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A matter of information, discussion and consequences? Exploring the accountability practices of interest groups in the EU

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Interest groups are perceived as vehicles that can enhance the legitimacy of public institutions at the national and supranational level. However, the potential of these organizations to enhance democratic representation is often questioned and has rarely been systematically analysed. In this article, we examine the under-researched area of interest group accountability, a key component for groups to realize their democratic potential. To do this, we take an organization-centric and top-down perspective and develop a tailored analytical framework including three key dimensions—information, discussion and consequences. Drawing on data from a large-scale survey of interest groups active at the EU level, we find considerable variation in the extent to which groups demonstrate practices related to these three accountability dimensions. Furthermore, while receiving funding from EU institutions does not have any significant effect on interest group accountability, we find that organizations representing businesses interests more frequently develop accountability practices related to the dimensions of discussion and consequences, whereas citizen groups are more focused on the information dimension.
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Interest Groups & Advocacy
https://doi.org/10.1057/s41309-021-00116-1
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences?
Exploring theaccountability practices ofinterest groups
intheEU
BertFraussen1 · AdriàAlbareda2· CaelestaBraun1· WilliamMaloney3
Accepted: 8 February 2021
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited part of Springer Nature 2021
Abstract
Interest groups are perceived as vehicles that can enhance the legitimacy of public
institutions at the national and supranational level. However, the potential of these
organizations to enhance democratic representation is often questioned and has
rarely been systematically analysed. In this article, we examine the under-researched
area of interest group accountability, a key component for groups to realize their
democratic potential. To do this, we take an organization-centric and top-down per-
spective and develop a tailored analytical framework including three key dimen-
sions—information, discussion and consequences. Drawing on data from a large-
scale survey of interest groups active at the EU level, we find considerable variation
in the extent to which groups demonstrate practices related to these three account-
ability dimensions. Furthermore, while receiving funding from EU institutions does
not have any significant effect on interest group accountability, we find that organi-
zations representing businesses interests more frequently develop accountability
practices related to the dimensions of discussion and consequences, whereas citizen
groups are more focused on the information dimension.
Keywords Interest groups· Accountability· Representation· Membership·
European Union
Introduction
Interest groups have been valorized for enhancing representative democracy by
giving voice to, and aggregating, a wide range of societal interests (Manin 2002;
Mansbridge 2003; Lowery and Gray 2004; Saward 2014). While much work has
focused on the link between the preferences of groups and public policy out-
comes, there has been a paucity of research on the question of accountability.
* Bert Fraussen
b.fraussen@fgga.leidenuniv.nl
Extended author information available on the last page of the article
B.Fraussen et al.
The accountability research gap is surprising given that it is an essential com-
ponent of interest groups’ representative and legitimacy claim-making. Account-
ability is defined as a ‘… relationship between an actor and a forum, in which
the actor has an obligation to explain and to justify his or her conduct, the forum
can pose questions and pass judgement, and the actor may face consequences’
(Bovens 2007, p. 450). Accountability in the context of interest groups is based
on a representative model and specifies to what extent group leadership takes into
account membership preferences (i.e. to what extent it explains and justifies its
actions) and to what extent membership can hold its leadership accountable for
(not) doing so (i.e. the opportunity to ask questions and pass judgement).
Inevitably, there is variation in the mechanisms groups have in place to ensure
accountability towards members, and the intensity with which they implement
these instruments. Accountability mechanisms through which members can hold
leaders to account are absent or very limited in some groups, while in others lead-
ers are subject to significant membership control (Greenwood 2007; Fraussen and
Halpin 2018; Warleigh 2001).
The accountability issue is related to the broader tension faced by intermediary
organizations that have to balance involving members in organizational govern-
ance (and being attentive to their demands) with being effective policymaking
partners that can influence policy outcomes. This is the classic trade-off between
the ‘logic of membership’ and ‘logic of influence’ (Schmitter and Streeck 1999;
Berkhout 2013), exemplified by the transmission belt function that assumes an
organizational structure that ensures organizational responsiveness between
membership interests and policy input (Albareda 2018).
In contrast to transmission belt practice, many studies have shown a trend
among groups towards professionalization characterized by elite-level (staff and
leadership) dominated decision-making and less membership participation and
involvement (Albareda 2020; Jordan and Maloney 1998; Halpin 2006, 2010;
Klüver and Saurugger 2013; Maloney 2015). As noted by van Deth and Maloney
(2012, p. 2): ‘From the beginnings of the 1980s we see a gradual organizational
change. Organizations become more professionalized, specialized and central-
ized (Tranvik and Selle 2005). Many voluntary organizations changed their view
on membership and gave less priority to organizational democracy’. Klüver and
Saurugger (2013) identified the same trend in a wide variety of groups active
at the EU level. Recent work by Kröger (2018, p. 12) on the representativeness
of EU umbrella associations also found that while they may strengthen output
legitimacy by providing policy expertise, ‘… these umbrellas are not the legiti-
macy providers at the EU level that some have imagined them to be’. Based on a
study of environmental, anti-poverty and agricultural groups in Germany and the
UK, Kröger (2018) found that the level and quality of interactions between these
groups and their EU umbrellas varied considerably, as did their satisfaction with
how EU peak associations represent their interests. In sum, while accountability
is central to the representative claim-making of groups (as well as their credibil-
ity, legitimacy and trustworthiness, see also Brown and Jagadananda 2007; Keat-
ing and Thrandardottir 2017), the evidence remains inconclusive regarding the
extent to which accountability is practiced.
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
To obtain greater insights into the accountability relationship between groups and
their members and critically assess the contribution of these intermediary organiza-
tions to representative democracy, this article conceptualizes the accountability of
groups through a three-dimensional analytical framework. We take an organization-
centric and top-down perspective to explicitly acknowledge the implications of the
transmission belt function attributed to interest groups for realizing an accountabil-
ity relationship between members and leaders.
Our study investigates the accountability practices of groups active at the Euro-
pean Union (EU) level. The EU is a highly relevant case because for almost 20years
it has emphasized the importance of internal democratic procedures, effective repre-
sentative structures and accountability mechanisms within interest groups as being
crucial to their ‘policy-making partner’ status and to enhance the quality of democ-
racy itself. The EU Commission argued that the ‘… principles of good governance
which include accountability and openness’ should be adopted by interest groups
(European Commission 2001, p. 12) (emphasis added). The European Economic
and Social Committee (EESC) noted in its 2006 OPINION on the representative-
ness of European civil society organizations in civic dialogue that a key criterion
to be considered a representative organization was to ‘provide for accountability
of its members’ (see also European Commission 2003, 2006, p. 5). More recently,
the Treaty of Lisbon highlighted the need to increase the legitimacy of the EU by
underlining the importance of participation of "representative associations" in the
EU democratic life (Art. 11; see Trenz 2009 for a more detailed discussion).
