Governing Europe

By Jack Hayward; Anand Menon | Go to book overview

12 Comparing Economic Interest Organizations

Colin Crouch

Organizations representing economic interests within individual nation states peaked in both social importance and academic interest during the 1970s and 1980s. It is often argued that since then they have declined in significance. There are four reasons for this: increasing economic globalization, the dominance of neo-liberal economic ideology, the rise of the individual enterprise, and the challenge of various non-functional interests. The following will assess the significance of each of these, paying attention to both general or convergent trends and those which suggest differences of national experience among European countries.

First we must establish the range of organizations to be included in the discussion. I shall define economic interest organizations as associations representing the joint interests of sectors of producers or consumers of goods or services, whether they are concerned with technical, commercial, or professional issues, or the respective roles of employers or employees. Therefore trade associations, consumers' associations, employers' organizations, and trade unions are all included.

The study of interest associations is often limited to that of voluntary bodies, excluding bodies set up by the state. But there is an important intermediate group—the chambers of trade and commerce in Germany, Austria, and some other countries—which should be included. These are statutory organizations with compulsory membership, but with governing boards elected by member firms and conducting their business autonomously. Although they are set up by the state, they are not controlled by it. Their statutory status does not prevent them from acting as interest representatives, though it may lead them to behave differently from purely voluntary bodies. French chambers, which were previously agencies of central government, have increasingly taken this form too.

During the late 1990s chambers of commerce in the United Kingdom, which had always been voluntary bodies, quite different from the French or German models, responded to government pressure and amalgamated with training and enterprise councils (TECs) (Crouch and Farrell 2001 ; Bennett and McCoshan 1993). These latter were creatures of government, with managing boards initially appointed by government but subsequently self-reproducing; they were not representatives and had no membership. By amalgamating with them, British chambers gradually gravitated

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