Parties and Interest Associations


To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
The major interest associations, which are run by the employers and business groups and the trade unions, have a history of proposing practical, plausible policies. The main explanation for this is that the government has a long history of involvement and policy consultation with most of the groups (for example, business groups are closely allied with the Liberal Party, farmers’ and rural groups are allied with the National Party, and trade unions are allied with the Labor Party). Many elected representatives have at some point in their career been a member of one of these groups, further cementing relations with the interest groups. There are also considerable formal and informal networks linking the various groups to the major political parties, further consolidating the development of practical and coherent policies.
Interest organizations play an important role in Danish politics. Policies proposed by the major interest organizations are of course important for the group they represent. They may not be quite as important, however, for society at large, or for the collective interest. That is why the government must aggregate the views of various interest organizations.

Given the corporatist tradition in Denmark, the major interest organizations are regularly involved in policymaking. The most recent examples include initiatives focusing on the employment of immigrants and life-long learning. This tends to educate them to moderate their policy proposals. Interest groups know they will lose influence if they propose policies that are seen as unreasonable; they realize that they have an interest in getting things to work. The trade unions also learned at some point that demanding very high raises in salaries will produce inflation and job losses and thus be counterproductive. They too have a tradition of being quite responsible and negotiating in good faith.
Peter Munk Christiansen og Lise Togeby, Magten i Danmark. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2005.

Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen og Jørgen Elklit (eds.). Det demokratiske system. 3. udgave. Hans Reitzels Forlag, 2013.
The major interest associations all propose practical, plausible policies. Many interest organizations have competent and skilled staffs, enabling them to formulate policies and proposals. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise have for years been engaged in very close tripartite cooperation with the government. Through this process, these organizations – in combination with the government – have been able to prevent strikes, secure a moderate salary policy and ensure moderate inflation and interest rates.

This cooperation has also been regarded as important in promoting gradual governmental reforms in areas such as health insurance and pension plans. In their work, these interest organizations rely to a large extent on scholarly knowledge, and typically take a long-term perspective.

Similar patterns of organized cooperation are evident in many other policy fields. Employers’ associations have traditionally been allied with the conservative parties, farmers’ groups with the Center Party, and trade unions with the Labor Party. These ties are most explicit between the Labor Party and the labor unions, with the head of the labor-union confederation sitting on the party’s executive committee. The union confederation and the employers’ association both have academics as advisers, and their proposals normally aim at consensus rather than at social confrontation.

In addition to traditional corporatist actors, several consultancy firms have been launched in recent years that seek to influence policymaking. Some, but not all, of these firms disclose their list of customers. Interest associations, which do not employ their own staff to influence policymaking, can hire lobbying services from consultancy firms. However, weaker economic groups do not have the sufficient available resources and are unable to pay for professional support.
Sweden has a long corporatist tradition. Although corporatism as a mode of governance has declined, economic interest associations are still important players in the policy process.

The major business interest organizations and unions are certainly very capable of analyzing the economic situation and presenting policy proposals. As organized interests, they obviously pursue their respective agendas, but overall, the expertise and policy capacity of the major interest organizations is impressive. During the global economic crisis, for example, the interest associations showed a high degree of responsibility by not counteracting the crisis management of the government.
Garsten, C., B. Rothstein and S. Svallfors (2015), Makt utan mandat: de policyprofessionella i svensk politik (Stockholm: Dialogos).

Pierre, J. (ed) (2015), Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), esp. Section 10.

Svensson, T. and P-O.Öberg (2010),“Does Power Drive out Trust? Relations between Labor Market Actors in Sweden,” Political Studies 58:143-166.

Öberg, P-O, S. Oskarsson and T. Svensson (2011),“Similarity versus Homogeniety: Contextual Effects in Explaining Trust,” European Political Science Review 3:345-369.
A vast number of business associations are active in the United States. This is a reflection of the size and complexity of the American economy and of a political culture that fosters participation, but also of the opportunities for lobbying influence in a decentralized political system. The associations themselves range from peak associations such as the Business Roundtable to trade associations of major industries such as the American Trucking Association and groups representing narrow industry segments. The larger, wealthier associations have large professional staffs and can produce credible policy proposals with substantial supporting documentation. Given the large numbers of very small associations, it is not true that “most” business associations can present credible proposals. However, there are certainly several hundred business associations that can draft bills or amendments and present articulate, sophisticated arguments for their positions.
Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
The role of economic interest groups is still very strong in Austria: Significant associations include the Austrian Economic Chambers (Wirtschaftskammern) and the Federation of Austrian Industry (Die Industriellenvereinigung) for business and employers; the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund) and the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labor (Arbeiterkammern) for employees; and the Chamber of Agriculture (Landwirtschaftskammern) for farmers. These groups’ ability to shape politics may have been reduced as a result of Austria’s integration into the European Union, but within domestic politics, their influence remains very strong. Though formally independent of political parties, the groups have various individual links to the parties, especially to the Social Democratic Party and the Austrian People’s Party. Moreover, their influence is enhanced by their practice of acting in a coordinated, neocorporatist way through the social-partnership network.

