Interest groups play a key role in all democratic political systems even at the European level, to such an extent that civil society in the EU is more developed, dense and complex than in most national capitals in Europe. In contrast with the sizeable literature on interest group power in the national level in the EU there is a greatlack of research about it.
At the EU level one common criticism has been that the European Union suffers from a democratic deficit. Some scholars have been argued that interest groups can improve this deficit. But the contribution of the civil society involvement to the democratic quality of the political system has to be examined. Thus this essay it will first consider some generalconsiderations of pressure groups and the associative democracy model. It will then go on to describe the generations of EU-interest groups’ relations and the effort of EU institutions on reinforce this relation. The third part faces the normative debate and will try to assess the participatory contribution that interest groups, both public and private, make to EU democracy.
Interest groups referto lobbies, pressure groups, NGOs and so on and these groups work in different ways to influence policy outcomes. Since the EU has a system not fully formalized and where there is no single system of decision making there are opportunities for groups because there are many actors involved. Thus, the nature of the EU favors the presence of the interest groups. Participation is widely seen both asbeneficial for individuals in a development way and as a functional policy-making necessity. In fact, a healthy democracy demands representation in terms of competing interest groups. It is also important to appoint the resources that interest groups have because it can determine its final influence.
To analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the phenomenon present at the EU level oneneed to develop the associative democracy model. It assumes that there are two justifications for interest groups participation: first of all, civil society is the product of the right of association and groups are seen as a positive force for democratic development since they can influence in the policy-making process. Secondly, groups provide law-makers with important technical informationand knowledge not available otherwise. This model offers a positive view of interest groups participation because considers that the diversity of groups helps to preserve an equal representation of all interests, and also contributes to legitimize the decision-making process. However, some scholars, such as Grange, argue that this model suffers from different flaws: the pre-eminence of privateinterests; the lack of internal democratic accountability in these groups; and that citizen capacities to organize are distributed not uniformly. Also, institutionalized and professionalized groups are more likely to gain access to decision-making actors.
The EU encourages formal and informal interest groups and they are not only in Brussels, but across the EU. It can be differentiatebetween concentrated and private interests such as business interests and multinational firms that seek benefits only for the members of the group; and diffuse interests, also so-called public interests, such as women groups, consumer groups or trade unions that try to find profits for the entire society. One of the problems of the public interests is the ‘free-rider’ phenomenon. Also businessinterests have more financial and political resources and are more able to organize than diffuse interests. Private groups can better monitor the implementation of policies that affect their economic well-being than the public interests that face collective action problems. Therefore, groups representing concentrated interests tend to win out over disperse groups. But one needs to bear in mind...