Accordingly, we focus on accountability mechanisms and procedures within
membership organizations. Herein, we examine membership-based organizations
that represent a variety of societal interests, including citizen-based organizations
that advocate for public causes (e.g. environmental and human rights groups), as
well as those that represent economic interests (such as trade unions, professional
groups and industry federations) (European Commission 2002, p. 6; Beyers et al.
2008). Both group types have significant transmission belt functions, and it is
appropriate to examine these organizations in a coherent analytical framework. Our
analysis excludes non-membership organizations, such as firms, institutions and
foundations.
Our contribution to the study of interest group accountability is twofold. First,
building upon earlier work on the accountability of (public) organizations, we
develop an analytical framework consisting of three key components of account-
ability: information, discussion and consequences that characterize a relation
between a ‘forum’ (the membership) and an ‘actor’ (the leadership). Second, we
empirically illustrate our theoretical framework and assess its added value for
describing and understanding different dimensions of group accountability rely-
ing on a survey of interest groups active at the EU level. Previous studies have
indicated the importance of receiving EU funds for interest groups’ access to
policymakers (e.g. Mahoney and Beckstrand 2011; Persson and Edholm 2018).
Herein, we explore the extent to which accountability practices are shaped by EU
funding, and control for possible differences across different types of groups and
key organizational features such as age and financial resources.
B.Fraussen et al.
Our exploratory analyses show that there is substantial variation in the extent
to which interest groups invest in each of the three accountability dimensions.
In addition, we observe that EU funding is not significantly related to any of the
three accountability dimensions. However, the type of group (i.e. whether it rep-
resents economic or citizen interests) has an effect on organizational accountabil-
ity practices. More specifically, organizations representing businesses interests
more frequently develop accountability practices related to the dimensions of dis-
cussion and consequences, whereas citizen groups are more focused on practices
related to the information dimension. We discuss and reflect on these findings in
more detail in “Conclusion and discussion” section of this article.
An analytical framework ofgroup accountability
In the broader social science and public administration literatures, accountability
is considered a key mechanism through which the represented hold representa-
tives responsible for their actions (Bovens 2010). For interest groups, this means
that leaders answer for their organizations’ performance to ‘… some stakehold-
ers who can reward or punish’ (Brown 2008, p. 2). This is in line with Koop’s
(2014) and O’Dwyer’s and Boomsma’s (2015) definitions of voluntary account-
ability. Koop (2014, p. 565) defines voluntary accountability as ‘… the degree to
which an actor, without being required to, is committed to offering information
on and explanation of his or her own conduct to another actor, and may be sanc-
tioned for this conduct’, while O’Dwyer and Boomsma (2015, p. 40) note that ‘…
accountability is conceived of as a type of formal oversight and control imposed
on individuals and/or organisations … This reflects a traditional view of account-
ability as a relationship in which people are required to explain their actions.
This implies that, irrespective of individual nuances of forms of representation,
elements of informing, discussing and imposing consequences should be part of a
framework of group accountability (Bovens 2007; Bovens etal. 2008; Brandsma
and Schillemans 2013; Busuioc and Lodge 2016). Group accountability should
thus constitute ‘… a relationship between an actor and a forum, in which (1) the
actor has an obligation to explain and to justify his/her conduct (information),
(2) the forum can pose questions and pass judgement, (discussion) and (3) the
actor may face consequences for his/her actions (consequences)’ (Bovens 2007,
p. 450). To develop our analytical framework, we first set out the forum and the
actor associated with group accountability and subsequently conceptualize the
different dimensions of group accountability.
The actor andtheforum ingroup accountability
One of the defining features of groups is that they represent a particular constituency,
ranging from companies in a specific industry (e.g. Central Europe Energy Partners,
an association of energy companies), people who care about the environment (e.g.
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
Friends of the Earth Europe) or a specific group in society (e.g. European Youth
Forum). Our organizational perspective on accountability mechanisms and proce-
dures means that we consider the membership as the forum to which the organiza-
tion should be held to account.
Who should be held to account in such membership organizations? In a very
broad sense, the group leadership, as a collective actor, should be accountable. As
such, it is an ‘organizational responsibility’, or joint responsibility, rather than a per-
sonal one. In practice, though, it will often be the CEO, Director General or the
members of the governing body of the group who engage in these discussions with
members. At the same time, in many groups, there will be a continuous exchange
of ideas and input between staff and members across all layers of the organization.
For the sake of parsimony, and in line with our organization-centric and top-down
approach, we consider the group as a unitary actor and refer to the group leader-
ship as a collective organizational actor, including senior executives as well as the
secretariat. Therefore, when an organization deviates from member preferences, the
membership can ‘… turn directly to the organization and hold it to account for the
collective outcome, without having to worry too much about which official has met
what criteria for responsibility’ (Bovens 2007, p. 467).
Group accountability: information, discussion andconsequences
Accountability implies a three-dimensional process that can be considered as con-
tinuous and iterative, rather than purely sequential, according to common theories
of public accountability (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013). This notion of account-
ability as an iterative process fits the interest group domain neatly. Group account-
ability is a process that consists of first, an information phase during which group
leadership informs the organizations’ membership of its proposed action and may
also justify past activities and decisions; second, a discussion phase during which an
exchange of ideas takes place between group leadership and membership; and third,
a consequential stage in which the group membership may shape the internal gov-
ernance and the composition of the group leadership.
Information
At the information phase, the actor (the leadership) provides an account of their con-
duct and behaviour to the forum (the membership), related to future plans or past initia-
tives. In the case of groups, it can include facts and figures regarding results, financial
indicators, procedural, policy and strategic issues, prioritization or organizational struc-
ture (Behn 2001). This communication with members might be private (via internal
channels), but it can also be of a more public nature (for instance, via the organizations
website or the media/social media). In this way, our definition implies a broad and con-
temporary perspective on accountability and involves a wider spectrum of private and
public communication activities. The latter category relates to activities such as sharing
B.Fraussen et al.
statements and positions via the organization’s websites, as well as the publication of
research reports and communication towards a broader audience via the media. These
activities clarify the main positions and planned activities of the organization. Clear
communication of organizational policy positions and future objectives enables mem-
bers to provide informed feedback and input (see Kröger 2018, p. 8).
We focus on the public-facing aspects of the information dimension because groups
have multiple relevant audiences (Berkhout 2013) that increasingly demand external
accountability and high levels of transparency (see Keating and Thrandardottir 2017
for a discussion related to NGOs). This approach is aligned with recent work on forms
of ‘voluntary accountability’, which acknowledges a non-binding aspect of information
provision to wider audiences and includes associated communication practices such as
providing information on activities and decisions on the organization’s website, pub-
lishing annual activity plans and newsletters, as well as issuing press releases (see Koop
2014, p. 565; 571).