This may change as a consequence of the FPÖ’s entry into coalition government with the ÖVP. As the FPÖ, in contrast to the ÖVP and SPÖ, has traditionally not had strong links to economic interest groups, the new government may be less inclined to accept the interest groups’ influence.
Belgium has a high level of trade-union membership and a strong tradition of social consensus implemented through strong and well-organized trade unions and employers’ organizations. For instance, most proposals on wage regulation and employee protection are the result of routine negotiations between employers’ associations and trade unions. Proposals are validated by the government and translated into law. This continuous mechanism of cooperation forces these actors to present realistic and well-argued demands (budgeted and framed in legal terms), even if some bargaining and bluffing occurs.

The trade unions and employers’ organizations each have their own well-developed study services with highly technical (e.g., legal and budgetary) expertise, even on topics outside their traditional competencies.

It should be noted that, in contrast to political parties, employers’ associations and trade unions are still structured at the national level. However, there are some elements within Belgium’s social organizations that appear resistant to change, given a general conservatism and a perceived need to protect the institution.
Many business associations, employers’ groups and trade unions develop policy proposals that identify the causes of problems, make use of scholarly research to support their analysis, propose technically feasible measures to attain policy objectives, take account of long-term interests and anticipate policy effects. Among the most competent associations in this respect are the Council of Chief Canadian Executives, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Auto Workers. Many of these associations have realized that they must identify their policy proposals with the overall societal interest rather than solely with the narrower interests of their members if they are to gain traction with the public and policymakers. The most successful associations are those that have mastered this art.
Employers’ and employees’ organizations became involved in a series of comprehensive income-policy agreements in 1968 concerning wages, working conditions, and social-welfare programs and legislation. While this institutional arrangement for cooperation between government and associations has since slightly eroded, it created a framework for advancing responsible, considered and expert-based policy proposals on the part of the large economic-interest associations. Other mechanisms, including associations’ participation as members and experts in the committee system, have worked in the same direction. As a consequence, this corporatist setting and the consensus style of policymaking has led to reasonable policies with fairly broad support.
Voitto Helander and Dag Anckar, Consultation and Political Culture. Essays on the Case of Finland, Commentationes Scientiarum Socialium, nr 19, 1983, Helsinki: The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters.
Economic interest associations like trade unions or employers’ associations in Germany are well-functioning organizations endowed with rich analytical and lobbying resources. They are definitely able to develop policy strategies and proposals and to present alternatives to current politics. Both trade unions and employers’ association have their own economic think tanks supporting their policy proposals through substantive research on costs and benefits of different options. Furthermore, these organizations also invest substantial resources in lobbying for their positions among the general public and do so successfully. For example, the decision to introduce a general statutory minimum wage had been preceded by trade unions’ extensive public lobbying.
The main interest organizations in Iceland continue to have considerable influence on public policymaking and engagement with political parties.

The Confederation of Icelandic Employers (Samtök atvinnulífsins, referred to as the employers’ association) has close, informal ties to the right-wing Independence Party. Likewise, the Icelandic Confederation of Labor (Alþýðusamband Íslands) has close links to the parties on the left, although its formal ties to the Social Democratic Party were severed in 1942. Until its breakup in the 1990s, the cooperative movement, with its strong ties to the agricultural sector, was closely linked to the Progressive Party (Framsókn), which has its origins in the farmers’ movement.

Closely associated with the Confederation of Icelandic Employers is the Iceland Chamber of Commerce, which continues to dispense advice to the government.

All major interest organizations have a staff of skilled employees who create research-based policy proposals that are usually well grounded, coherent, and in line with the organizations’ goals.

