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A matter of information, discussion and consequences? Exploring the accountability practices of interest groups in the EU

Abstract

Interest groups are perceived as vehicles that can enhance the legitimacy of public institutions at the national and supranational level. However, the potential of these organizations to enhance democratic representation is often questioned and has rarely been systematically analysed. In this article, we examine the under-researched area of interest group accountability, a key component for groups to realize their democratic potential. To do this, we take an organization-centric and top-down perspective and develop a tailored analytical framework including three key dimensions—information, discussion and consequences. Drawing on data from a large-scale survey of interest groups active at the EU level, we find considerable variation in the extent to which groups demonstrate practices related to these three accountability dimensions. Furthermore, while receiving funding from EU institutions does not have any significant effect on interest group accountability, we find that organizations representing businesses interests more frequently develop accountability practices related to the dimensions of discussion and consequences, whereas citizen groups are more focused on the information dimension.

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Notes

  1. It is also important to note that leaders can pick up cues and signals from members through non-institutionalized avenues as well—e.g. surveys, public opinion research, social media, etc.

  2. We also acknowledge that the ‘exit’ option might be an important post hoc consequence for groups that do not involve members in decision-making processes. This is important to many groups because they need a stable membership for organizational maintenance and survival. Yet, for the purpose of this article we focus on the more formal procedures that members have at their disposal to control the internal affairs of the group.

  3. EUROPA—Transparency Register, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister, accessed 16 October 2014.

  4. The groups excluded from the sample are: ‘Local, regional and municipal authorities (at sub-national level)’; ‘Organizations representing churches and religious communities’; ‘other public or mixed entities, etc.’; ‘Other similar organizations’; and ‘Trade unions’. Together, all these categories only represent 9.95% of the sample, and none of these categories gather more than 14 organizations.

  5. The survey contained a filter, asking the respondents whether their organization was membership based and if so, what kind of members their organization has.

  6. Importantly, the three variables used to assess the accountability components (Table 2) are independent and the highest correlation is found between the two variables related to dis cussion and consequences. Yet, this correlation is below .4; hence, we can safely assume that the two variables are substantively different. To control for missing cases, the same analyses have been conducted with the 174 observations for which we have complete data. Importantly, the same values hold at a very simil ar level. In addition, multiple imputation estimates (n = 410) lead to the same results and significant levels, with only three exceptions: age is not negatively related to information, y et it becomes positively and significantly related to the consequences dimension; EU funding is negatively related to the discussion dimensions, yet the coefficient is very low (−.00 6; p value = .092); and access is not significant anymore for the consequences dimension (p value = .177).

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Acknowledgements

A very early version of this article was presented at the ECPR General Conference in Oslo, 6–9 September 2017. We would like to thank the panel participants, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their helpful comments and suggestions, which have improved the article considerably. The research presented in this article has been supported by the European Science Foundation (10-ECRP-008) (INTEREURO Project) and the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)), grant no. 452–14-012 (Vidi scheme).

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Appendix

Appendix

See Fig. 1 and Tables 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Distribution of accountability dimensions

Table 4 Information construct
Table 5 Discussion construct
Table 6 Consequences construct
Table 7 Descriptive statistics and correlation matrix of dependent and explanatory factors

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Fraussen, B., Albareda, A., Braun, C. et al. A matter of information, discussion and consequences? Exploring the accountability practices of interest groups in the EU. Int Groups Adv 10, 114–136 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41309-021-00116-1

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Keywords

  • Interest groups
  • Accountability
  • Representation
  • Membership
  • European Union