The relevance of this public-facing perspective on the information dimension
of group accountability is further corroborated by recent research, which dem-
onstrated that groups often consider (online) public forms of communication the
ideal way to reach members. As Kohler-Koch and Buth (2013, p. 142) highlighted
in relation to EU politics, ‘… instead of relying on staggered communication
through the vertical chain of member organizations, they want to directly address
the individuals at the grassroots level and therefore opt for electronic media,
including interactive websites and e-newsletters’.
We are well aware that information provision can have multiple purposes
beyond accountability—e.g. it can be used as a membership recruitment or reten-
tion tool, or as a means of raising an organizations’ media profile. Specifically,
the more public aspect of the information dimension can be related to the well-
established concept in the interest group literature of ‘outside lobbying’. Outside
lobbying refers to activities aimed at ‘… mobilizing and/or changing public opin-
ion’ (Dür and Mateo 2013, p. 662). While outside lobbying is often discussed in
the context of policy influence, it also has much relevance to organizational main-
tenance. For instance, Hanegraaff et al. (2016, p. 571) argue that ‘… lobbying
can also be viewed as a way to raise funds and to interact with members, donors
or patrons’. In this regard, much work points to the value of outside lobbying for
group communication, recruitment and retention of members and hence its rel-
evance for taking it into account as important information dimension of interest
group accountability.
Discussion
In the discussion phase, the forum (the membership) assesses the information pro-
vided by the actor (the leadership) and may ask for additional information and pose
follow-up questions (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013). This enables the ‘forum to
debate with the actor about its conduct’ but also represents an opportunity for the
‘actor to explain and justify one’s past conduct’ (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013,
p. 955). Previous studies have highlighted variations in how this phase is defined
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
and operationalized. As noted by Brandsma and Schillemans (2013, pp. 959–960),
while some scholars have focused on the norms that ‘form the basis of judgement in
the discussion phase’ (Ashworth 2000; Wang 2002), others have looked at the actual
discussion between the forum and the actor, measuring forms of ‘questioning by the
forum through site visits, evaluations and inquiries’ (Carman 2009).
Despite these nuances, a critical feature of the discussion dimension is that
it involves an ‘exchange of ideas’ between the actor and the forum. In the case
of groups, the institutionalized feature that most organizations have, and that is
expected to contribute to discussion, is the annual plenary meeting or the general
assembly.1 In these settings, group members and leaders meet and discuss the activi-
ties performed by the organization—e.g. policy positions and priorities, lobbying
strategies, membership services, or the financial position of the group. While the
annual conference might be the (snapshot) moment where a group is given a more
general mandate to focus on certain policy topics, the refinement of this mandate
can be an ongoing activity. Obviously, there will be considerable variation in how
groups implement this in practice. We therefore relate discussion to formal oppor-
tunities members have to engage in an exchange with group leaders concerning key
dimensions of the role of interest groups in public governance, more specifically the
determination of their policy positions and lobbying strategies.
Consequences
The third dimension of the accountability process concerns how the forum passes
judgement on the activities of the actor and punishes, corrects or rewards the actor
for his/her performance (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013). As Shamsul Haque
(2020, p. 25) argues, ‘Accountability implies a certain degree of control’. However,
consequences may be positive or negative depending on the level of members’ sat-
isfaction or dissatisfaction. The goal at this stage is to ensure that the behaviour and
functioning of the organization becomes, or remains, aligned with membership pref-
erences. The European Commission expects interest groups to be accountable to
their members, and typically a group ‘… has to explain and justify its conduct to the
members or constituencies and it may have to face consequences, either through the
mechanisms of elections and voting, or by losing donations’ (Kohler-Koch 2010, p.
111). The decision-making power of members and their capacity to block or amend
decisions (i.e. their veto power) (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013) is therefore an
important aspect of group accountability yet may vary in its actual manifestation
across groups. As highlighted by Koop, ‘… the possibility of sanctions can be for-
mal and explicit, but also informal and implicit’ (2014, p. 571).
Our conceptualization of the consequences stage of group accountability focuses
on the mechanisms through which members can proactively intervene and are for-
mally entitled to (co)-shape—with the group leadership—the internal governance
1 It is also important to note that leaders can pick up cues and signals from members through non-insti-
tutionalized avenues as well—e.g. surveys, public opinion research, social media, etc.
B.Fraussen et al.
and functioning of the organization.2 The extent to which members are involved in
the internal governance of the group is crucial to understand the capacity of mem-
bers to hold the leadership accountable for their actions and control how the organi-
zation functions. To what extent do they have a formal say on issues such as a change
to the statutes of the organization? Do members have the power to appoint (or dis-
miss) the group leadership? If members have such control, then they can impose
consequences on the group leadership for its behaviour—i.e. reward or punish.
In summary, we identified three accountability components. First, members of
groups need to be informed via a variety of information channels (information). We
advanced a comprehensive and contemporary perspective on information aligned
with the literature on voluntary forms of accountability that emphasizes the impor-
tance of public-facing activities. Second, group members should be engaged in
activities through which they can exchange ideas and debate with group leaders
concerning key aspects of the political engagement of the group, such as its policy
positions and lobbying strategies (discussion). Finally, group members should have
the decision-making power to determine the internal governance and leadership of
the organization (consequences). Table1 summarizes the main dimensions of group
accountability.
Research design
To assess the relevance of our analytical framework, we empirically assess the
occurrence of the three core dimensions of group accountability and potential
sources of variation in accountability practices. To do this, we draw on the INTERE-
URO Survey. This questionnaire was designed to examine organizational character-
istics (such as group type, age, resources and whether groups receive EU funding)
and the wide array of political strategies groups adopt to influence EU and national
policymaking (Beyers etal. 2014). The questionnaire was sent to key policy staff of
Table 1 Dimensions of CSO accountability
Component Conceptualization
Information Communication activities concerning political activities aimed at an organization’s
broad constituency
Discussion Exchange of information on specific policy issues between members and group leaders
Consequences Formal role of members in internal governance of the organization
2 We also acknowledge that the ‘exit’ option might be an important post hoc consequence for groups that
do not involve members in decision-making processes. This is important to many groups because they
need a stable membership for organizational maintenance and survival. Yet, for the purpose of this article
we focus on the more formal procedures that members have at their disposal to control the internal affairs
of the group.
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
2,028 interest groups that were selected from the Transparency Register of the EU,3
the OECKL Directory, and via elite interviews and media analyses (Beyers etal.
