Parties and Interest Associations


To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) 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. 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.
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 policy setting enforces discipline on organizations. Although they promote their special interests, they also have to bring them into a realistic political setting to have influence. This consensus tradition is also seen in the labor market, where organizations have a tradition of settling issues to avoid political interference.
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.
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.

Labor union staff capacity has declined over several decades, as a result of the declining proportion of the workforce organized by unions (now about 11%). It is still sufficient to formulate relevant policy proposals in areas of interest. In general, labor unions are the principal interest organizations that represent the interests of low-income people. Thus, the decline in union capability is a potentially significant weakness of the U.S. political system.
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, neo-corporatist 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 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 Business Council of Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Canadian Labor 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. This corporatist structure is regularly criticized. Although not uncontroversial, this 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, SA), referred to as the employers’ association, has close, informal ties to the right-wing Independence Party. Likewise, the Icelandic Confederation of Labor (Alþýðusamband Íslands, ASÍ) 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. This effort was unsuccessful. 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, and a new labor market bargaining process is approaching and has already started in some cases.

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. In autumn 2018, the minister of fisheries and agriculture announced a substantial reduction in fishing fees, and the corresponding bill was passed by parliament before the end of 2018.
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.

The past few months were also very instructive as to the extent businesses are capable of affecting policy. In June 2018, the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee approved a first reading of a bill that would impose greater restrictions and limitations on the advertisement of tobacco products, despite immense pressure and lobbying from tobacco companies. At the time of writing, the bill is currently with the Economic Affairs Committee again, being prepared for its second and third reading in the plenum. The tobacco companies are trying to minimize the damage the bill may potentially cause them, should it be approved and enacted, through large amounts of advertisement and employing corps of lobbyists. Indeed, the first meeting of the committee to deliberate the bill’s second and third reading was attended by many lobbyists, representing both the tobacco companies, and anti-smoking and pro-public health organizations. The meeting dealt with the proposed law’s name and several definitions in it, all the votes on those issues were approved without opposition.
Israel. The Knesset. Protocol Number 827 from the Economic Affairs Committee. October 15th, 2018. (Hebrew). Retrieved from

“Law Bill.” In the Knesset’s official website (regarding “Bill of Limitation of the Advertisement and Marketing of Tobacco Products Act (Ammendment Number 7), 2018,” by several MKs). Last Seen: October 28th, 2018. (Hebrew).

Linder-Gantz, Roni. “The Advertisement Blitz: The Smoking Companies Are Out for a Final Battle.” In TheMarker website. October 15th, 2018. (Hebrew).

Linder-Gantz, Roni. “The Day the Smoke around the Tobacco Advertisement Cleared – and the MKs Chose the Side of the Public.” In TheMarker website. June 26th, 2018. (Hebrew).

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,” Globes,

“Netanyahu to open Globes Business Conference on Wed,” Globes, 18.12.2018:
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 2018 council meeting focused attention on improving the business environment, the availability and quality of labor, and digital performance and competitiveness, and strengthening the rule of law and preventing economic crimes.
1. The Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia, Information available:, Last assessed: 02.01.2019

2. National Tripartite Cooperation Council, Agenda available at (in Latvian):, Last assessed: 02.01.2019
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 25 Oct. 2018.

Chambre des Salariés Luxembourg. Accessed 25 Oct. 2018.

“L’UEL lance son nouveau site «Compétitivité – Tableau de bord».” Union des Entreprises Luxembourgeoises. Accessed 25 Oct. 2018.
During the period under review, 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 (PP) government during the worst years of the crisis. However, this does not mean that trade unions are radicalized or incapable of formulating viable polices. The largest business association (CEOE) has the Círculo de Empresarios think tank, as well as the training centers linked to the several chambers of commerce. Other private economic groups include the Círculo de Economía, farmer’s associations, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, some consumer associations, the Confederation of Cooperative Business, and diverse sectoral-lobbying actors (e.g., Foro Nuclear on the issue of nuclear energy). Big 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. According to the 2018 GRECO report, the recommendation to introduce rules regarding how members of parliament should engage with lobbyists seeking to influence the legislative process has been only partly implemented.
FUNCAS (2018), Spain’s revised fiscal outlook,

