These are the central findings of a ZEW expert brief published by the Mannheim-based ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research together with the University of Mannheim. For this purpose, the researchers conducted a representative survey in Germany, which featured a total of 4,266 participants. The key aim of the survey was to find out how people perceive lobbying at national and European level. Lobbying refers to the attempt by interest groups such as businesses and associations to exert an influence on members of parliament or other political decision-makers.
The survey results show that 78 per cent of the participants believe that lobbyists have a strong or a very strong influence at EU level. Merely 1.5 per cent of the respondents assume that lobbying has no influence at all on European politics. Moreover, almost 78 per cent of the survey participants who believe that lobbyists have an influence at EU level consider this influence to be negative or rather negative. Only 3.4 per cent considered the effect of lobbying in Europe to be positive or rather positive.
Almost 70 per cent of the respondents consider the influence of lobbyists on climate policy at EU level to be strong or very strong, with 67 per cent of them considering this influence to be negative or rather negative.
Perception of lobbyism among the supporters of parties differs
What is remarkable about the survey results is the difference in the perception of lobbyism among the supporters of the parties represented in the Bundestag. While supporters of the Greens, the Left Party and the AfD tend to oppose lobbyism, voters of the more traditional parties CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP are not as sceptical. And while, on average, supporters of all parties assume that lobbying results in less climate protection at EU level, supporters of the SPD, Greens and Left Party view this matter in a far more negative light than CDU/CSU, FDP and AfD voters.
When comparing the perceived effects of lobby groups at national and at EU level, it is striking that more than 44 per cent of the respondents consider lobby groups to have a greater influence on German than on European politics. Almost 41 per cent consider this influence to be equal at both levels and only six per cent think that the influence of lobbyists in Germany is lower than at the EU level.
According to the participants, the industrial sector and policymakers benefit most from lobbying activities at EU level. 79 per cent of the respondents consider the industry to be a beneficiary, and almost half of the respondents (48 per cent) believe that politicians benefit from lobbying. In contrast, there is only a small number of survey participants who assume that EU citizens (3.6 per cent) or charity organisations (5.4 per cent) benefit from lobbying activities at EU level. Moreover, almost 75 per cent of the respondents reported to be dissatisfied with the amount of information available on lobbying, meaning that they see a lack of transparency when it comes to dealing with this topic.
"There is a clear problem with the acceptance of lobbying"
“There is a clear problem with the acceptance of lobbying among the German population. In part, this is clearly due to the fact that the people in Germany do not feel sufficiently informed about the activities of lobbying groups,” concludes ZEW Research Associate Professor Ulrich Wagner from the University of Mannheim and co-author of the ZEW expert brief. The researchers who participated in this expertise therefore recommend an expansion of the European Transparency Register as well as the introduction of such a register in Germany. In this context, the US Lobby Registry could serve as a role model, which was put in place in 1996 and entails more stringent registration requirements than its much newer European counterpart.
“The respondents’ wish for more transparency in lobbying activities can be better fulfilled by implementing a mandatory register for lobbying groups with appropriate sanctions for false statements,” says Wagner.