2014; Stamm 2014; Bernhagen etal. 2016). In total, 738 respondents completed the
survey between 9 March and 2 July 2015 (Bernhagen etal. 2016). This represents
a response rate of 36.2%, which is rather high compared to other recent large-scale
web-based surveys of groups.
Our empirical focus concerns the accountability mechanisms between member
organizations (the forum) and the organization’s leadership (the actor). The sample
only includes federated groups active at the EU or supranational level and encom-
passes both economic and citizen groups. These groups can be European or suprana-
tional umbrella organizations and their members are organizations (such as firms or
NGOs) and/or (sub) national associations. The complex nested nature of federated
groups—as they often gather associations that have other organizations or associa-
tions as members—poses particular accountability challenges to these organizations.
Importantly, the way in which they implement accountability practices is likely to be
different from national associations that tend to have a more homogeneous member-
ship base who are closer to the decision-making power (De Bruycker etal. 2019).
While some of the included organizations, such as the European Law Society,
have individual professionals as members, due to the Society’s nested membership
structure we consider national law societies as the primary members that constitute
the forum. Obviously, questions of accountability are relevant to groups with indi-
vidual citizens as members, such as the Young Academy of Europe whose mem-
bers are individual young scientists, without a ‘national organizational membership’
layer between the EU level and individual members. However, given the low pres-
ence of such direct individual membership in the group population active at the EU
level, we excluded these organizations from our analysis. Consequently, our sample
(n = 410) includes two broad categories of groups that predominantly have organiza-
tions as members: ‘Trade, business & professional associations’ (labelled as Busi-
ness & Professional groups, n = 211) and ‘Non-governmental organizations, plat-
forms and networks and similar’ (labelled as Citizen groups, n = 199).4 In line with
our definition of the forum and actor, we define group leadership as the actor, opera-
tionalized as the key policy staff who completed the survey. The members, to which
the key policy staff refers in their answers to the survey questions, are the forum.5
Based on several questions in the INTEREURO Survey, we measure the three
dimensions of group accountability. Importantly, our measures do not indicate
whether an actor is accountable or not, but rather emphasize differences in type and
levels of accountability mechanisms set in place (see Koop 2014, p. 565 for a similar
3 EUROPA—Transparency Register, available at: http://ec.europ a.eu/trans paren cyreg ister , accessed 16
October 2014.
4 The groups excluded from the sample are: ‘Local, regional and municipal authorities (at sub-national
level)’; ‘Organizations representing churches and religious communities’; ‘other public or mixed enti-
ties, etc.’; ‘Other similar organizations’; and ‘Trade unions’. Together, all these categories only represent
9.95% of the sample, and none of these categories gather more than 14 organizations.
5 The survey contained a filter, asking the respondents whether their organization was membership based
and if so, what kind of members their organization has.
B.Fraussen et al.
approach). First, our measurement of the information dimension relates to the vari-
ety of channels and tools that groups use to provide information about their activi-
ties to their broad constituency and other relevant stakeholders. As set out above,
we focus on the public-facing aspects of the information dimension and more spe-
cifically on those activities aimed at providing information to a broad audience. Fol-
lowing Koop (2014, pp. 571–572), we look at recurring elements of information
accountability such as maintaining an up-to-date website and publishing newslet-
ters and press releases. Thus, we measure the usage of information tools via a ques-
tion that asked respondents how their organization typically engages with members
through a variety of communication activities. The answer categories are measured
on a five-point Likert scale where respondents indicated the frequency with which
they seek to engage members in each activity (ranging from ‘we did not do this’
to ‘at least once a week’). The question included multiple means of communica-
tion, and we conducted a principal component analysis (PCA) to assess whether an
underlying dimension associated with our broad perspective on information could be
discerned. In line with recent scholarship and our theoretical framework, the items
included in this dimension underline the increasing importance of public forms of
communication for informing members (see Table4 in “Appendix”).
To measure the discussion process, i.e. the stage where there is an exchange
of ideas between the forum and the actor, we use decision-making practices as
a proxy to explore the extent to which interest groups discuss and consult their
members when deciding and establishing policy positions and strategies rather
than examining the existence of formal decision-making bodies within groups.
While formal arrangements such as general assemblies offer an opportunity for
members to engage in an exchange of ideas, many groups have such a formal
arrangement in place, which renders it less useful as discriminatory variable
across groups. At the same time, groups will vary tremendously in how they
will implement practices to refine mandates that are agreed-upon via such for-
mal decision-making bodies. We therefore focus on two important substantive
dimensions of decision-making practices within interest groups to operationalize
the discussion dimension. Generally, decision-making practices have been used
to study the extent to which groups involve their members (Albareda 2018) and
have been found to affect how easy or difficult it is to agree on policy positions
within groups (De Bruycker etal. 2019). This variable implies an exchange of
information between leader and members and a degree of members’ participa-
tion in the group (see also, Berry etal. 1993). Moreover, the formalization of the
decision-making procedure relates to the norms that ‘form the basis of judge-
ment in the discussion phase (Ashworth 2000; Wang 2002)’ (Brandsma and
Schillemans 2013, pp. 959–960). To operationalize the discussion dimension,
we relied on a question for which respondents had to indicate the importance of
their membership for (1) establishing positions on policy issues and (2) decid-
ing on advocacy/lobbying strategies and tactics. Both items correspond to the
same question focused on how organizations primarily make decisions in differ-
ent areas. We distinguish between organizations that do not involve their mem-
bers in any of these activities, those that take decisions on these issues through
‘voting among the members’, and those that do so by ‘consensus’. Similar to our
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
measurement at the information stage, we conducted a PCA. Two items corre-
lated with an underlying dimension that accurately reflects our conceptualization
of discussion and estimates the level of interaction members have with group
leaders. This variable ranges from 1 to 5, where 1 indicates that group members
do not have any decision-making power in any of the two items and 5 means
members decide on both items by consensus (see Table5 in “Appendix”).
Finally, we measure the dimension of consequences, which we conceptual-
ized as the decision-making power of members regarding issues of internal gov-
ernance (e.g. decisions related to the appointment of key leadership posts and
changes to statutory rules). Corresponding to our operationalization of discus-
sion, we assume that members have a formal right to provide input (and can
impose consequences) through two different decision-making procedures: by
‘voting among the members’ or by ‘consensus.’ Again, we performed a PCA to
examine whether the individual items reflected a potential underlying dimension
that fits our conceptualization of the dimension of consequences. The analysis
reveals four items related to the involvement of members in internal govern-
ance (see Table6 in “Appendix”). The variable then ranges from 1 to 5, where
1 means that group members do not have decision-making powers in any of the
items related to consequences, while 5 indicates that the members decide by
consensus on the four items used to operationalize this accountability dimen-
sion. In addition, Table7 in “Appendix” presents the descriptive statistics and
a correlation matrix among the three accountability dimensions as well as the
other variables included in the multivariate analyses in the next section.
