The corona pandemic has also given a shock to political lobbying. Instead of a paralysis from shock, however, a wave of lobbying can be observed both at the EU level and in the federal government and the federal states. As part of the project “Lobbying Across Multiple Levels” (LiM), which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) with EUR 350,000 over three years, a research team led by Prof. Patrick Bernhagen and Felix Goldberg from the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Stuttgart is now examining the criteria by which interest groups pursue different paths of influence.
Pandemic-related lobbying can be found at all three levels of government: From the European Commission, which provides billions in corona aid and is largely responsible for procuring vaccines, to the Bundestag, which sets the German strategy for coping with the pandemic including short-time work, to the federal states, which are responsible for both the distribution of aid funds and the implementation of many restrictive measures.
Between these three levels of government, larger interest groups and their lobbyists are moving quite freely. It depends on various factors where they set their political priorities and how influential they are. An important criterion here is, for one thing, the available access, because interest groups can only lobby effectively where they find an attentive ear. Another important factor is the available resources, such as the number of lobbyists working for an interest group. But alliances and political positions also determine how many decision-makers an interest group can influence simultaneously. “Depending on the access and resources available, different and multiple paths of political influence are open,” believes Prof. Patrick Bernhagen, who is leading the study. “In the study, we want to take a closer look at which paths lobbyists choose and according to which - sometimes also strategic - criteria this happens.”
Indirect influence is also investigated
Besides the direct ways outlined so far, lobbyists can also try to influence political decisions indirectly, for example, by talking to federal ministers or even to country representatives at EU level. At the same time, a large proportion of the political interest groups in Germany do not have the prerequisites to lobby all relevant government levels equally. Consequently, some interest groups delegate their work to other players, such as European umbrella organizations. Therefore, the Stuttgart team also wants to explore the circumstances under which lobbyists operate independently, when they enter into a collaboration, and when they let others do the work.
The findings of the research project are intended to provide new insight into lobbying in Germany and the EU, and also in the federal states. For the first time, the focus is particularly on federalism and on the question of how partnerships between interest groups and state governments try to influence decisions at the EU and federal levels.
More lobbying at the state level?
Against the background of the corona pandemic, the project also examines the extent to which lobbying has intensified and additional policymakers have gained relevance since the first lockdown. “We believe that, in the context of the Conference of the Federal State Prime Ministers and, in particular, the corona legislations of the federal states, the state governments have become more important for lobbyists, because the federal states have been given new, far-reaching policy options by being able to impose and ease restrictions as well as provide economic aid,” says Felix Goldberg, who is a member of the project team. “So far, we know very little about this, so we are going to investigate these options as well in the course of the project.”