After the 2008 economic collapse, the employers’ association, the employees’ union, the government, and the Federation of Municipalities signed an agreement intended to promote economic stability (Stöðugleikasáttmáli). The agreement proposed a restructuring of the economy through wage and price freezes, among other issues. Then, in autumn 2015, the representatives of the government, employers and labor unions signed the so-called SALEK agreement, a framework for collective agreements in the labor market. This agreement applies now to approximately 70% of employees. Some public-sector unions have so far refused to agree on SALEK. This situation continues to be the case at the time of writing.

Under the Sigurðardóttir cabinet of 2009-2013, the Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners resisted government plans to change the regulation of fishing quotas. However, the federation was unable to prevent a considerable increase in the fees paid by owners of fishing vessel owners to the government. Nevertheless, the group was able to help prevent a broader overhaul of the system, as promised by the government.

The 2009-2013 cabinet failed to realize its goal of restructuring the management system for Iceland’s fisheries, despite raising fishing fees significantly. However, the 2013-2016 cabinet lowered the fees already in 2013, against IMF advice.
Gunnarsson, Styrmir (2009), Umsátrid (The Siege), Veröld, Reykjavík.
Israel has a vibrant business community that often interacts with government departments and Knesset representatives in order to advance its agenda in Israel and abroad. At least three major business groups – the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel and a group for coordination between financial organizations – actively pursue policy goals through legal, regulatory or project-based perspectives. All three take part in conferences, perform independent research and publish their agendas. Business organizations also cooperate with academics and institutions to produce research, and some business-oriented think tanks exist. In general, Israeli businesses are well represented in the political sphere, and most economic-interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policy proposals. However, there is a significant degree of social inequality in this practice, as the Arab business sector seldom enjoys such close and productive ties with the government.
Miller, Elhanan, “Finance minister says government has failed Arabs,” Times of Israel, 24.02. 2014,

“The chamber for coordination between financial organizations,” Maot website (Hebrew)

Solomon, Shoshanna, “Netanyahu to head panel to tackle high-tech workers pinch,” The Times of Israel, 28.12.2016,

The Industry Association Press Releases,

“Israel Business Conference 2016,” Haaretz,
The National Tripartite Cooperation Council (Nacionālā trīspusējās sadarbības padome, NTSP), which links employers’ associations, business associations and trade unions, provides a good example of effective association involvement in policy formulation. The members of the NTSP are all capable of proposing concrete measures, and work with academic figures in order to ensure quality inputs into the policy dialog.

Employers’ and business associations are continually engaged with the policy process on specific issues such as energy policy, formulation of the national development plan and tax policy. The Latvian Chamber of Commerce (LTRK) engages in ongoing dialog with the government, and along with the slightly less influential Employers’ Confederation of Latvia (LDDK), forms a part of the tripartite council.

The Foreign Investors’ Council (FICIL) has a strong capacity for presenting well-formulated policy proposals. FICIL conducts an annual structured dialog at the prime-ministerial level. The actions that come out of these dialogs are subsequently implemented and monitored. The 2017 council meeting focused attention on the demographic situation as a future economic hurdle and urged consideration of a smart migration policy. The council also noted improvements in shrinking the shadow economy and promoted a continuation of anti-corruption efforts.
1. The Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia, Information available:, Last assessed: 22.11.2017.

2. National Tripartite Cooperation Council, Agenda available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 21.05.2013.
Given Luxembourg’s specific social partnership model, the government in general consults with unions, employers’ organizations and professional chambers over each draft bill. Furthermore, all opinions, as well as the modified draft bills, are published on the parliament’s website. The two employers’ organizations (the Chambre de Commerce and the Chambre des Métiers), as well as the Luxembourg business union (Union des Entreprises Luxembourgeoises, UEL) support a research unit, enabling them to produce opinions on draft bills, to organize conferences and to draft future government bills.

Trade unions share this approach. The impact of trade unions increased as a result of the Parliamentary Act of 15 May 2008 (“statut unique”), which created just one employees’ union (Chambre des Salariés) in place of the previous two (one for manual laborers and one for white-collar workers). All citizens working in Luxembourg, except public servants, are automatically members and contribute to this organization – a keystone of Luxembourg’s neo-corporatist policy tradition. Both social partners commission expert advice and policy briefings either abroad or in Luxembourg, and both prepare position papers on the basis of their own resources.
Chambre de Commerce Luxembourg, Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

Chambre des Salariés Luxembourg, Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

“L’UEL lance son nouveau site «Compétitivité – Tableau de bord».” Union des Entreprises Luxembourgeoises, Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

