The effects of lobbying in the European Parliament are contingent and not certain. They fluctuate in accordance with inter-institutional interactions, national interests, types of policy, types of legislation, as well as the style of lobbying, the coalitions formed around specific policies and the nature of resources deployed by lobbyists themselves. The most effective collectively organised interests and lobbyists know that Brussels is very much an insider’s town. They are aware that knowing who to speak to, and when, are vital resources in the informal interpersonal and inter-institutional networks operating in Brussels.

Interest representation and lobbying in parliaments are normally justified in terms of information transmission, translation and timing. The transmission of information from interest organisations to MEPs is deemed essential as it provides pre-digested information for elected representatives who are often not experts in the particular policy area under consideration. This ‘briefing’ function also allows specific groups and organisations to translate often complex and technical information into accessible data for busy elected representatives. Successful lobbyists supply information in a clear fashion so that the MEP doesn’t have to be an expert in the field. In these interchanges the preferences of MEPs and lobbyists alike are for issue-specific briefings and the provision of detailed amendments at appropriate times. Of most use for both sides in the MEP–interest relationship is contact on ‘issues of particular interest’ and ‘propositions for amendments to the directives under discussion’. The clear preference in the EP is for direct, personal, well-timed and pertinent contact; with lobbyists providing targeted information on specific legislative amendments.

As important as transmission and translation of information, however, is the timing of its dissemination. The timing of the provision of information at the appropriate point in the EU’s legislative cycle is a key resource of groups and lobbyists. Certainly, under the co-decision procedure lobbyists have become increasingly aware of the need to act more quickly to get their views across to MEPs.

Within the EP itself there is recognition of the intimate connection between substantive policy concerns and the procedural constraints and opportunities affecting the timing of influence. In this context, timing is particularly acute when amendments to Commission proposals are to be tabled in committee. Committees that have heavy legislative loads are especially colonised by representatives of organised groups and consultants.

The provision of information is not simply ‘supply-led’ but is also ‘demand-led’. Committee rapporteurs, committee chairmen, vice-chairmen and shadow rapporteurs are particularly prominent ‘targets’ for the supply of information and, in reverse, are significant ‘consumers’ of information from outside organisations. Rapporteurs in drafting their reports routinely seek information not only from other EU institutions but also from interest associations and lobbyists. In addition, committee members often request draft amendments from interested organisations when the groups concerned have not already suggested their own favoured amendments. As a consequence, the process of amendment in committee is often characterised by intensive negotiation, dialogue and compromise not only among committee members but, crucially, between MEPs and affected interests across Europe.

Amendment Overload

While the provision of detailed legislative amendments by lobbyists may be welcomed by busy MEPs in reducing their need to review complicated texts and draft amendments personally, one consequence of a preference for specific amendments is ‘amendment overload’. It is not unknown for a single legislative proposal to attract up to 500 amendments in committee. Indeed, the rise in the number of amendments tabled in Parliament, and the increased time-costs associated with voting, has resulted in electronic voting becoming more widely used in EP committees.

Of course, the tabling of amendments does not necessarily ensure their adoption when voted on. Nonetheless, the fact remains that interest representatives are currently responsible for the initial drafting of a very high proportion of the amendments tabled in Parliament’s committees. More generally, few insiders would contest the fact that, even in the absence of specifically drafted amendments, the inspiration behind individual legislative (and other) amendments often flows from outside the EP.

The sheer complexity of processing amendments should not be underestimated, with each amendment having to be translated into all EU languages, distributed to all committee members, and then voted on, or a compromise brokered. This process is complicated still further in instances (frequent in practice) of overlap between individual amendments, and of multiple amendments to individual articles and paragraphs of proposals and to draft reports. Moreover, duplication of tabled amendments is a common phenomenon, with different MEPs, even from different party groups, submitting identical amendments. Besides the embarrassment factor in such cases, it is thus apparent which MEP has been successfully influenced by which interest. This does, of course, raise the intriguing normative question of whether such amending capacity is necessarily ‘sinister’ or ‘anti-democratic’.

Nonetheless, MEPs can, and do, defend their tabling of amendments, generated outside Parliament, as attesting to their responsiveness to societal demands rather than as evidence of their domination by unelected interests. They would also contend that each amendment has not simply to be tabled, but also presented, justified, argued, frequently compromised, and only then voted on in Parliament’s committees or plenary. Amendments are often subject to intense controversy, with votes on individual amendments in committee frequently being more contested than the final vote in committee or plenary.

Inter-institutional and Intra-institutional Intelligence

MEPs and interest representatives trade not only substantive information on policies but also exchange ‘inter-institutional’ information. The reciprocal trading of information on the thinking and scheduling of legislation within the Commission or Council is a vital commodity in the MEP–Lobbyist relationship. Of particular currency in this exchange is intra-institutional information on the work patterns of, and rate of legislative progress in, the various parliamentary committees engaged in processing specific directives. Representatives of interest associations and lobbyists often provide informal monitoring for MEPs of the asymmetries of committee activity on a particular directive. They track the different deadlines imposed by the various committees for the tabling of amendments; variations in the speed of processing proposals across committees; and possible divergences of policy emphases in the different committees dealing with the same issue.

In this way, interest groups with a mastery of the EP’s procedural complexities and a developed surveillance capacity provide not only substantive policy briefing but also inter- and intra-institutional intelligence for MEPs.


The capacity of the EP to gain (and disseminate) information has been enhanced through the procedure of public hearings. Such hearings are convened by the EP’s committees with the permission of the Bureau. The purpose of hearings is to invite experts and interested organisations to provide evidence and engage in structured dialogue with committee members. Representatives of the Commission and Council attend the hearings, and the Commission is frequently invited to respond to the views expressed during the course of the hearing.

The main advantages of public hearings are that they help committee members to familiarise themselves with a particular policy (either in terms of detail or the broader context). One dimension is that they provide a procedure whereby MEPs can engage in ‘exploratory dialogue’ and ‘forward thinking’ and so raise issues for consideration by the other EU institutions. Another dimension of hearings is that they provide MEPs with supplementary sources of advice and information from independent experts, organised interests and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with which to assess the outcomes of the Commission’s own pre-legislative consultations.



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