Fedea (2018), The social cost of unemployment,

GRECO (2018), Fourth evaluation round, Spain:
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 government experts 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, the Amsterdam (later Holland) Financial Center (Engelen), or Dutch Trade Investment Board (Follow the Money) has proven more than successful in influencing public policies on corporate governance, in easing regulation of the banking and financial sector, and in keeping taxes for business low. There is convincing evidence that in terms of election programs and promises, over the long run, Dutch households have been systematically disadvantaged compared to corporations and business. For example, tax reductions and exemptions for business were systematically higher than for ordinary citizens. When CEO’s publicly complained about political dissatisfaction and a lack of influence, the prime minster advised them to plead their case in the media more.
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

T. Bolle, Tijdens verkiezingen gepaaid en in het regeerakkoord genaaid, 9 October 2018 (, accessed 3 November 2018)

NRC-Handelsblad, Vooral bedrijven krijgen hun zin, burgers niet, 8 October 2018

W. Bolhuis, Van woord tot akkoord: een analyse van verkiezingsprogramma’s en regeerakkoorden, 1885-2017, Universiteit Leiden

W. Bolhuis, Elke formatie faalt. Verkiezingsbeloftes die nooit werden waargemaakt, Uitgeverij Brooklyn, 2018

NRC-Handelsblad, Catshuisberaad Premier tipt topcommissarissen: verschijn zelf vaker in de media, 12 October 2018
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 participating 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 a notable degree of 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.

Keidanren’s resumption of its commitment to support donations to the LDP beginning in 2014 has prompted concerns that it may be too close to the government. In 2018, Keidanren proposed scrapping the guidelines governing the recruitment of new university graduates, with several ministers ultimately expressing support.
N.N., On 70th anniversary, top business lobby looks at what distance to keep from politics, The Mainichi, 31 May 2017,

Kyodo/Jiji, Cabinet ministers express support for Keidanren proposal to scrap reruitment rules for college graduates, The Japan Times, 4 September 2018,
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. However, most NGOs remain reactive rather than proactive. In its 2019 budget, the government has earmarked some financial support for NGOs to help them overcome some of these problems.
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 – total union membership was estimated at 413,000 in June 2018, an impressive 11.2% increase from a year before – 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 (FTKU) and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), 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 their most powerful members – that is, business conglomerates 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. Under the Moon administration, the influence of business groups has remained strong, if somewhat contradictory. Labor organizations have come to wield considerable power in formulating major social and economic policies, thanks to the Moon government’s labor-friendly stance.
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. International businesses, such as Airbus and certain Japanese investors, have been vocal during the Brexit debates.
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 and external scholars. Most reports and proposals drafted by the trade unions go beyond labor relations, and relate to taxation, transfers, foreign investors and other political issues.
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 various documents, including 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 proposing policies and its analytic capacity has significantly increased in recent years. For example, the EEU was behind the Governance Reform Radar initiative and is closely linked to the State Reform Foundation, which has produced a detailed list of reform proposals. Similar positive change is also visible regarding the ETUC. Both organizations have a “policy impact” section on their websites. Meanwhile, support from the EU Social Fund has played an important role in capacity-building. Both the ETUC and EEU make use of various measures (e.g., training programs, hiring analysts and requesting studies) envisaged in the 2014 – 2020 programming period.
The Employers’ Manifesto 2018. Race against the Clock. (accessed 24.10.2018)
Interest associations often make 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 Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

The General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) counts on its thinktank, the Labor Institute (INE), for information and advice on policy matters. The thinktank of SEV is the Institute of Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE). Depending on the policy issue, this thinktank 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 thinktanks. The same holds for the General Confederation of Civil Servants (ADEDY) which recently revived its own thinktank (ADEDY Polykentro)

