taken seriously when they report cases of corruption to OLAF. An anti-fraud unit must be independent, impartial and not part of the very same system which it is meant to control,” argues Gert Tinggaard Svendsen.

Eight policy recommendations from the book “The Politics of Persuasion - Should Lobbying be Regulated in the EU?”

1.       Registration of all lobbyists

2.       Reporting all lobbying activities

3.       Establishing a website where all documentation of the lobbyists and their work is available

4.       Sanctioning if the rules of good behaviour are violated

5.       Corporatism - all parties must be heard; both producers and consumers

6.       Decentralising e.g. by strengthening the democratically elected European Parliament at the expense of the Commission

7.       Corruption may be reduced if a strong and independent anti-corruption unit is established outside the Commission

8.       Whistleblowers should be rewarded rather than punished.

Contact:

Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, professor of political science
Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
Email: gts@ps.au.dk
Telephone: 8716 5693

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