Opening the black-box of policy consultations in EU policymaking




1.9.2020 - 31.8.2023

Range on year:

0.23 FTE | 2020


prof.dr. Damjan Lajh

Research activity:

Social sciences

The phases of the project and their realization:

The work programme is organised around the two core research questions: (1) What are the main characteristics of interest groups that participate in policy consultations in policy formulation stage at the EU level? (2) Which factors determine the influence of interest groups on outputs of policy consultations in policy formulation stage at the EU level? The work programme will consist of five activities (A): (A1) project management, (A2) theoretical-research model development, (A3) data collection, (A4) data analysis and (A5) dissemination, divided into nine interconnected work packages (WPs): (WP1) Project management; (WP2) Development of theoretical and empirical model for measuring interest groups’ access, influence and bias; (WP3) Sampling of policy consultations; (WP4) Mapping of interest groups; (WP5) Content analysis; (WP6) Online survey among interest groups representatives; (WP7) Face-to-face interviews with European Commission’s policy officials; (WP8) Data analysis of interest groups’ access, influence and bias; (WP9) Dissemination of scientific results (see Figure 3 for the interconnections between activities and WPs). WP1 (1-36 months): Project management Description: Project management will take place throughout the duration of the project and aims to ensure the successful realisation of all project activities. In particular it will look into the implementation of administration duties, timely execution of project activities in accordance with the established objectives, answering the research questions, testing the hypotheses, ensuring the quality of project activities, outputs and deliverables as well as meeting of foreseen milestones. In frame of the project management we will make sure that research activities are coordinated and research findings are effectively transmitted between individual parts of the research. To reach this, regular meetings of staff will be organised where project team members will take minutes with decisions of the meeting. Project management will include monitoring and evaluation of all project activities in the work programme. Project management will monitor the progress of the project, identify potential risks and propose solutions so that challenges will be efficiently resolved and all research outputs and outcomes appropriately handled. This will be done with help of international advisory board that will meet with the project team yearly and evaluate progress. Outputs and deliverables: - Detailed division of tasks and timetable. - Regular project team meetings on the scientific results and achieved project work programme. - Yearly meetings with international advisory board. Timetable: Months: 1–36; Duration: 36 months. Milestone 1: Detailed division of tasks and timetable (Month 2). WP leader: Damjan Lajh WP2 (1-4 months): Development of theoretical and empirical model for measuring interest groups’ access, influence and bias Description: The purpose of this work package is to develop a comprehensive theoretical and empirical model that will serve as the basis for data collection, analysis and synthesis of data collected throughout the entire project. In frame of the project we will use different methods from content analysis, quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. The developed research model will help us bring collected data together and form unified conclusions. In frame of the WP2 we will conduct a critical comparative literature review on access, influence and bias of interest groups on policy consultations at the EU level, provide a detailed evaluation of inclusion of interest groups in EU policymaking through consultations, and develop the theoretical and empirical model. Outputs and deliverables: - State-of-the-art and progress beyond the state-of-the-art. - The theoretical and empirical model. Timetable: Months: 1–4; Duration: 4 months. Milestone 2: Theoretical and empirical model for measuring interest groups’ access, influence and bias (Month 4). WP leader: Danica Fink Hafner WP3 (4-6 months): Sampling of policy consultations Description: Project research will cover the period of policy consultations organised during the 2014–2019 European Commission’s mandate. In frame of the WP3 we will sample among the all published consultations during the mandate of the previous Commission. To ensure variation in sample, the sampling will represent 5% of consultations with most inputs on single policy issue (policy issue with the highest number of submitted interest groups’ contributions) and 5% of consultations with least inputs on single policy issue (policy issue with the lower number of submitted interest groups’ contributions). We anticipate to get a variation of consultations in different policy areas from more general one that raised interest also among the general public to more technical ones. Outputs and deliverables: - Database of all consultations organised during the period between 2014 and 2019 with information on number of contributions and policy area of the consultation. - Sample of policy consultations selected for analysis in frame of the project. Timetable: Months: 4–6; Duration: 3 months. Milestone 3: Sample of policy consultations (Month 6). WP leader: Alenka Krašovec WP4 (7-13 month): Mapping of interest groups Description: In frame of the WP4 we will implement mapping of interest groups that access policy consultations with the specific objective to define characteristics of such interest groups. Interest groups will be identified with top-down approach. A database will be prepared with the list of interest groups and additional variables such as: their official name; number of submitted contributions; policy consultation in which they participated; topic of the consultation; individual contribution or coalition; type of interest group; level of organisation: local, regional, national, transnational; country of origin; budget size; number of staff; year of establishment etc. Data will be gathered with website mining and coding. In case of missing values these will be collected in WP6. Outputs and deliverables: - Database of interest groups active in selected policy