Persuading the independent: understanding why interest groups engage with EU agencies

Abstract

What motivates interest groups to engage with European Union (EU) agencies? Authors have recently looked into the interaction between interest groups and these European regulators. This article sets out to discover new explanations for interest group behaviour and to add mechanisms to established explanatory factors by looking at this novel context for interest group literature. It employs an in-depth qualitative study using interviews with high-level interest group representatives that interact with the European Food Safety Authority. A novel finding is that interest groups, specifically business actors, are motivated by preventing reputational threats to the agency. This article, therefore, extends insights from bureaucratic reputation literature to interest group scholarship. Furthermore, interest groups are motivated by factors found in interest group literature such as influence on regulatory policy, gaining access to venues and appeasing their members. This article aids future research efforts in unravelling why interest groups engage with EU regulatory agencies.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Examples include ‘How capable are you to make your voice heard in European policymaking?’ (asked to BA1) instead of ‘How influential are you?’ and using the term ‘stakeholder’ instead of ‘interest group’ for citizen groups as they are more comfortable with it.

  2. 2.

    See Arras and Braun (2018) for reputational expectations of EU agencies from their engagement with interest groups and Trapp and Laursen (2017) arguing that interest groups maintain a positive public image of policymakers through media appearances.

  3. 3.

    [x] is used instead of information that compromises the respondent’s anonymity.

  4. 4.

    Interest groups are sometimes invited by EFSA, suggesting that the agency also wants interest groups to engage. However, for consistency with similar findings, this is discussed under behavioural control. .

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Acknowledgements

I thank Markus Haverland and Asya Zhelyazkova for their insightful comments and guidance. I also thank two anonymous reviewers for their help in improving the paper. Furthermore, I am indebted to the interest group representatives that took the time to tell me about their work. This work was supported by the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), grant number 406.17.557.

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Correspondence to Rik Joosen.

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Appendix

Appendix

Assessing bias in population of registered stakeholders

These categories follow the categories used by Beyers and Arras (2019), as these were most aggregated (Table 3).

Table 3 Comparison of types of interest group between registered stakeholders (as of 20-02-2017) and EFSA consultation participation (from Beyers and Arras 2019)

For the registered stakeholders, categories were aggregated from the categories used by EFSA itself. Business includes farmers and primary producers, businesses and food industry and distributor categories. Non-business includes consumers and environment. Experts includes associations of practitioners and academia.

For consultation data, two categories from Beyers and Arras were merged (regulated business and non-regulated business) as the registered stakeholder data make no distinction between these.

