The changing role of law and the need to relate with a transforming society and its citizens has led to a demand on decision making in political systems (Bijsterveld 2010). Due to the variance in the decision making of these systems, interest groups carry out their public affairs (PA) activities in a plethora of ways (Baumgartner 2007) as features such as type of political system, structure, accountability, dependency on interest groups, etcetera influence PA practices.This stems from the fact that issues that are significant in one political system might not be as significant in another (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008). Ljiphart (1999) has identified two basic types of decision making in political systems – Majoritarian; examples are the United States of America (US), Nigeria, Sweden, France, etcetera and Consensual; examples are European Union (EU), Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.This essay seeks to focus on how PA can be influenced by the different features in political systems by comparing these institutions using the EU as an example of a consensual system, and the US for the majoritarian system. MAJORITARIAN AND CONSENSUAL SYSTEMS.
Majoritarian systems are federalist democracies where policy making is divided among different authorities. Government is by the majority and follows after the desires of the majority (Woll 2006).It is characterized by “exclusivity, adversarial politics and is highly competitive”, while the consensual system is a corporatist government by diverse representatives of the people which is characterized by “inclusiveness, bargaining and compromising” in order to influence policies (Ljipart 1999 p. 2). Lobbyists in the majoritarian systems have the tendency of becoming more autonomous and self limiting as their activities are geared towards influencing the private offices of government officials and ministries (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008), while lobbyists in the EU will build broadly based lliances with other interest groups to lobby effectively. The structure of the political system is a feature that influences PA practices. The EU has a multilevel structure which creates multiple access points for policy influence (Lowery, Poppelaars and Berkhout 2008) as lobbyists have to know what stage the decision making is at and seek access at different levels in the political process in order to impact policy decisions (Benz 2006).The issues discussed determine the venue as lobbyists can choose to go through any of the EU institutions at the supranational level or influence policies through the national level (Baumgartner 2007).
The structure of the US system is more partisan as one political party gets majority vote. This creates limited access points for policy influence as interest groups are constantly competing for scarce resources. Lobbying is usually done geographically as power is shared in factions.Interest groups are therefore drawn to the venue that is more receptive to their opinions and are less concerned about the technicalities of the decision making process (Baumgartner 2007). The nature of politics has also been identified as a feature of decision making that affects PA (Mahoney 2008). The US politics is played in such as way that the winner takes all and the loser gets nothing (Ljiphart 1999). The extent of policy influence therefore depends on who gets to the dominant executive first as politics is more adversarial (Greenwood 2007).
Interest groups in the US employ more stringent and aggressive means to influence politicians’ decisions such as providing financial incentives for political campaigns (Broschied and Coen 2003), grass root politics, threats (Mahoney 2008) and mobilizing prospective voters. This makes them more fragmented and dependent on both long to short term competitive relationships when dealing with other interest groups and politicians (Woll 2006). In the EU, policies stem from corporatist political negotiation process among different players (Meltzer 1976) and no one interest can routinely dominate and get all they want (Greenwood 2007).PA is however carried out in an unbiased and harmonious way as lobbyists work hand in hand with EU officials (Woll 2006, Mahoney 2008) and other interest groups, as the EU would rather grant access to a Europeanized voice when addressing issues. With regards to choice of policies to influence, interest groups in the US are more focused on influencing legislative matters rather than regulatory policies (Baumgartner 2007, Mahoney 2008) as they seeks to influence the decisions of the congress, the court or the administrative government (Hansford 2004).The EU is a regulatory regime, therefore, organized interest groups- particularly business interests prefer to lobby regulatory processes to secure their individual and collective business interests (Levy and Prakash 2003).
This is done because regulatory processes affect businesses and more often than not have policy outcomes (Baumgartner 2007). The level of dependence on organized civil societies (OCS) is another feature that influences the practice of PA.EU’s dependence on OCS arises from their lack of resources both financial and human, to carry out their activities. The EU commission is highly short- staffed, and in need of OCS to provide technical information and act as contributory agents (Greenwood 2007). Therefore, OCS play consultative and cooperative roles particularly in the Commission as they are more receptive to their expertise (Beyers and Kerreman 2004) – bringing some form of democratic legitimacy to the EU (Mahoney 2008, Woll 2006, and Greenwood 2007) and a voice to civil society in drafted policies.As a result, lobbyists have to be knowledgeable about their fields of interest (Venables 2007) as they have to defend reasons for preferences in a particular policy and what value can be added. In the US, due to the high cost of campaigns, political leaders sometimes depend on corporate interest groups for full or part funding of political campaigns (Mahoney 2008).