consultations with main characteristics. - Database of all contributions of selected policy consultations. Timetable: Months: 7–13; Duration: 7 months. Milestone 4: Database of interest groups active in selected policy consultations (Month 13). WP leader: Meta Novak WP5 (13- 20 month): Content analysis Description: The main objective of WP5 is to conduct content analysis of interest groups' contributions and compare contributions with final legislative proposals prepared by the European Commission to identify which interest groups influenced legislative proposal with their contribution. Submissions of interest groups will be analysed and coded. The same analysis will be conducted also on legislative proposals prepared by the European Commission after the conducted policy consultations. By matching codes from interest groups’ contributions and European Commission’s legislative proposal we will analyse the influence of participating interest groups on the policy outcome in WP8. WP5 will include preparation of codebook, editing of texts, coding as well as editing and analysis of codes. Outputs and deliverables: - Coding scheme for content analysis of interest groups contributions. - Dataset with codes of interest groups contributions. Timetable: Months: 13–20; Duration: 7 months. Milestone 5: Dataset with codes of interest groups contributions (Month 19). WP leader: Simona Kustec WP6 (16-21 month): Online survey Description: In WP6 we will conduct interviews with representatives of interest groups to collect missing data on interest groups’ contributions from the WP4. At the same time, we will obtain an additional measure for interest groups influence on policy outcome with individual estimation of satisfaction with policy consultations and with changes to original proposal after the consultations. Online survey will be conducted among interest groups. Our previous experiences with online surveys in the population of interest groups resulted in reasonably good response rate (see Beyers et al., 2020: forthcoming). Furthermore, since interest groups are scattered around EU member-states and beyond, face-to-face interviews are not possible due to time limits and financial expenses. All interest groups identified in frame of the project will be invited to participate in the survey. WP6 will include preparation of survey instrument, pilot research for testing the instrument, data collection and building the database. Outputs and deliverables: - Measurement instruments for the online survey. - Report on pilot study of the online survey questionnaire. - Survey dataset and documentation. Timetable: Months: 16–21; Duration: 6 months. Milestone 6: Online survey dataset (Month 21). WP leader: Meta Novak WP7 (22-27 months): Face-to-face interviews Description: In frame of the WP7 we will conduct interviews with responsible EU policy officials for each sampled consultation to disclose how policy officials manage contributions of policy consultations and what is important for them. Interviews will be conducted face-to-face in Brussels. The WP7 phase will consist of preparation of sampling and recruitment protocol for face-to-face interviews, guidelines for interviews, testing of the survey instrument, establishing the contacts with policy officials, and arranging the interviews, conducting interviews and data analysis. Outputs and deliverables: - Sampling and recruitment process protocol for face-to-face interviews. - Discussion guidelines for face-to-face interviews. - Report on testing of survey instrument. - Dataset and documentation of interviews. - Report on procedures, data quality and findings of interviews. Timetable: Months: 22–27; Duration: 6 months. Milestone 7: Dataset of face-to-face interviews (Month 27). WP leaders: Meta Novak and Sabina Lange WP8 (28- 33 months): Qualitative and quantitative data analysis of measuring interest groups’ access, influence and bias Description: The specific objective of WP8 is to perform final analysis and synthesis of all data collected in previous WPs: population of interest groups, content analysis, online survey and interviews, to respond to our main research questions and to test the hypotheses. Preliminary research results will be published in the report and presented at the outreach conference in Brussels in frame of WP9. Based on the findings the research team will prepare publications, such as edited volume and scientific articles. Outputs and deliverables: - Final report on scientific results of the completed research project. Timetable: Months: 28–33; Duration: 6 months. Milestone 8: The final report “Interest groups access, influence and bias in consultations during EU policy formulation stage” (Month 33) WP leader: Damjan Lajh WP9 (4- 36 months): Dissemination of scientific results Description: The specific objective of WP9 is to disseminate the scientific findings and results obtained in different WPs of this research project. An intensive dissemination of our results will contribute to the production and exchange of new knowledge, insights and understandings of the access, influence and bias of inclusion of interest groups in EU policy formulation stage. Project team will follow the principle of open access and provide its output in repository to be accessible to broad public. Dissemination of research results will include various outputs, such as a project webpage, PhD thesis, writing edited volume, articles, conference contributions and organisation of outreach conference in Brussels to present the research results to academic community, EU policy officials and interest groups representatives. Outputs and deliverables: - Research reports and datasets foreseen in the frame of individual work packages. - Project webpage. - A PhD thesis on collected data in frame of the project. - A series of published scientific articles and contributions to national and international conferences. - Preparation of edited volume on main project results. - Organisation of outreach conference in Brussels, where research results will be presented to academic community, EU policy officials and interest groups representatives. Timetable: Months: 4–36; Duration: 32 months. Milestone 9-11: Organisation of outreach conference (Month 34), Submitted edited volume to reviewing process (Month 35), Submitted papers to eminent journals (Month 36). WP leader: Damjan Lajh

