10 Hypotheses concerning the current lobbyism debate

IMG_0460In the framework of the event “How influential are lobbyists really?”, Dr. Wolf-Dieter Zumpfort,Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, presented his ideas on lobbyism based on his more than 25 years of experience as a lobbyist in Bonn, Berlin and Brussels.

1. Lobbying is interest representation and addresses decision-making processes of politics and administration via information and communication. Lobbying means to build up and maintain networks for the collection and dissemination of information, as well as permanent dialogue with policymakers and those who prepare policy decisions. The societal balance of interests takes place in the framework of constitutionally secured and legally protected and supported decision-making processes.

2. Basis for lobbying that functions accordingly is the competition of convictions. The constructive debate to find the right path is at the same time the guarantee for the assertion of a stronger and better quality of the overall decision and process.

3. Lobbying is an essential bridge between stakeholders eventually affected by legislation and policymakers who need to create well-functioning legislation. In my case it’s the translation between business and politics. Business speaks a different language than politics, and vice versa. Business and politics have different tasks – business is to create an economic profit, politics is to create a political framework that fosters the well-being of the entire society, with all conflicting interests. Lobbyists are necessary to mediate between these two sides and help them understand each other’s perspective. In systems as large as the Federal Republic of Germany and even larger, the European Union, this is indispensable.

4. Lobbying is successful when it meets a majority of aligned interests, i.e. when the arguments brought forward are plausible for decision-makers and are aligned with their ultimate goals in the policymaking process.

5. Lobbying influence is exaggerated whenever it is unclear or is purposefully unclear whose interests are actually being followed. Whenever journalists write about lobbying influence, they have very rarely actually spoken to one, and they have also not been present in the backdoor negotiations between the influential politicians.

6. Lobbying always involves at least two: the lobbyist and the lobbied, i.e. policymakers and officials. Public debate should therefore always treat lobbying as an aspect of “good governance”, and should shed light on the topic of transparency and integrity for all participants, or for both sides.

7. Transparency means traceability and recognisability of political interests and the way they are balanced – as well as of the decision-making mechanisms. Transparent or non-transparent does not equal democratic or undemocratic. There are constitutional, legal and juridically confirmed rights to non-transparency.

8. Substantial self-regulation of the professional associations of political consultants exists – with teeth: members have already been prominently excluded. Company and association representatives are obliged to follow compliance rules. Whenever such codes of conducts as well as legal requirements are followed, lobbying is a democratic aspect of the balance of interests.

9. Good politicians and civil servants have the task to lead. He or she does not just simply accept a government proposal or lobbyist arguments but searches for information from all sides and only then, on the basis of all arguments, decides. Active and engaged lobbyism is therefore part of the overall societal interest, because it helps to combine individual and overall interests in the best way to achieve informed political decisions.

10. The influence of lobbyists is rarely measurable in quantitative ways. The acceptance of     serious information or decision-making proposals by a policymaker or administrative  official is the evidence of the quality and validity of a company’s or association’s  communicated argumentation.