“Mémorial A n° 60 de 2008.” Journal officiel du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, 15 May 2008, Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.
During the period under examination, the main trade unions in Spain (UGT and CCOO) have strongly supported the reversion of austerity measures and other adjustment reforms implemented by the Popular Party (Partido Popular, PP) government during the worst years of the crisis. However, this does not mean that Spanish trade unions are radicalized or incapable of formulating viable polices within the euro zone context. UGT is associated with the Fundación Francisco Largo Caballero, and CCOO with Fundación 1 de Mayo. The largest business association (CEOE) has the Círculo de Empresarios think tank, as well as the training centers linked to the CEOE and the Chambers of Commerce. Other private economic groups include the Círculo de Economía, farmer’s associations (such as COAG and ASAJA), the National Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, some consumer associations (CEACCU and UCE), the Spanish Confederation of Cooperative Business, and diverse sectoral-lobbying actors (e.g., Foro Nuclear on the issue of nuclear energy). Big Spanish companies also fund liberal economic-policy think tanks (e.g., Fedea) that are autonomous but produce “business friendly” policy proposals. Other organizations such as CEPES, which addresses the social economy, are also very influential. Finally, AFI and FUNCAS are relevant economic think tanks.
October 2017, Círculo de Empresarios: “Informe CCAA”
https://circulodeempresarios. org/app/uploads/2017/10/Informe-CCA A-octubre-2017-Circulo-de-Empresari os.pdf
September 2017, Florentino Felgueroso (Fedea) et al: “Recent trends in the use of temporary contracts in Spain” t/pubs/eee/eee2017-25.pdf
For a long time, there was no lobbying culture in the Netherlands in the usual sense. Instead, prominent members of labor unions and business associations are regular members of high-level informal networks that also include high-level civil servants and politicians. Members of these networks discuss labor and other important socioeconomic policy issues. These processes have become institutionalized. For instance, there are tripartite negotiations in which employers, employees and the government are fixed discussion partners in the early stages of decision-making regarding labor issues. A similar process takes place for regular negotiations with economic-interest associations. The analytic capacities of business and labor associations are well-developed.

However, this state of affairs has changed somewhat in recent years. There is now a Professional Association for Public Affairs (BVPA) that boasts 600 members (four times the number of parliamentarians) and a special public-affairs professorship at Leiden University. The professionalization of lobbying is said to be necessary in order to curb unethical practices such as the creation of foundations or crowdsourcing initiatives as a means of pursuing business interests. The “quiet politics” (Culpepper) of business lobbying through organizations such as the Commissie Tabaksblat and the Amsterdam (later Holland) Financial Center (Engelen) have proven quite successful in influencing public policies on corporate governance and in easing regulation of the banking and financial sector.

During the cabinet formation process from April to October 2017, the negotiators on behalf of the involved political parties were inundated with policy memos and proposals from a wide-range of civil society organizations, economic interest groups and business associations prominent among them.
NRC Handelsblad 16 April 2011, De trouwe hulptroepen van Mark Rutte

NRC Handelsblad, 27 september 2014, Hoe de lobbywereld zijn ‘prutsers en slechterikken’ ongemoeid laat

P.D. Culpepper, 2010. Quiet Politics and Business Power. Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, Cambridge University Press

E. Engelen, 2014. Der schaduwelite voor en na de crisis. Niets geleerd, niets vergeten, Amsterdam University Press

Otjes and Rasmussen, Trade Unions and the Decline of Social Democracy, Social Europe, 5 June 2017

NRC-Handelsblad, ‘Wie kent wie in zakelijk Nederland,” 4 September 2017

NRC-Handelsblad, Het gebroken Nederland dat in 2017 op Den Haag afkomt, 5 November 2016
Czech Rep.
The main employers’ unions and trade unions both have considerable resources and expertise with which to develop coherent policies. Trade unions have a significant competence with regard to labor relations and economic policy more generally; they can lobby ministries and parliament and influence government directly through tripartite consultation structures. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, the generational change and new European patterns of conduct by trade unions contributed to their growing public support. Employers also have access to considerable resources, but have a different agenda, favoring a less regulated labor market and lower business taxes. To strengthen their position, the trade unions align their position with European legislation.
During the economic crisis the capacity of the trade unions and the employers’ and farmers’ associations to influence policy was seriously diminished. However, these associations are staffed by economists and other experts who conduct detailed background research and make detailed – if selective – cases to support their favored policies. They make detailed submissions to the Finance Ministry during the annual budget process. The government takes some account of these arguments when preparing the budget and in formulating other policies.
The number of independent commentaries and online policy forums has grown in recent years, see
The big-interest associations (employers’ associations and trade unions) have developed research units which regularly use experts and rely upon scholarly knowledge. Their proposals are often detailed and based upon substantive policy know-how. However, it must be noted that trade unions generally have a rather conservative outlook, and are reluctant to adopt innovative policies in the areas of labor relations or pensions.

