Pressure groups and the European Union
For many years, pressure groups in Europe operated at or below the level of the state.
However, they have been active in the EU since its formation, playing a significant role in
its political development and policy-making. In recent decades increasing interest has
been shown in this ‘European’ dimension of their activity. As Mazey and Richardson1
concluded: ‘It is no longer possible to understand the policy process in … the member
states of the EU … and especially the role of pressure groups in that process without
taking account of the shift of power to Brussels’.
In this chapter, we examine some of the interest groups, promotional groups and New
Social Movements that operate at the European level and some of the trends in group
Growth of lobbying in the European Union
In recent years, pressure groups across the member states have needed to modify
their traditional methods of – and targets for – lobbying, in order to cater for
their closer involvement in the European Union. They recognise that Europe has
played an increasing role in national politics, especially since the passing of the
Single European Act. The Maastricht Agreement and the completion of the
internal market moved the Union further along the route of closer integration.
Today, much decision-making power has passed to Brussels. The EU is active in
a range of areas well beyond those concerned with the initial creation of a tarifffree trading area.As countries have ceded a considerable degree of decision-making power to
European institutions, it is not surprising that many groups feel the need to
protect and promote their interests in Brussels and Strasbourg. Many of the measures introduced over the last decade and a half have concerned the implementation of the SEA. Designed to eliminate the technical, physical and fiscal
barriers to intra-Community trade, and the barriers to the free provision of professional and other services, they were and remain particularly relevant to group
activity.It is very difficult to assess how many bodies are involved in contacts with
EU machinery, but all estimates suggest that the number has increased hugely
in recent decades. Recent research by Gray2
suggests that there
are around 2,000 trade associations, interest groups, regions, national associations, think tanks
, consultants and lawyers engaged in lobbying the Union.
Partly this is a reflection of the growth of EU responsibilities (‘competences’)
and the impact of the SEA and the Maastricht Treaty. But other factors
|• ||a growing understanding by groups of the importance of the European dimension and of
the opportunities that exist for lobbying. In the early years of membership, the full|