In the period under review, the government did not systematically consult with economic interest associations, as it was preoccupied with implementing the last leg of the three-year long Memorandum of Understanding, signed between Greece and its creditors in the summer of 2015. Naturally, government ministers appeared at all major events staged by economic interest associations (e.g., annual conventions and specific conferences), but it is doubtful whether these brief exchanges between government officials and association representatives had any impact on policy formulation.
The opinions expressed by INE, a thinktank of GSEE supporting labor unions, are available at
(in Greek only). For opinions mostly reflecting the views of Greek industrialists, see the website of the thinktank IOBE at (English version of the website).
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, ranking it 12th 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 as well as supports the capacity-building efforts of social partners.
University of Pennsylvania. “2016 Global Go To Think Tanks.”
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. 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.
Bender, B. (2017): Polnisches Puzzle. Organisation, Mitgliederentwicklung und politische Beteiligung von Gewerkschaften und Arbeitgeberverbänden aus vergleichender Perspektive. Polen-Analysen Nr. 208, Darmstadt/ Bremen (
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.
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 expressed dissatisfaction at some policies these tend to be reactions to specific government measures rather than ex ante and general policy proposals. And, as most of the policies regarded austerity, to which the government is no longer committed, they have even less relevance today.
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.

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. Trade unions and civil society representatives participated in drafting Law No. 6356 on trade unions, although the final output was ultimately determined by the government. 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.
“State of emergency no hurdle for business in Turkey: Erdoğan,” 18 May 2017,ğan-113283 (accessed 1 November 2017)
Ayse Bugra and Osman Savaskan, New Capitalism In Turkey The Relationship between Politics, Religion and Business, Edward Elgar, 2014.
A. Şahin and A. Söylemez, “Sendikalara Yönelik Politikaların Belirlenmesinde Sendikaların Rolü ve 6356 Sayılı Sendikalar Kanunu,” Sosyal Ekonomik Araştırmalar Dergisi, 17, 2017: 135-144.
Kolektif, 2000’li Yıllarda Türkiye’de Sendikacılık Zorluklar, Eğilimler, Olanaklar, Epos Yayınları, 2017.
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.
A decades-long spirit of compromise that had prevailed in industrial relations has been under tension since 2012. The actors have always based their demands or positions on sectoral interests. They generally either lack internal research teams or have teams with limited capacities and task scope. The left-wing Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO) is a rare exception; its research institute regularly produces scientific studies on the economy and labor market.

The system of labor relations today features efforts by employers to further limit benefits and by trade unions to reestablish rights and benefits.
1. Unions demand better conditions for hotel workers, Cyprus Mail, 1 June 2018,
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 in spite or because of their low membership, with trade union members accounting for 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 dialogue” has produced limited results. A major problem is the political split within the trade union movement. Two corporatist and “conservative” unions (CGT and FO), have taken advantage of their footing in the civil service and public sector, and have more or less rejected any change (e.g., they refused to sign the previously mentioned agreements) and have attempted to use mass mobilization to block reforms. Meanwhile, two other trade unions (CFDT and UNSA) have adopted more moderate positions and tried to balance advocacy for workers’ interests with a constructive role in negotiating reforms.
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 and legal regulations. Moreover, the Orbán government has been criticized by the Hungarian European Business Council (HEBC). Representing Hungary’s 50 most important export companies, HEBC 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.
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 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. In November 2018, the Croatian Employers’ Association (HUP) published a substantive public policy document on the sectoral and institutional reforms needed to keep Croatia from falling even further behind other Central European and South-East European EU member countries.
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. Union density has decreased considerably since 1990, with union structure fragmented and weakly developed. Unions have become increasingly distrusted as various leaders have joined political parties and sought political careers, often by sacrificing the interests of the unions to their own personal objectives. Moreover, even where economic interest associations are capable of formulating relevant policies, this has been somewhat undermined by an unwillingness on behalf of the government to take these views into account, as was demonstrated by the recent tax reforms which prompted significant criticism from labor organizations.
Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
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