Employers’ associations (the most important of which being Confindustria) in general adopt a more innovative perspective, and are less defensive of the status quo. However, their policies are much more prudent on issues associated with increasing economic competitiveness or reducing government subsidies. In recent years, two of the largest trade unions (CISL and UIL) have shown a somewhat greater willingness to negotiate with the government and employers’ associations over measures designed to increase the flexibility of labor relations.
Japan’s leading business and labor organizations regularly prepare topical policy proposals aimed at stirring public debate and influencing government policymaking. The three umbrella business federations – Keidanren, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Doyukai), and the Japanese Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Nissho) – as well as Rengo, the leading trade-union federation, try to impact policy by publishing policy papers and through their participation in government advisory committees. As the business sector’s financial support of political parties has declined and major companies have globalized their operations, politicians may have become less willing to accommodate the views of these interest groups. While there is an obvious scramble for influence between Rengo and the business organizations, there is also growing competition among the business organizations themselves. For instance, Keidanren is dominated by large enterprise groups, and has been somewhat slow in demanding a further opening of the economy. The Doyukai is more characterized by strong independent companies, and has been outspoken in demanding a more open business environment.
Economic interest associations have structures capable of formulating relevant public policies. The greater resources commanded by economic interest associations enable them to employ highly qualified personnel and consult qualified academics according to the policy issue involved. The larger trade unions have their own research officers and can also draw on the expertise of the Centre for Labor Studies (CLS) at the University of Malta which was established to facilitate the trade union sector. Trade unions also use existing studies or academic and specialist support. EU support funds and structures such as internship programs have strengthened non-economic interest associations, allowing them to produce detailed research in their area of expertise.
New Zealand
There are few well-organized and well-staffed interest groups in New Zealand. The largest and most prominent are the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Federated Farmers, the Chambers of Commerce and Business New Zealand. All are involved in policy formation and dissemination, and all seek to influence government policy. However, there is an underlying asymmetry. Business interests additionally rely on the work of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, an organization of chief executives of major business firms. In 2012, this merged with the New Zealand Institute to form the New Zealand Initiative, a libertarian think-tank that lobbies for pro-market economic and social policies.
Business New Zealand – Submissions: (accessed October 24, 2015).
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions – Campaign Main: (accessed October 24, 2015).
The New Zealand Initiative: (accessed October 24, 2015).
The National Business Review: Roundtable and NZ Institute Morph Into New Libertarian Think-Tank: (accessed October 9, 2014).
In Slovenia, with its strong corporatist tradition, economic-interest associations are very well organized and possess relatively strong analytical capacities. Most economic and social policies are discussed in detail in the Economic and Social Council, a tripartite body. Trade unions and employers’ associations do not have their own research institutes but cooperate with universities and think tanks. Trade unions’ analytical capacities have suffered from the fragmentation associated with the coexistence of seven separate union confederations.
South Korea
Business associations such as the Korean Employers Federation and the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI), as well as labor-union umbrella groups such as the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have some expertise in developing policy proposals. They are supported by think tanks that provide scholarly advice. However, these groups are relatively weak in comparison to businesses themselves and company-level trade unions. Some individual businesses such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai have their own think tanks that produce high-quality research and are able to analyze and provide alternatives to government policies. Under the Park government, major business organizations supported by large conglomerates had significant influence over the formulation of policies. The FKI has faced a period of serious crisis following the influence-peddling scandal involving former President Park. Park had tried to build a hub of conservative pro-government groups using funds from the FKI. Recently exposed information has shown that the FKI pledged to provide KRW 950 million in 2015 and KRW 800 million in 2016 earmarked for this purpose.
Hankook Ilbo. Park attempted to build a hub of conservative groups by funding of FKI. November 9, 2017.
Employers’ organizations and trade unions in Switzerland are pragmatic and avoid rigidly ideological stances. Of course, the major interest organizations do have their ideologies, but this does not prevent them from entering rational discussions with other organizations and political parties. Furthermore, interest organizations in general have access to more substantial professional resources and often have a better-informed view of problems than do political parties. Thus, despite the defense of their own interests, associations often provide better policy proposals than do parties.

