In this lesson, we discover the definition of an interest group and explore the evolution and nature of interest groups in Europe around the European Union.
EU Interest Groups
Have you ever tried to influence something in which you had no part for your own benefit? Perhaps you tried to get your brother to choose pizza for dinner on his night to pick, or perhaps you tried to persuade your coach to choose a team jersey that you particularly fancied. Chances are you had to lobby, cajole, and even make a few deals to achieve your goal. Probably without realizing it, you just acted as your own little special interest group. In this lesson, we will define exactly what an interest group is and the types of interest groups that exist in Europe, and specifically, those that interact with the European Union.
Definition of Interest Groups
Interest groups are individuals or groups of people who, without being part of the political process, attempt to influence its results. The term 'interest group' encapsulates a wide variety of possible groups or individuals. Individuals who write to petition their delegate, standing groups of individuals, like unions or trade organizations, that continuously pressure politicians, or special industry groups, which employ lobbyists to make deals with politicians - all are considered interest groups. Though the term interest group broadly defines many different organizations, there are a few basic parameters for being considered an interest group.
First of all, it has to be a well-defined group. Examples of this would be a trade union, or an organization strictly created to advance the interests of a certain product or sector of the economy, such as proponents of corn-based products or groups trying to raise the awareness of pollution in rivers. This specifically excludes broad-based political movements, such as the Tea Party movement in the United States.
Secondly, interest groups' main priority has to be influencing the political process to further the cause of their product or organization. Finally, the interactions between these groups and politicians have to be generally outside the normal confines of government. This does not mean illegal - merely that politicians meet with lobbyists and other interest group representatives at dinners, parties, and other informal meetings and not in committees, public hearings, or other normal government meetings.
Influence in Europe
The European Union (EU), Europe's supranational government made up of 28 nations, has special interest groups like any other government. Though it is impossible to know exactly how many interest groups exist that lobby or make deals with EU officials, many scholars and commentators assume that the nature of EU government begets a larger and more diverse set of interest groups or lobbyists than in singular nations. This is because the EU does not only create policy for the entire European Union, but it also determines for itself the regulations and rules by which aid can be given.
In other words, not only do interest groups need to lobby the EU to gain better concessions for their own particular interests, but they also need to lobby the EU to change the rules to make it easier for the EU to give their particular interest group a better deal. Furthermore, the fact that the EU makes broad policy for decisions for 28 separate nations can have wide-reaching effects that cause both regional and national interest groups to have the same impetus to lobby the EU as larger, multinational corporations or organizations.
The European Union and its interest groups have evolved side-by-side. Because of this, the first interest groups that developed around the EU were strictly those with economic interests as the first manifestations of the EU were simply economic agreements between several nations. The 1951 institution of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) pooled several industrial resources of Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, West Germany, France, and Italy. As a result, the interest groups that flocked to the ECSC were resource extraction firms, regional landowners, and groups and unions protecting miners and workers.
In the more than 60 years since the beginning of European cooperation, the EU has gone through numerous changes and enlargements. Over time, the organization added more and more layers of control over national and regional resources, economies, and governments that changed the nature of the EU. As a result of the increasing integration, more and more interest groups saw opportunity in sending lobbyists and representatives to lobby on their behalf with EU officials. Furthermore, as the EU expanded from six to 28 nations, it brought in entirely new organizations who felt the need to lobby EU officials.
Many of these EU interest groups began simply as offshoots of national or regional interest groups who were now affected by the supranational layer of government created by the EU. As the EU grew and evolved, it created a diverse array of interest groups, from these national or regional groups, to multinational corporations and industries, to local trade unions affected by EU policy. Moreover, this diversity is only likely to increase.
The EU is a continuously changing organization; as recently as 2013, it added a new member (Croatia), and as recently as 2007, it made sweeping changes to procedure and policy in the Treaty of Lisbon. As the EU continues to evolve and change the political, economic, and social face of Europe, we can only expect the number and diversity of interest groups lobbying the EU to continue to grow.
Interest groups are any individual or organization outside of the political process who wish to influence its results. Interest groups have to be a defined organization and not a broad-based political movement. The sole goals of interest groups are necessarily using the political process to further a stated product or cause. The interactions between interest groups and politicians also have to take place outside of the normal confines of government.
The European Union likely has more interest groups per capita than singular nations, though the exact number is not known. In Europe, the EU and interest groups evolved side-by-side. As the EU grew and added new layers of integration, its interest groups grew larger in number and more diverse in scope. As the EU continues to change and evolve, this process will likely continue.
Memorize the details of this lesson in order to:
- Characterize an interest group
- Discuss the evolutionary relationship between the EU and interest groups