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Variables and Hypotheses

In order to revise such a resource-interdependence model, we identify two main set of variables from which to derive corresponding working hypotheses. The first dimension I consider refers to structural and organizational lobbying capabilities. Given the intertwining of expertise and interests, we can suppose that (H.1) the European and national organizations of large member states—as representative of the constituencies targeted by the Commission—together with the subjects with a transnational reach (like the large cross-border banks and firms), will have better chances of access. We also have to take into account the means concretely deployed to advance civil society inputs into policy-making in respect to other organized interests, such as lobbying expenditures and personnel. Therefore we can expect that (H.2) the more the lobbying expenditures and personnel deployed by civil society groups, the greater their chances of access.

Yet any simplistic narrative on business ‘capture’ fails to properly understand Commission policy-making in terms of complex mediations involving broader political conflicts and societal concerns (Hartlapp et al. 2014; van Schendelen 2010). As showed by Culpepper, however, market regulatory issues are often characterized by their low saliency in public and political debate because of their complex and technical nature, the uncertain consequences for the population as a whole, collective action problems in mobilizing societal actors not immediately affected by those policies, and the unlikelihood of their featuring as a major topic in media coverage (Culpepper 2011, chapter 1). Such a situation of ‘quiet politics’ represent the ideal environment where the business interests could influence the policy-making process. Yet whenever an usually neglected policy issue arouses public attention, it can trigger broad public debate and open a window of opportunity for societal entrepreneurs to build consensus around new societal demands. In relation to our case, we can hypothesize that (H.3) the higher the public and political salience of the issues debated, the more will be the Commission demands for non-corporate groups’ expertise and legitimacy inputs, so fostering their access opportunities.

I will take into account three major participatory instruments: expert groups, stakeholders’ consultations and funding programmes. Following Mazey and Richardson (2001, p. 87), we can define open consultations as a typical ‘thin’ institutional channel of inclusion, formally allowing every interest group or single citizen to participate, but representing a weak degree of access (Quittkat 2013, p. 110). On the opposite side we find a ‘thick’ participatory potential in expert groups, characterized by narrow participation and the direct designation of the expert groups’ members by the competent Directorate Generals (DGs), supposedly involving a higher impact on policy definition (Saurugger 2002). Finally, we will consider funding programmes as the most proactive Commission instrument to support weaker and diffuse interests (Mahoney and Beckstrand 2011), being a proxy for the enhanced access conditions of the group at stake.

Relying on the approaches focusing on the stakeholders’ conditions of access to the expert groups (Chalmers 2014; Gornitzka and Sverdrup 2011, 2015), we can thus hypothesize that the large European business groups and firms will have a majoritarian presence in the experts groups relating to low salience policies and in more technical regulatory issues, while non-business interests will gain improved position in the Commission expert and advisory groups in periods and for issues of high political and public salience. Among the conditions possibly enhancing non-corporate tnterests access, we have also to consider the political attention towards the biased composition of the expert groups: an issue arisen from 2008 thanks to both a campaign conducted by ALTER-EU (2008, 2009, 2010), and different interventions of the European Parliament (European Parliament 2008), bringing the Commission to revise its rules in 2010 with an informal commitment to ‘ensur[e] a balanced representation of relevant areas of expertise and areas of interest’ (Commission 2010, p. 3).

On the other hand, we might expect open consultations to be dominated by business interests endowed with large lobbying populations and resources, and non-business groups to improve their participation for issues of high salience. Finally, on the funding programmes, we could expect to address mainly non-business interests with a European scope (Mahoney and Beckstrand 2011) whose policy objectives enjoyed a high saliency in the years taken into account.

I will take into account the above-mentioned participatory channels, as deployed by the Commission DGs Fisma (Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union) and Trade, dealing with their respective issue areas. The financial crisis of 2007/08, with the emergence of new regulatory demands for the financial system, and the opening of new international trade negotiations involving the EU, could be deemed to have changed the political environment underlying the Commission’s participatory venues and instruments.

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