Analysis
Our analysis proceeds in two steps. We first provide an empirical description of
the analytical dimensions of group accountability from our sample of organiza-
tions active at the EU level. We subsequently offer a first exploratory analysis
regarding potential sources of variation of accountability across different groups
by considering EU funding, common organizational features such as group type,
age and resources, and the level of access groups have to EU public officials.
Group accountability intheEU: taking stock
To what extent do groups active at the EU level inform their members and
broader constituency about organizational performance and activities? To what
extent do they engage in an exchange of ideas with their membership? Are there
consequential procedures in place when their membership does not agree with the
leadership’s chosen course of action? In this section, we present descriptive sta-
tistics concerning the three dimensions of group accountability. The histograms
presented in Fig.1 in “Appendix” include the constructs used to measure each
B.Fraussen et al.
dimension and illustrate the occurrence of each of the accountability dimensions
discussed below.
The communication practices used to measure the information dimension of
group accountability—including contacting journalists to increase media atten-
tion, active involvement in media debates, publishing statements and position
papers on the website and publishing research reports and brochures—have a
right-skewed distribution. Only 27% of the observations engaged in information
activities at least once every three months or more frequently. The mean and dis-
tribution of each of the underlying items that compose this variable are roughly
similar (except for the item ‘Publish statements and position papers on your own
website’, which is somewhat higher) and suggest that most groups have some sort
of information mechanism in place.
The second dimension of group accountability involves discussion. In this
case, the distribution of discussion accountability is strongly right-skewed. More
specifically, 46% of the groups do not involve their members in the decision-
making process to establish policy positions and decide on advocacy strategies.
Furthermore, in only 19% of the cases, members decide by consensus on the two
components related to the discussion dimension of accountability discussion.
The third dimension of accountability we examine is consequences; this relates
to the decision-making power of members in internal governance. We observe
that in 14% of groups, members do not have any say in these decisions. The
results also indicate that only 9% of groups have the four items used to measure
the capacity of members to impose consequences on the internal governance of
the group. Despite the significant number of group members who do not have
a say on the organization structure, these results indicate that in the majority of
cases, members have some sort of capacity to shape the internal governance of
the group (even though it might be limited to a small set of decisions). Accord-
ingly, they have the formal right to intervene when they disagree with organiza-
tional practices (Table2).
Exploring group accountability: information, discussion
andconsequences
The previous section demonstrated that while the three dimensions of group
accountability can be identified to a varying degree in our sample, their presence
and strength vary. To better understand this, we analyse the variance in account-
ability practices. We first assess the impact of EU funding on groups’ good
Table 2 Descriptive statistics of
accountability components Variable NMean (S.D.) Min–max
Information 256 2.391 (.840) 1–5
Discussion 377 2.419 (1.547) 1–5
Consequences 336 2.764 (1.113) 1–5
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
governance practices. It is worth noting that relations between interest groups
and the EU can have a significant impact on the structure and operation of the
interest groups it funds. For example, Sanchez-Salgado (2011, p. 5; 9) has argued
that EU patronage has shaped interest groups’ ‘organizational structures and man-
agement techniques’ and facilitated the growth and professionalization of some
organizations. At the same time, the Commission has emphasized that it ‘… fully
respect(s) the independence of the organization and does not intend to interfere
in their structure’ (Pérez-Solórzano Borragán and Smismans 2012, p. 412). We
measure EU funding via a question that asks respondents to indicate the percent-
age of their annual budget that came from EU institutions—this variable ranges
from 0 to 100. Descriptive statistics show that 63% of the groups in our survey do
not receive any EU funding and, on average, 13.8% of their income comes from
the EU.
We further control for three organizational features of groups commonly included
in studies of their involvement in EU governance, namely group type, age and
resources. Group type is measured by a dummy variable that captures the distinction
between Citizen Groups (coded as 0) and Business & Professional Groups (coded
as 1) to examine whether accountability and its dimensions vary across these dif-
ferent types of groups. Secondly, we include the log of age as this is often related
to differences in organizational development and complexity (Mintzberg 1983) and
therefore could also affect accountability practices. For example, as organizations
mature, they may become more prone to take members’ support for granted and
engage in fewer accountability practices (e.g. Koop 2014, p. 570). Thirdly, the vari-
able resources is captured through the logged number of FTEs in the organization.
As argued by Koop (2014, p. 566), ‘… commitments to [voluntary] accountability
impose considerable costs on organizations. As accountability involves the provision
of information and explanation, it requires human and financial resources.
Lastly, we also include access, operationalized as the frequency with which the
organization has been involved in serving on advisory committees at the EU level. This
is an important variable that might affect groups investment in accountability dimen-
sions, as maintaining accountability practices might be more difficult when groups are
policy insiders that face high demands from policymakers (Saurugger 2012).
Table3 presents three ordinary least squares regressions, one for each account-
ability dimension.6
6 Importantly, the three variables used to assess the accountability components (Table 2) are inde-
pendent and the highest correlation is found between the two variables related to discussion and con-
sequences. Yet, this correlation is below .4; hence, we can safely assume that the two variables are sub-
stantively different. To control for missing cases, the same analyses have been conducted with the 174
observations for which we have complete data. Importantly, the same values hold at a very similar level.
In addition, multiple imputation estimates (n = 410) lead to the same results and significant levels, with
only three exceptions: age is not negatively related to information, yet it becomes positively and signifi-
cantly related to the consequences dimension; EU funding is negatively related to the discussion dimen-
sions, yet the coefficient is very low (−.006; p value = .092); and access is not significant anymore for
the consequences dimension (p value = .177).
B.Fraussen et al.
Our results indicate that EU funding is not significantly related to any of the
accountability dimensions. Receiving money from EU institutions does not affect
the extent to which interest groups invest in organizational mechanisms to pro-
mote information, discussion and consequences. EU funding does not appear to
encourage a more intensive exchange of information and discussion between the
leaders and group members, neither does it reinforce the ability of members to
control the internal governance of the organization through consequences.
If we consider the effects of other organizational features, our results indicate that
members of business and professional organizations have a deeper engagement with
the discussion and consequences aspects of the accountability process, whereas citi-
zen groups more often demonstrate practices related to the information dimensions.
Our results suggest that when it comes to the specific practices of discussing policy
positions and lobbying strategies, and the ability to shape the internal governance
and impose consequences on the leadership, business groups offer more opportuni-
ties to their members than citizen organizations. This could relate to the more com-
plex and developed organizational structures of business groups, compared to citi-
zen groups, or the greater ease with which firms and business professionals can be
involved in group decision-making (see Walker 1983). Accordingly, citizen groups
appear to invest less in practices related to the dimensions of discussion and conse-
quences, but are more proactive in informing their members through public-facing
communication mechanisms.