The influence of employers’ organizations has declined as single firms or small groups have elected to engage in their own lobbying activities. Internal differences have also split these organizations.
Major business associations propose practical policy solutions, which are rooted in a realistic assessment of the circumstances in which they will be carried out. Until recently, the polarization between the major parties had diminished, especially in the field of socioeconomic policy matters. However, this is again widening. Even so, and especially with the Brexit decision, there is little incentive for business associations or trade unions to engage in wishful thinking if they want to be taken seriously in the national policy discourse. However, some economic interests do propose somewhat more provocative ideas.

The United Kingdom’s forthcoming withdrawal from the European Union has led to some more assertive stances both from business (concerned especially about threats to its EU market access and curbs on skilled immigrant workers) and unions (notably around protections deriving from EU rules). Some business groups are, however, more concerned about what they perceive as excessive regulatory burdens associated with EU membership. Although British business associations are divided over Westminster’s political ties to Brussels, access to the single market is at the very heart of Britain’s economic interest, namely their world leading financial and insurance industries. Overall, the influence of economic interest groups is relatively low-key, though not insubstantial.
The capacity of the major employers’ and business associations to make policy proposals is relatively well developed. These bodies can influence and propose policies in at least three ways: first, through their participation in the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation; second, through various EU-funded projects aimed at improving competitiveness and the business environment; and third, through their own capacity to perform research, formulate proposals and initiate public debates. All major associations have been relatively active in this regard throughout the period in review. This includes a growing tradition of cooperating with academic institutions and scholars, think tanks and other interest groups.

In Bulgaria there are two trade union confederations, both represented in the National Council for Tripartite Cooperation. In contrast to the employers’ associations, the unions rely more heavily on their internal expertise in drafting and promoting proposals, cooperating comparatively less with academia. The range of topics on which trade unions take active positions and make proposals goes beyond the issues of the labor market – in effect, they behave like political parties. For example, in the autumn of 2017, they made a deliberate attempt to unite efforts with several other organizations and pressure groups to push for specific tax reforms, including the introduction of individual income tax exemptions and differentiated VAT rates.
Interest associations make some relevant policy proposals in a few policy areas, such as macroeconomic policy, incomes and pensions and labor relations. Probably the most efficient interest association in this respect is the association of Greek industrialists (SEV).

The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) counts on its think tank, the Labor Institute (INE), for information and advice on policy matters. The think tank of SEV is the Institute of Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE). Depending on the policy issue, this think tank may retain some autonomy from the leadership of SEV and promote the policy views of its own staff. The rest of the interest associations, such as the national association of merchants (ESEE) and the association of artisans, craftsmen and owners of small enterprises (GSEVE), have relatively less well-resourced and smaller think tanks.

In the period under review, the government tried to mend holes in relations between government and businesses, as it realized it needs the tolerance, if not the support, of business owners in order to revive the Greek economy.
The opinions expressed by INE, a think tank associated with labor unions, are available at its website (no foreign language version of this website’s contents). For opinions mostly reflecting the views of Greek industrialists, see the website of the think tank IOBE at 22 (English version of the website).
K Featherstone & D Papadimitriou, The Limits of Europeanization: Reform Capacity and Policy Conflict in Modern Greece; London, Routledge, 2008
Poland has a relatively developed universe of interest associations. Business associations and trade unions have become increasingly professional over time. The trade unions, especially NSZZ Solidarność, have quite friendly relations with the PiS government. For example, the trade unions supported the PiS government’s pension reform, protesting against the European Union and its critique of the pension reform in Brussels. Though OPZZ opposed some legal initiatives of the government, most notably the education reform. Leading business associations such as the Konfederacja Lewiatan and the Business Center Club (BCC) have the expertise and resources to carry out research and formulate elaborate reform proposals. Konfederacja Lewiatan monitors many draft bills, and its spokespeople maintain a strong media presence. There are also a number of smaller associations that organize internationally known events such as the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI), which annually invites leading public intellectuals, academics and politicians, both Polish and European, to the EFNI conference in Sopot.
In Slovakia, business associations and unions alike have some policy competence. Business associations are in a better position to provide full-blown policy proposals as they have more resources and some of them run or support think tanks. In the period under review, the National Union of Employers (RUZ), the Federation of Associations (AZZZ) and the Business Alliance of Slovakia (PAS) were quite active and made many policy proposals. Trade unions are less well equipped and have suffered from fragmentation. Some trade unions, including those representing medical doctors, nurses and teachers, can analyze the impact of decisions and formulate relevant policies. KOZ SR, the main Trade Union Confederation representing almost 30 sectoral unions, has focused primarily on increasing the minimum wage and an assortment of less controversial issues such as workplace security.
Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is comprised of 18 branch unions. In comparison to many western European countries, its policy formulation capacity is rather weak. The head office includes the secretariat that prepares all kind of documents, including the draft law proposals, and organizes cooperation between the members of the confederation; there is no special research or analysis unit responsible for preparing concrete policy proposals. Trade unions are typically invited to contribute to policymaking processes initiated by the government.

