Lobbying and diplomacy are activities aimed at representing certain interests in front of the decision-makers and the public of a political system ; at informing policy-makers and the public about certain policies, specific viewpoints, etc. ; at communicating these issues via formal and informal channels ; at influencing the formulation and implementation of policies ; and at building relationships.  Besides the similarity in the goals of lobbying and diplomacy, both rest on persuasion as diplomats and lobbyists have to convince their counterparts of the importance of their perspective, information and interests.

Diplomacy has long been portrayed as the prerogative of states (and its representatives), engaged in the management of international relations by negotiation and in a peaceful manner . In recent years, however, the exclusivity of diplomacy as a state domain has been challenged on several fronts.

First of all, the range of issues has expanded significantly to a variety of areas that go beyond the immediate military and political dimensions of traditional diplomacy (e.g. environmental diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, etc.).

Second, the range of actors involved in diplomatic activities has substantially changed, with new actors being involved in global governance and active in diplomatic activities. For example, economic and financial diplomacy has given enormous relevance to the role of economic and financial ministers as well as bankers and private regulators . Civil society actors have also been increasingly involved in international matters and their role has often been central in the conclusion of agreements . Similarly, parliaments have become vocal on the international stage, giving rise to parliamentary diplomacy aimed at ‘catalyzing, facilitating and strengthening the existing constitutional functions of parliaments through dialogue between peers on countless open policy questions across continents and levels of governance’ .

Third, states have also started to outsource part of their diplomatic activities by hiring consultancy firms to promote their interests within the EU .  Finally, public diplomacy, i.e., the engagement with foreign publics, has acquired a prominent role in the diplomatic efforts of many countries. It is used ‘by states, associations of states, and some sub-state and non-state actors to understand cultures, attitudes, and behaviour; build and manage relationships; and influence thoughts and mobilize actions to advance their interests and values’ .

Unlike diplomacy, lobbying is normally associated with the actions of interest groups. Defined as those activities that target policy-makers with a view to influencing policy outcomes and bringing them close to the interests and goals of the lobbyists, the role of lobbying and how different interest groups manage to shape public policies is a crucial issue for scholars . Given its importance in terms of who wins/loses in politics and who influences whom, lobbying has thus generated a large amount of studies that have tried to assess the influence of interest groups , to gauge the evolution of the lobbying population and to evaluate their role in terms of democratic accountability and/or biases that the system might have towards certain actors . Interestingly, lobbying does not only occur on issues of domestic policy, but foreign policy is an important aspect as well. As widely demonstrated in the case of US foreign policy, numerous actors try to influence US decisions concerning third countries. Many of these nonstate actors aim to defend the interests of the third country, such as AIPAC in the US . This also makes it difficult to clearly distinguish when these actors speak on their behalf or act in cooperation with or as coopted forces for a third country .

Therefore, the boundaries between lobbying and diplomacy are not always clear-cut and can be extremely permeable. The EU is a privileged case to study both lobbying and diplomacy and the relations between these two activities. Over the decades, the EU has become one of the main arenas of lobbying activities. Although the exact number of lobbyists in Brussels is impossible to calculate given the absence of a compulsory register for interest representatives, the interest group population has seen a steady increase over the decades in a very wide range of issue . At the same time, the EU is extremely active in diplomacy and as a site where diplomacy is performed. On the one hand, member states are active in their diplomatic efforts in Brussels, when they negotiate within the EU. On the other hand, the EU is also an active diplomatic actors on the international stage. The multilevel nature of the EU is also particularly interesting to analyse possible differences among the lobbying and diplomatic practices that are performed at the European or national levels. Against this backdrop, several questions can be asked when it comes to lobbying and diplomacy in/of the EU, such as:

  1. How can we conceptually and analytically distinguish between lobbying and diplomacy in/of the EU?
  2. What makes the practice of lobbying different from the practice of diplomacy?
  3. Are lobbying and diplomacy performed differently at the national and European levels? If so, how?
  4. When do certain states adopt the practices of lobbyists and when can lobbyists be equated with diplomats in the case of the EU?
  5. Are different typologies of actors involved in different forms of diplomacy and lobbying? Put differently, can we identify different types of actors that perform lobbying and diplomacy differently?
  6. What is the role in recognition by peers in determining who is a lobbyists and who is a diplomat?
  7. What role does the phenomenon of ‘revolving doors’ play in changing/adapting the boundaries between lobbying and diplomacy in the EU?

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