These results are aligned with research that highlights the limited discussion
with, and responsiveness towards, the grassroots level within citizen-based interest
groups active at the EU level (Kohler-Koch and Buth 2013, see also Warleigh 2001,
2003). These groups are often focused on political efficiency, rather than function-
ing as ‘transmitters of aggregated policy positions from CSOs of different member
states’ (Defacqz 2018, p. 134). In contrast, members of business organizations often
want and seek more control over their groups’ structure and activities (Wilson 1995;
Table 3 Explaining dimensions of CSO accountability
+ p ≤ .1; *p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01; ***p ≤ .001
Explanatory factor Information Discussion Consequences
EU funding .000 (.002) −.003 (.004) .001 (.003)
Citizen groups REF REF REF
Business and professional
groups
− .272* (.115) .768** (.245) .422* (.191)
Age − .116+ (.069) .030 (.145) .151 (.115)
Resources .282*** (.041) − .013 (.086) − .133* (.065)
Access .317*** (.049) .202+ (.060) .133+ (.079)
Constant 1.940*** (.219) 1.443** (.462) 1.816*** (.372)
N210 205 184
Adjusted R2.348 .078 .059
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
Greenwood 2007, p. 349; Berkhout etal. 2019). This could imply that citizen-based
group leaders are more autonomous and arguably less accountable to their members,
than the leadership of business groups (see De Bruycker etal.2019).
Our second organizational feature, age, is only negatively related to information
accountability, indicating that younger groups more actively invest in this dimen-
sion. Resources have a positive effect on ‘information’ and a negative effect on
‘consequences’. This suggests that, contrary to Koop’s (2014, p. 566) argument,
the financial capacity of a group is not key to the development of internal demo-
cratic practices and could imply strong path dependencies: once certain processes
for member involvement have been established, they tend to remain stable over time
(Pierson 2004, pp. 17–53; Blee 2012). Lastly, groups with greater access to EU pub-
lic officials score higher on information, discussion and consequences. That is, hav-
ing more meetings with public officials at the EU level does not hinder the ability of
groups to invest in the three accountability dimensions. This is aligned with previ-
ous research that finds that involving members has the potential to be a ‘beneficial
inefficiency’, because while it generates additional organizational costs, it ultimately
results in better access to public officials (Grömping and Halpin 2019; Heylen etal.
2020). It may also be the case that members (especially in business and professional
groups) can provide authoritative information that can enhance the possible policy
influence of the organization.
Conclusion anddiscussion
To better understand group accountability, this article proposes a theoretical frame-
work consisting of three core dimensions of accountability. In order to be accounta-
ble to their members, group leaders should keep members well-informed on matters
crucial to organizational performance and policy activities; engage in a meaning-
ful exchange of ideas on the organizations’ course of action; and have mechanisms
that ensure that the group leadership faces consequences when members disagree or
object to the decisions they make. Based on this framework, our empirical analysis
assessed the occurrence of accountability practices and offered a first exploration of
the variation across different groups to illustrate the added value of our analytical
approach. While our empirical assessment focused on groups active at the EU level,
we believe this theoretical framework and the dimensions we identify are equally
relevant for groups active at the national level. The forum, the type of members and
their relationship with the group leadership might take different forms and require
an adjusted operationalization of the dimensions for an application at different lev-
els of government. Yet the principles of information, discussion and consequences
are equally relevant to assess the accountability of groups across different levels of
government.
Our findings indicate that most groups display elements of each of these three
dimensions to a varying degree. While considering the limitations related to the
B.Fraussen et al.
operationalization of the variables, we observe that the three dimensions have very
similar means and none are more frequently found in our sample. We also see that
EU funding has no effect on the extent to which groups involve their members and
practice each of the accountability dimensions. Lastly, compared to citizen groups,
organizations that represent business interests generally demonstrate more interac-
tion with their members through practices relate to the discussion dimensions, and
their members more frequently have the decision-making power to impose conse-
quences on the leadership. Citizen groups appear more focused on the information
provision towards their member through the channels assessed in this article, as
these practices were less frequent among business association.
Some of our findings may be partly influenced by our research design. We there-
fore discuss several potential issues related to our approach before we turn to the
implications of our research.
First, the nested nature of EU and supranational groups is a distinct characteristic
that may lead to the presence or absence of certain accountability mechanisms when
compared to national associations with citizen members (see Hollman 2018). In that
regard, the same theoretical framework should be applied in a comparative research
design (e.g. Berkhout etal. 2017) including national, EU and international groups to
assess whether the accountability scores obtained by EU-level groups are relatively
high or low.
A second important implication of our findings is the potential (small) impact
of institutional factors on accountability mechanisms put in place, illustrated by the
null finding on EU funding. As noted above, it is remarkable that EU patronage does
not reinforce accountability practices given that the European Commission places
such a strong emphasis on good governance and internal democracy within groups
(European Commission 2001). Some unexplored but relevant mechanisms that need
to be examined in future work relate to the question of how the specific political
and institutional environment in which groups operate, and the extent to which they
are confronted with competition for members, affects the various accountability
practices groups adopt. Thirdly, groups included in this study have organizations as
members. Consequently, the jury is still out regarding the extent to which individual
membership groups, that are more common at the national level, would be more
accountable to their members than organizational membership groups.
Third, we opted for an organizational-centric and top-down approach. How-
ever, as noted by Kröger (2018, p. 10) for some interest groups it is not so much
the absence of participatory opportunities that explains the low level of interac-
tions, but rather ‘… the limited usage actors made of these structures, because
of a lack of resources and/or because of a lack of interest. In other words,
future research needs to assess the actual involvement and use of accountability
mechanisms by members as well to provide a more comprehensive assessment
of interest group accountability. Lastly, our operationalization of information
accountability focuses on public-facing communication practices and is largely
in line with previous work on horizontal and voluntary accountability. However,
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
the internal provision of information is important and could be affected differ-
ently by the variables that we considered. Relatedly, our operationalization of
the other dimensions (discussion and consequences) focused on selected aspects
as well, but as groups are likely to vary in the accountability practices they
adopt (and thus demonstrate a richer variation of such practices), future work
should include a more fine-grained operationalization of the three accountability
dimensions to more accurately capture the full variation and prevalence of group
accountability practices.