The Estonian Employers’ Union (EEU) has been more active (and even aggressive) in making policy proposals, especially in the realms of tax and labor market policy. Yet its institutional and analytic capacity is not significantly higher than that of trade unions.
Both the ETUC and EEU are expected to take various measures (such as allocating funds, implementing training programs, and hiring analysts) in the 2014 – 2020 programming period to increase their analytical and policymaking capacities.
Most Lithuanian interest associations, including employers’ associations and trade unions, have a rather limited ability to formulate well-crafted policies. They typically lack skilled research staff, and do not engage in cooperation with academic bodies or individual experts. The Investors’ Forum, which represents foreign investors in Lithuania, is one of the exceptions, as it has regular annual meetings with the government and provides policy recommendations based on its members’ input. This association successfully advocated the adoption of a more flexible labor code as part of the new “social model.” The Infobalt IT-industry association is also actively engaged in representing its interests in the e-governance policy area. Some economic-interest organizations, including the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists (which is represented on the Tripartite Council and the European Economic and Social Committee), have improved their policy-formulation capacities. Some business associations and even individual businesses support think tanks. In 2016, the University of Pennsylvania recognized the Lithuanian Free Market Institute as being among the most influential public policy centers in Central and Eastern Europe, and ranked it 12 in the region. An accord signed by the government, business organizations and trade unions in October 2017, encourages employee participation in trade unions and the formation of business associations, and supports the capacity-building efforts of social partners.
University of Pennsylvania. “2016 Global Go To Think Tanks.”
With regard to economic interest organizations, there is clear asymmetry. Trade unions are not sophisticated organizations in Mexico, while employers and business associations mostly are. However, these organizations tend to be dominated by a small group of empowered agents who guide most of their policy positions and decision-making processes. The collective interest of those supposedly represented by the association is seldom the one that prevails. A good example of this is the Employers Confederation of the Mexican (COPARMEX): it would be in their best interest to push for a tax consolidation (combined reporting) reform. However, because it is not in the interest of the most influential members of the organization (frequently owners of the largest companies in the country), this issue is almost completely out of the organization’s agenda.
A few employers’ associations and trade unions are capable of formulating relevant policies. However, their proposals are largely reactive to government measures rather than being proactive in setting policy debate. While employers and trade unions have both expressed dissatisfaction at some austerity measures – or sought faster alleviation of others – these tend to be reactions to specific government measures rather than ex ante and general policy proposals.
The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) is the most influential business association in Turkey, representing more than 1.2 million enterprises and members of various industry and business chambers. The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), affiliated with TOBB University in Ankara, provides extensive surveys in various fields. The pro-Western, Istanbul-centric Turkish Industrialists’ and Entrepreneurs’ Association (TÜSİAD) and the conservative, Anatolian-centric Independent Industrialists’ and Entrepreneurs’ Association (MÜSİAD), also have R&D units and sponsor reports on political reforms, education, health care, security and migration. The degree of direct impact of such proposals and amendments on legislation is unknown, but the government regularly claims to take such reports under consideration.

The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), an umbrella organization founded in 2005 and representing seven business federations, 211 business associations and over 55,000 entrepreneurs from across Turkey, is believed to be close to U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and his global network of enterprises and schools. In November 2015, the Ankara police department launched a raid against the TUSKON headquarters as part of an investigation into the illegal, allegedly terrorist network, called “Parallel State Structure Terror Organization/Pro-Fethullah Terror Organization.” Moves against the confederation and its members intensified after the July 2016 failed coup.

Among labor unions, the ideological split between secular unions such as the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (KESK) and the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) and the more conservative-Islamic Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş) tends to prevent common action. Moreover, it has become increasingly obvious over the last decade that religiosity has become a strategic resource in creating solidarity among union members, and in bolstering loyalty to the government. Turkey’s oldest trade union, Türk-İş, has for many years prepared monthly surveys on hunger and poverty thresholds and is included in the collective bargaining process.