This factor makes lobbying difficult as networks and coalitions are formed among major players and success is limited to strongly organized interests at the cost of the weaker ones (Benz and Papadopoulos 2006).The level of accountability and the transparency of political systems is another features of decision making that can influence PA practice. Beyers and Kerremans (2004) claim that policymakers in the US are electorally accountable to interest groups and depend on them for support, as their re-election to political posts are largely dependent on these groups. Lobbyists therefore employ tactics that portrays them as allies rather than foes of the policymakers forming alliances with those with shared values across regions (Mahoney 2008).Policymakers in the EU particularly the Council and the Commission owe no electoral allegiance to interest groups (Benz and Papadopoulos 2006) as they are not directly elected into political posts.
Interest groups therefore employ lobbying tactics that lays more emphasis on the technical information they are providing (Mahoney 2008) and building alliances across interests positioning themselves as part of the solution rather than part of the problem to gain access to the institutions. The EU operates a transparent and an open door system (European Commission 2010) which encourages lobbying.Several measures have been set up to ensure transparency and accountability such as the European Ombudsman who investigates maladministration complaints in the EU institutions, organizations, offices, and agencies (Diamandouros 2010) and the European Transparency Initiative was also set up to enhance the openness and ease of access of EU institutions (Pohl 2006). The US has no system of an Ombudsman to ensure transparency and activities of interest groups are guided by very detailed laws and procedures – which reduces their independence (Tsebelis 1995) and affects the way they relate with politicians.This leads them to use the media as a tool to get policymakers accountable. Consequently, the media plays an important role in political systems that can influence PA as it is also used as an accountability lever particularly in the US.
The US has a more aggressive civil society which uses the media as a watchdog on the activities of the policymakers. These groups employ all forms of social media such as twitter, facebook and blogs alongside with campaigns and massive demonstrations (Mahoney 2008) to influence policy decisions.An example is current saga with the wikileaks website which has caused a major uproar in the US government. The EU has been said to be distant and not democratically accountable due to the lack of public space, opposing political parties and extensive media system (Greenwood 2007; Baumgartner, Green-Pedersen and Jones 2005). Provisions have however been made under Article 47 of the unratified 2004 Treaty to allow citizens and their representative use appropriate means to exchange their views and maintain open, transparent and regular dialogues (Greenwood 2007 p. 78). This has led to the use of the media and campaign demonstrations by interest groups to influence policies (Bouwen and McCown 2007).
Subsequently, the judicial architecture of political systems could also influence PA practice. OCS in the US can go through the Supreme Court by being involved as litigants, sponsoring litigations and providing briefs which state the political, legal and social impact a court’s decision can have on the society with regards to any policy favourable to them (Hansford 2004).Through the provision of this information to a policy maker that has some interest in the policy, interest groups can achieve their influence on policy decision. The binding nature of the EU law on individuals and member states makes it a target for interest group for policy influence. The provision to refer national court cases to the European Court of Justice when it is seen to be contravening the EU law gives interest groups who are able to successfully sue national cases an opportunity to influence EU policies and determine future legislations (Bouwen and McCown 2007).Language barriers caused by the multiplicity of the EU have an effect on PA practise as lobbyist will have to be multi-lingual or appoint interpreters when trying to influence policies.
This is not the case in the US as there is common language among policymakers and interest groups (Delalande 2010). In conclusion, PA is an increasingly noticeable and dominant feature of every political system, accomplished in a highly sophisticated and professional manner (Mcgrath 2006). In a majoritarian or a consensual system, the role of a lobbyist is similar across political systems.These roles include but are not limited to, getting in early to shape decisions (Venables 2007), developing good people skills with an ability to listen and read in between the lines, being observant and knowing how to gather information necessary for making an informed contribution when trying to influence policies; building strong relationship skills and alliances with other interest groups, being credible and courteous and maintaining a good reputation (Mcgrath 2006). However, it is the opinion of this paper that the professional skills, approach and knowledge required by lobbyist operating ithin any political system will have to align with that specific system as different features can influence their practices as have been shown above.