One important implication of our analysis is that it is difficult to assess whether
the accountability practices of EU and supranational interest groups active at the
EU level are high or low, as we do not yet have a clear benchmark. However, more
intense accountability practices are likely to improve the legitimacy of these organi-
zations and their claims thereto. At the same time, from an organizational perspec-
tive, it is questionable whether the benefits actually outweigh the costs, in terms of
financial resources and time, or the increased likelihood of rising members’ dis-
content. In conclusion, our findings and their implications point to the relevance of
understanding group accountability in a more systematic way, and in this article,
we have offered an analytical framework to theoretically structure future empirical
endeavours.
Appendix
See Fig.1 and Tables4, 5, 6 and 7.
B.Fraussen et al.
Fig. 1 Distribution of accountability dimensions
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
Table 4 Information construct
N = 246; rotation: orthogonal varimax (Kaiser on)
Response options and values: 1 = we did not do this; 2 = at least once; 3 = at least once every 3 months;
4 = at least once a month; 5 = at least once a week
Item Mean (S.D.) Loadings
How often has your organization engaged in the following activities?
Organize press conferences or distribute press releases 2.184 (1.053) .410
Publish research reports and brochures 2.228 (.879) .411
Active involvement in media debates such as giving interviews, editori-
als, opinion letters
2.281 (1.114) .393
Publish statements and position papers on your own website 2.904 (1.074) .374
Cronbach’s alpha .832
Table 5 Discussion construct
N = 278; rotation: orthogonal quatrimax (Kaiser on)
Response options and values: 0 = other decision-making procedure; 1 = voting among members; 2 = con-
sensus among members
Note:In order to make the scales for our three dimensions comparable, we recode this variable to create
a scale that ranges from 1 to 5, where 1 means that a CSO relies on ‘other decision-making procedures’
for the two items and 5 means that a CSO relies on ‘consensus among members’ to decide on the two
items
Item Mean (S.D.) Loadings
How does your organization primarily make decisions in the following areas?
Establishing your organization’s position on policy issues .410 (.453) .554
Deciding on advocacy/lobbying strategies and tactics .294 (.433) .643
Cronbach’s alpha .660
Table 6 Consequences construct
N = 263; rotation: orthogonal quatrimax (Kaiser on)
Response options and values: 0 = other decision-making procedure; .5 = voting among members; 1 = con-
sensus among members
Note:In order to make the scales for our three dimensions comparable, we recode this variable to create
a scale that ranges from 1 to 5, where 1 means that a CSO relies on ‘other decision-making procedures’
for the four items and 5 means that a CSO relies on ‘consensus among members’ to decide on the four
items
Item Mean (S.D.) Loadings
How does your organization primarily make decisions in the following areas?
Budget .384 (.385) .433
Appointing board members .488 (.310) .508
Appointing chairperson .385 (.353) .406
Changes to statutory rules or the constitution, etc .506 (.344) .516
Cronbach’s alpha .817
B.Fraussen et al.
Table 7 Descriptive statistics and correlation matrix of dependent and explanatory factors
*p < .05
Variables NMean (SD) Min–Max 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. Information 256 2.392 (.840) 1–5
2. Discussion 377 2.419 (1.547) 1–5 − .017
3. Consequences 336 2.765 (1.113) 1–5 − .030 .356* –
4. EU funding 380 13.834 (24.884) 0–100 .165* − .172* − .123*
5. Group type 410 .514 (.500) 0–1 − .173* .225* .238* − .446*
6. Age (log) 401 2.981 (.775) 1.098–5.753 .062 − .006 .114* − .061 .130* –
7. Resources (log) 348 1.101 (1.218) − .693–6.214 .478* − .015 − .117* − .141* .024 .284* –
8. Access 257 2.000 (1.023) 1–5 .406* .096 .096 .102 .046 .060* .152*
A matter ofinformation, discussion andconsequences? Exploring…
Acknowledgements A very early version of this article was presented at the ECPR General Confer-
ence in Oslo, 6–9 September 2017. We would like to thank the panel participants, as well as the anony-
mous reviewers, for their helpful comments and suggestions, which have improved the article consid-
erably. The research presented in this article has been supported by the European Science Foundation
(10-ECRP-008) (INTEREURO Project) and the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor
Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)), grant no. 452–14-012 (Vidischeme).
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Authors and Aliations
BertFraussen1 · AdriàAlbareda2· CaelestaBraun1· WilliamMaloney3
Adrià Albareda
albaredasanz@essb.eur.nl
Caelesta Braun
c.h.j.m.braun@fgga.leidenuniv.nl
William Maloney
william.maloney@ncl.ac.uk
1 Institute ofPublic Administration, Leiden University, Leiden, TheNetherlands
2 Department ofPublic Administration andSociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam,
TheNetherlands
3 School ofGeography, Politics andSociology, Newcastle University, NewcastleuponTyne, UK
... In his view, interest groups, particularly when they are "encompassingly" organised into associations, potentially create opportunities for the effective management of economies. This debate has resurfaced in recent studies on stakeholder engagement in, for instance, regulatory consultations (e.g., Fraussen et al., 2021). As with distortion and bias, interest groups are primarily judged on the basis of consequences, such as policy outputs or, in contemporary terms, regulatory legitimacy (e.g., Braun & Busuioc, 2020), that are external to the interest organisation itself. ...
... We are not alone in our focus on voice practices as an important benchmark for the representative quality of interest groups (e.g., Albareda, 2018;Bolleyer & Correa, 2022;Fraussen et al., 2021;Heylen et al., 2020;Warren, 2001). Voice is understood to have both formal and behavioural components. ...
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Why do some interest group systems provide group members with more elaborate voice opportunities than other systems? We argue that evaluating membership voice is important for understanding the representative potential of interest group systems. An adequate understanding of “voice” forms the basis of “context”-embedded assessments of benchmarks such as interest group bias, interest group representational distortion, and interest group-driven policy overload. We examine two competing hypotheses on the differences in internal voice in Eastern and Western Europe. Primarily, case-specific arguments lead us to expect a weaker internal voice in post-communist Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe. Conversely, some theoretical approaches, such as population ecological organisational theory, lead us to expect a relatively weak membership voice in the organisationally saturated Western European systems. We assess these two hypotheses on the basis of an international survey of interest group leaders and observe, in line with the population ecological hypothesis, that members of Western European interest groups, compared to those in post-communist countries, are perceived as having less influential voices in internal decisions on policy positions. We conclude, neither optimistically nor pessimistically, that there is a meaningful representative potential of interest group systems supporting democratic societies, also, or even especially, in the post-communist countries studied.
