Opening the black box: The professionalization of interest groups in the European Union

Executive Summary

Does professionalization vary across interest group type? Even though an empirical assessment of interest group professionalization is crucial to understand their potential for enhancing the democratic legitimacy of the European Union, little is known about the internal configuration of interest groups. Although some argue that professionalization differs systematically across interest group type, others suggest that institutional pressures lead to converging professionalization patterns, so that cause groups and sectional groups are similarly professionalized. However, these assertions are based on case studies focusing only on a small number of interest groups, which makes it difficult to draw general conclusions. To overcome this important shortcoming, we provide an empirical analysis of professionalization patterns that is based on a comprehensive survey conducted among a wide variety of interest groups. Our findings indicate that professionalization patterns do not vary systematically across interest group type. By contrast, cause groups and sectional groups are similarly professionalized.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although we agree that these distinctions can be problematic, in the sense that these groups could be based on a continuum (that is, the case of QUANGOS (quasi-non-governmental organizations) or GONGOS (Governmentally organized Non-governmental organisations), the interest group literature on which this article is based continues to use this differentiation.

  2. 2.

    Olson (1965) by contrast distinguished different types of interest groups based on the size of groups. Even though size is a crucial characteristic, we argue that the typology of Steward allows for a more general typology as it simultaneously takes into account the membership structure and the nature of the interest.

  3. 3.

    In addition to distinguishing between cause and sectional group, we also include a dummy variable in the empirical analysis that differentiates between national and European interest groups. We have also repeated the empirical analysis for a more fine-grained actor type classification that distinguishes between cause groups, business associations and professional associations. The results are substantially the same irrespective of the actor type classification.

  4. 4.

    Given that the dependent and independent variables of this study were measured by a survey that was conducted in 2009 and 2010 in the framework of this broader project, this article is only based on interest groups lobbying the EU institutions with regard to the 56 selected proposals.

  5. 5.

    The precise question wording is as follows: ‘How often do you offer additional training to your employees who deal with monitoring and commenting on public policy?’

  6. 6.

    The precise question wording is as follows: ‘On average, how many years of working experience do your employees who deal with monitoring and commenting on public policy have at the time when you hire them?’

  7. 7.

    The precise question wording is as follows: ‘What is the highest level of education of your staff that deals with monitoring and commenting on public policy? Please indicate how many per cent of your staff have the following highest degree of education (Total=100%).’

  8. 8.

    We have also computed measures for the absolute number of staff with a PhD and the absolute number of staff with a Master’s degree in order to check in a regression analysis whether there is a systematic difference between sectional and cause groups in terms of the number of highly educated staff. Neither the regression analysis of the absolute number of staff with a PhD nor the regression analysis of the absolute number of staff with a Master report a systematic effect of interest group type.

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Acknowledgements

We thank William Maloney, Joost Berkhout, Grant Jordan and the anoynmous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions

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Correspondence to Heike Klüver.

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Klüver, H., Saurugger, S. Opening the black box: The professionalization of interest groups in the European Union. Int Groups Adv 2, 185–205 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1057/iga.2013.2

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Keywords

  • European Union
  • interest groups
  • organizational structure
  • professionalization