Interview methods table

Type Status Source Format Length Recording Coverage (%)
BA1 secretary general Interview held via Skype on 12-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:54:26 Audio recording 23.83
BA2 director Interview held via Skype on 19-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:53:56 Audio recording 56.12
BA3 director Interview held via Skype on 26-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 01:47:52 Audio recording 24.65
BA4 deputy secretary general Interview held via Skype on 28-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:50:01 Audio recording 50.73
BA5 advisor Interview held via Skype on 28-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:44:02 Audio recording 53.83
BA6 Policy officer Interview held via Skype on 03-05-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:20:54 Audio recording 56.34
BA7 secretary general Interview held via Skype on 05-05-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:42:03 Audio recording 46.32
BA8 deputy director Interview held in person on 19-05-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 01:18:07 Audio recording 37.40
BA9 secretariat officer Interview held via Skype on 06-06-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:32:56 Audio recording 25.75
BA10 director Interview held in person on 07-06-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:44:46 Audio recording 66.48
CG1 head of department Interview held via Skype on 19-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:40:05 Audio recording 51.11
CG2 advisor Interview held via Skype on 21-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:58:31 Audio recording 47.45
CG3 secretary general Interview held via Skype on 26-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:21:24 Audio recording 53.47
CG4 advisor Interview held via Skype on 03-05-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:37:47 Audio recording 63.77
PA1 representative Interview held via Skype on 20-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:34:55 Audio recording 29.92
PA2 vice president Interview held via Skype on 26-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:55:50 Audio recording 26.98
PA3 member Interview held via Skype on 28-04-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:39:00 Audio recording 17.57
RI1 director Interview held via Skype on 02-05-2017 Sample frame Semi-structured 00:30:16 Audio recording 31.22
Academia No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 12-04-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 04-04-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 07-04-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 07-04-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 07-04-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry No response Sample frame     
Business and food industry Refused 05-05-2017 Sample frame     
Business and food industry Agreed to have interview, but did not manage to plan it Sample frame     
Distributors and HORECA No response Sample frame     
Distributors and HORECA Refused 13-04-2017 Sample frame     
Distributors and HORECA No response Sample frame     
Environmental/health NGOs and advocacy groups Refused 05-04-2017 Sample frame     
Environmental/health NGOs and advocacy groups Refused 03-04-2017 Sample frame     
Environmental/health NGOs and advocacy groups Refused 10-04-2017 Sample frame     
Environmental/health NGOs and advocacy groups Refused 10-04-2017 Sample frame     
Environmental/health NGOs and advocacy groups No response Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers Refused 12-04-2017 Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers No response Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers No response Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers No response Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers Refused 02-05-2017 Sample frame     
Farmers and primary producers No response Sample frame     
Firm Interview held on 10-04-2017, but not used in research Colleague at the same firm Semi-structured 01:09:04 Audio recording Confidentiality required
Firm Refused 18-05-2017 Colleague     

Topic list

Ask permission for recording

Introductions

What does your organisation do (in general)?

What interactions do you have with EFSA?

  • Stakeholder forum

  • (Online) consultations

  • Other

Could you give a recent example?

For each interaction:

  • General

    • Why do you do that, why did you engage?

  • Attitude

    • What outcome are you trying to achieve by engaging with EFSA?

    • Is that outcome likely to occur?

    • How important is that outcome for you?

    • What is the consequence of engagement for you as an organisation?

  • Subjective norm

    • Do any outside actors have expectations about your engagement with EFSA?

    • Constituency

    • General public

    • Other

    • What are these expectations?

    • Do you agree/comply with these expectations?

  • Behavioural control

    • How difficult is it to engage with EFSA (both in general and for you specifically)?

    • How capable are you as an organisation to engage with EFSA?

    • Do you have enough knowledge and experience to do so?

    • Do you have enough resources at your disposal?

    • Are you happy about how you engage with EFSA?

Can you give a different example (more general/more specific to your interests)?

[repeat list above]

Coding scheme and procedure

All interviews were fully transcribed. NVivo qualitative analysis software was used to code the interviews. First, three codes were established based on the three constructs of the planned behaviour approach:

  • Attitude

  • Subjective norm

  • Behavioural control

Starting with these three constructs allowed for structure while keeping the desired open inductive character of the analysis. All interview sections (a section being one piece of coherent narrative addressing a subject within an interview) were coded in there three categories. Occasionally, sections could be and were placed under multiple codes.

This step was followed by a three-step procedure: open, axial and selective coding. In open coding, each section of a transcript was assigned a code to summarize its content. If a section fitted a code that was already created, it was placed under that code. If it did not fit any other code, a new code was created. After this was done, the axial coding step involved looking at all the codes, merging those that fit well together and making a hierarchical structure of the codes. In the third stage, selective coding, the most relevant codes were selected to establish the narrative discussed in the results. This is where the subthemes of the results emerged. The eventual subthemes are:

  • Increasing predictability

  • Enhancing reputation

  • Improving risk assessment

  • Member base

  • Capacity

  • Responsiveness of the agency

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Joosen, R. Persuading the independent: understanding why interest groups engage with EU agencies. Int Groups Adv (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41309-020-00110-z

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Keywords

  • European Union
  • Regulation
  • Agency
  • Interest group
  • Lobbying
  • Reputation