Research Organisation:


Citations for bibliographic records:


With populist parties on the rise, dropping voters’ turnout and decreasing trust in political parties and institutions, European countries are facing democratic deficit. The latter is an even more pressing issue at the supranational level. Due to the lack of legitimacy of its institutions, the European Union (EU) has been especially a subject of criticism for its democratic deficit. Consequently, European Commission has taken several measures towards more inclusive governance with the aim to improve legitimacy of policies formulated at the EU level. This includes turn towards participatory democracy and inclusion of interest groups and other stakeholders in policymaking. Although stakeholders can take advantage of various opportunity structures at the EU level, organisation of policy consultations in the policy formulation stage of EU policymaking provides the tool for broader mobilisation of interests where individuals as well as interest groups can take part. Lately, scholars have raised concern that despite openness of policy consultations, interest representation remains biased. Thus, equal representation in participatory democracy is questionable, as various studies stipulates that economic interests, transnational interest groups and interest groups from older, Western democracies, are more likely to enter complex process of EU policymaking. This project aims to empirically approach the normative issue of interest groups’ access to and influence on policymaking process, tackling the issue of interest groups’ (un)equal representation in relation to democratic deficit/legitimacy at the EU level. The focus will be on policy consultations, organized in the frame of policy formulation stage that remains black box of EU policymaking. In particular, it is unclear how the Commission handles interest groups’ consultation contributions and what the Commission actually considers when preparing legislative proposals, what is left out, and on what grounds. The project aims to answer what are the main characteristics of interest groups that participate in policy consultations in policy formulation stage at the EU level, which factors determine the influence of interest groups on outputs of policy consultations, and what is the bias in access and influence. To do so, we will conduct intensive analysis organised in 5 activities and 9 work packages that will include: analysis of sample of policy consultations organised in the Commission’s 2014–2019 mandate, mapping of the population of interest groups that responded to policy consultations, content analyses on interest groups’ contributions and Commission’s legislative proposals to measure the influence of interest groups on policy results, online survey among interest groups representatives, and face‐to‐face interviews with EC policy officials to understand how policy consultations at the EU level are organised and implemented and what are their policy effects. Previous research has been limited to the study of bias in access and on the analyses of characteristics of interest groups that participated in consultations and their contributions. Unanswered remains the factors that determine the interest groups’ influence, how does bias in access translate to the bias in influence, and how EU policy officials decide whose positions submitted in the frame of policy consultations and on which basis are considered. The proposed project seeks to close these research gaps. Answering these questions will address also the issue of contribution of participatory democracy to the quality of democracy, reduction of the democratic deficit and improvement of legitimacy of policymaking at the EU level. The project will be implemented by the members of the Centre for Political Science Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences, which is one of the leading research centres in scrutinising European integration processes. The project team has rich experiences in interest groups research and EU policymaking.

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