TÜSİAD repeatedly calls for an end to the state of emergency to improve freedom and plurality in Turkey. However, the government argues that the state of emergency is not a hurdle for business.
“State of emergency no hurdle for business in Turkey: Erdoğan,” 18 May 2017, (accessed 1 November 2017)
Ayse Bugra and Osman Savaskan, New Capitalism In Turkey The Relationship between Politics, Religion and Business, Edward Elgar, 2014.
Ankara police raid Gülen-linked business group TUSKON, 6 November 2015. (accessed 7 November 2015)
Türk-İş, Açlık ve yoksulluk, (accessed 27 October 2015)
Policy proposals by economic-interest groups do address relevant topics and are not always short-sighted or untenable; however, they tend to be narrow and largely guided by the groups’ interests. Unions as a socioeconomic interest group are relatively weak, and their influence in formulating policies relevant to their interests is quite limited. Exceptions to this rule of thumb do occur.
The spirit that has prevailed in industrial relations – characterized by a will to compromise to avoid industrial action – has been under tension since 2012. The actors have always founded their demands or positions on sectoral interests. They generally either lack internal research teams or have teams with limited capacities and scope. The Pancyprian Labor Union (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO) is a rare exception; it has a research institute on labor issues, which regularly produces scientific studies on the economy and labor market.

Affected by the crisis, the whole system of labor relations is going through a transitional period. The debate is ongoing, with a focus on what rights and processes to reestablish.
1. Government signs deal with unions pegging payroll to growth, Cyprus Business Mail, 4 January 2017,
Business associations, mainly the largest employer’s union (Mouvement des Entreprises de France, MEDEF) but also agricultural associations, are able to formulate policy proposals and contribute to agenda setting. They have their own research capabilities, and can successfully lobby government and parliamentarians. Weaker organizations such as the association of small and medium companies complain that their specific interests are marginalized by larger international groups and by the government. Trade unions are usually more reactive, mainly because their membership is low, at less than 8% of the workforce (the lowest percentage within the OECD), and split into several rival organizations. Trade unions’ strategy is to counterweight their weakness at the company level by negotiating at the sector level or even at the national level, and organizing mass protests in the streets. In areas where interest groups are united and strong, as in agriculture and education, they may have substantial influence, amounting to co-decisions together with government. In other areas, the weakness of organized interests results in marginal involvement in decision-making, which may lead to friction on implementation. President Hollande’s attempt to rejuvenate “social dialog” has produced limited results. A major problem is that two corporatist and “conservative” unions (CGT and FO), taking advantage of their footing in the civil service and public sector, have more or less rejected any change (e.g., they refused to sign the previously mentioned agreements). Macron in attempting to reform the labor law code has opted for a different strategy: organizing a systematic, but separate consultation with all the unions; and then adopting ordinances (executive orders) without parliamentary debate and overall negotiation with the unions.
While the main domestic business associations have proved generally loyal to the government, some business associations, first of all the National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers (VOSZ), have become rather critical of the government’s lack of predictability in economic policy. Ferenc Dávid, its general secretary, has been the most outspoken critic of the government’s economic policy. Moreover, the Orbán government has been criticized by the Hungarian European Business Council (HEBC). Representing Hungary’s 50 most important export companies, HEBC in its latest Annual Report has urged the elaboration of a country strategy with the deep reconstruction of education system, taking the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the digital transformation into account. The trade unions have also adopted a critical position toward the government, but their membership is small (somewhat below 10%), they are still rather fragmented, and their voice is weak in the public debates. More recently, however, successful strikes for higher wages have helped to increase membership.
HEBC (2017): Annual Report 2016. Budapest (
Trade unions have traditionally played a significant role in Croatia. Union membership rates are relatively high, and unions have been quite powerful in organizing protests against the government’s austerity measures. Like the Croatian Employers Association and most other economic interest associations, however, the unions have focused on opposing government proposals and have lacked the will – and the capacity – to develop their own proposals. The Chamber of Trades and Crafts, which has been particularly vocal in making proposals concerning vocational education, has played a more constructive role.
While policymaking in Romania is often influenced in a particularistic fashion by individual business interests, business associations are rather weak and have played a minor role in proposing concrete policy measures, much less offering cost–benefit analyses of the likely effects of such policies. Unions have not played an active role in policy formulation either. Even though union density is fairly high in Romania, union structure is fragmented and weakly developed.
Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
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