... By taking into account the, albeit limited, catalogue of research on the institutional design facilitating deliberation processes within interest groups, this conception will generate some degree of overlap with literature on responsiveness and the transmission belt function. This paper will draw from the work conducted by several researchers: Miller (1994), Day (1999), Halpin (2006), Panda (2007), Kohler-Koch and Buth (2009), Mosley and Grogan (2012), Berkhout (2013), Fraussen et al. (2015), Leardini et al. (2017), Fraussen and Halpin (2018) and Fraussen et al. (2021). However, the key contributions relevant to this conceptualisation will be those of Albareda (2018), Johansson and Lee (2014) and Andrasik and Mead (2019). ...
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The paper offers an extensive theoretical discussion of and a contribution to the highly relevant, controversial, and normatively charged debate on the legitimacy of interest groups as non-elected, self-appointed representatives. The contribution of this paper is twofold. First, the paper juxtaposes two diverging approaches on legitimacy of interest groups, namely responsiveness as a means to achieve a congruence of interests and reflexivity as the structural facilitation of evaluative judgements conducted by the constituency. Second, the paper proposes a framework on institutional instruments generating reflexivity suitable for empirical research. To corroborate this concept-specification of reflexivity, this paper debates several empirical studies on and theoretical approaches to institutional mobilisation mechanisms enabling a structural facilitation of contestation. Eventually, three distinct attributes of the concept of interest group reflexivity are established. An interest group's forums for exchange and education, its decision-making system and its grassroots involvement ought to ensure internal structural reflexivity towards its constituency. When combined , they can mitigate the potential for undemocratic representation due to a lack of or skewed mobilisation and empowerment.
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Interest groups are key intermediary actors between civil society and public officials. The EU has long emphasized the importance of interacting with representative groups that involve their members. Additionally, there is an increasing trend toward the professionalization of groups that invest in organizational capacities to efficiently provide policy expertise. Both member involvement and organizational capacity are crucial features for groups to function as transmission belts that aggregate and transfer the preferences of their members to policymakers, thus reinforcing the legitimacy and efficiency of gover-nance systems. Yet, not all groups have these organizational attributes. This paper quantitatively examines the effects of interest groups' investment in member involvement and organizational capacity on the level of access to EU Commission officials. The results indicate that member involvement does not pay off in terms of higher levels of access. In contrast, groups with high organizational capacities have more meetings with public officials of the Commission.
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While many scholars have postulated the decline of membership influence as an important consequence of the professionalisation of civil society organisations (CSOs), other analysts have argued that traditional membership-driven CSOs are resilient and that hiring professionals does not necessarily diminish membership influence. This study sheds light on this issue by analysing membership influence in a representative sample of approximately 2000 CSOs from five European countries and the European level. As members generally have a strong influence on CSOs’ policy positions, our analysis demonstrates that the pessimistic tone in much contemporary scholarly work is largely unwarranted. On the contrary, hiring professionals does not invariably decrease membership influence and can, when members are closely engaged in advocacy work, even facilitate it.
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Olson's logic of collective action predicts that business interest associations face fewer collective action problems than citizen action groups. This article challenges this assumption by arguing that forming an organization comes with different collective action problems than voicing a joint policy position. This leads us to examine an important paradox: Citizen groups face challenges in establishing themselves as organizations but find it relatively easy to position themselves on policy issues, whereas the reverse is true for business associations. We study this paradox empirically based on interviews with spokespersons of interest organizations active in the European Union and find support for our hypotheses. Our findings demonstrate that citizen groups position themselves on policy issues more easily than business interests and that this competitive advantage is amplified when policy issues attract the attention of the media.
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Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are considered important intermediaries between citizens and policymakers. They are assumed to function as transmission belts that filter societal preferences and channel them to policymakers. Although the ability of CSOs to connect civil society with policymakers has been put into question, it has rarely been theoretically specified and empirically tested. This paper develops a conceptualization of CSOs that examines their capacity to function as transmission belts. It does so by distinguishing two organizational dimensions related to member involvement and organizational capacity. The paper draws on a large survey of CSOs active at the EU to empirically assess these organizational dimensions and relate them to basic CSOs’ characteristics. The findings indicate that one out of three organizations approximates the ideal-type transmission belt. The findings contribute to a better understanding and assessment of CSO’s potential contribution to policy-making in representative democracies.
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This article identifies how Belgian civil society organisations (CSOs) legitimise their European networks (ENs). European networks are understood as European umbrella associations gathering together national CSOs and representing them at the EU level. This article unpacks the concept of organisational legitimacy by empirically analysing Belgian CSOs' discourse about their ENs. EU institutions consider ENs as appropriate organisations to link the European policymaking process to the requests and opinions expressed by national CSOs and their constituents. Existing studies draw negative conclusions about the transmitter role of ENs and highlight the malfunction of the accountability channel and an unfair representative balance among members. This empirical analysis qualifies these two arguments. The results show that Belgian CSOs legitimise their ENs in two ways: the function they hold in Brussels and their efficiency. ENs are thus not legitimised as accurate transmitters between national CSOs and European officials but as efficient champions of general political objectives, to which Belgian CSOs broadly adhere. These results are based on an inductive qualitative analysis of interviews with stafffrom five Belgian environmental CSOs. © 2018 University Association for Contemporary European Studies.
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In the current age, with the diminishing role of the state, there is a growing significance of its partnership with non-state actors, including private enterprises, local authorities and non-government organisations (NGOs). In particular, there is greater recognition in the developing world of the state’s partnership with NGOs in delivering goods and services, especially in line with the new framework of shared governance prescribed by international agencies and donors. Despite the overwhelmingly favourable views on such partnership disseminated worldwide by its advocates, many critics draw attention to its adverse consequences such as the use of NGOs as profit-making ventures, avoidance of government’s social responsibilities by transferring them to NGOs, and ineffectiveness of government’s public accountability. Questions can also be raised regarding the reliability and legitimacy of NGOs as partners. As most studies on NGO partnership tend to overlook these concerns, this article offers a critique of the state’s partnership with NGOs in the case of Bangladesh where there are some of the world’s largest and most widely recognised NGOs. These concerns related to the partnership of NGOs in governance can also be observed in other developing nations.
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This article explores the role of variations in organizational form in explaining levels of group access. Specifically, we test whether group forms incorporating more extensive engagement with members receive policy advantages. We develop and test a account of beneficial inefficiencies. Our account reasons that the costs of inefficient intraorganizational processes and practices associated with enhanced engagement with members are beneficial as they generate crucial “access goods”—specifically encompassing positions—that in turn receive enhanced policy benefits. The costs of intraorganizational practices allowing members to engage more thoroughly in decision making are thus beneficial inefficiencies. We test this proposition using data on the Australian interest group system. Using the tools of cluster analysis, we identify three forms, each varying in respect of the inefficiencies they embody. Our multivariate analysis finds strong support for the account of beneficial inefficiencies: groups with the most inefficient organizational model receiving the greatest policy access.