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, especially with regard to labor market issues, the country’s major interest organizations are regularly involved in policymaking. The most recent examples include initiatives focusing on the employment of immigrants and lifelong 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 most clearly seen in the labor market, where organizations have a tradition of settling issues to avoid political interference (the so-called Danish Model), and tripartite agreements are often made.
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 Enterprises 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, pursue a moderate wage policy and ensure moderate inflation and interest rates.

This cooperation has also been regarded as important in promoting gradual policy 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 always being a member of 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 (Pierre, 2016).

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.
Pierre, Jon. (ed.) 2016. “Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics.” Oxford University Press. 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 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.
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 negotiations between employers’ associations and trade unions. Moreover, the trade unions and employers’ organizations each have their own well-developed study services with technical (e.g., legal and budgetary) expertise, even covering topics outside their traditional focus areas.

When the outcome of negotiations are positive, 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.

However, it has also happened that negotiations have failed to produce a positive result. In particular, pension and minimum wage negotiations have previously been derailed.

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 perceived need to protect the institution.

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La pension à mi-temps passe, les doutes restent
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 Unifor, formerly the Canadian Auto Workers. Reflecting Canada’s federal structure, many employers’ associations and trade unions are provincial in nature. In Québec, where something close to a corporatist model has existed since the 1960s, trade unions such as the Confédération des syndicats nationaux have been influential policy voices, especially on issues such as the French language, socioeconomic inequalities, and gender.
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. Recent trends indicate that corporatism is becoming increasingly important as support for and membership in traditional political parties is decreasing.

According to Greve et al. (2020) the role of trade unions and work councils as social partners has been more limited in Finland than in other Nordic countries. They were consulted during the preparation of the government support packages, but not to the extent seen in Denmark, for example. One reason for this could be that many unemployment-related issues (e.g., short‐term work and wage supplement systems) were already covered by national regulation.
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.
Blom, Anders. 2018. Taloudelliset eturyhmät politiikan sisäpiirissä: Tutkimus liike-elämän poliittisesta vaikuttamisesta kolmikantaisessa Suomessa 1968–2011. Turun Yliopiston julkaisuja.
Blom, Anders. 2019. “Suomen malli murroksessa – edunvalvonnan ja korporatismin uudet kuviot,”

Greve, B, Blomquist, P, Hvinden, B, van Gerven, M. Nordic welfare states – still standing or changed by the
COVID‐19 crisis? Soc Policy Adm. 2020; 1– 17.
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 – despite stating that all was well just before the 2008 collapse – continues to provide advice to the government.

A small group of vessel-owning oligarchs has amassed huge wealth through the discriminatory fisheries management system. They are widely viewed as holding significant political power, which they use to prevent reform of fisheries management, prevent the ratification of the new constitution and keep Iceland out of the European Union.

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.
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. 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.

In addition, the Labor Federation is involved in policymaking. Given its weakening position over the last decades, its influence (e.g., in the adoption of the new pension legislation) was conditioned on cooperating with business associations (most prominently, the Manufacturers’ Association).
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 dialogue.

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 dialogue 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 dialogue at the prime-ministerial level. The actions that come out of these dialogues are subsequently implemented and monitored. The 2018 council meeting focused attention on labor availability and quality, governance issues within the education and transport sectors, public sector effectiveness (including digitalization, rule of law, and combating economic and financial crimes), and developments in the energy sector.
1. The Foreign Investors’ Council in Latvia, Information available:, Last accessed: 12.01.2022.

2. National Tripartite Cooperation Council, Agenda available at (in Latvian):, 12.01.2022.
Under Luxembourg’s specific social-partnership model, the government consults with unions, employers’ organizations and professional chambers over draft bills that touch on their members’ interests. Furthermore, all opinions, as well as the modified draft bills, are published on the parliament’s website. Unions and employers’ organizations are consulted in every case; every draft bill is submitted to the appropriate employee organization (Chambre des Salariés) and to employers’ organizations (Chambre de Commerce and Chambre des Métiers) if it concerns their members’ interests. Civil society groups may also be included in the process, depending on the purpose of the draft bill or new policy.

The so-called tripartite social model is based on institutionalized and ongoing dialogue between the government, employers and trade unions on important economic and social issues, with the goal of reaching consensus. Nowadays, five institutions engage in ongoing social dialogue: the Economic Committee, the Economic and Social Council, the Tripartite Coordination Committee, the Permanent Committee on Labor and Employment and the Tripartite Steel Conference (although this latter organization is not continuously active). The most influential trade unions in Luxembourg are the OGBL, the LCGB and the CNFP.
“Tripartite: Luxembourg’s social model “. html. Accessed 14 January 2022. Accessed 14 January 2022.
During the period under review, the government actively engaged in dialogue with Spain’s biggest trade unions (UGT and CCOO) and employers’ associations. The social stakeholders and the government signed several agreements, including on the increase in the minimum wage, the plans for temporary layoffs during the pandemic (ERTEs), a benefit programs for self-employed workers, the Economic Reactivation and Employment Agreement, and the Remote Working Agreement. The government also convened many meetings with trade unions (UGT and CCOO) and employers’ associations to structure and monitor the various economic and social responses to the pandemic.
In November 2020, the government, trade unions and employers’ associations set up the Social Dialogue Board for Recovery, Transformation and Resilience. This board serves as a channel for the regulation of dialogue between the government and social stakeholders regarding the design and implementation of the national recovery plan.

More generally, the main economic interest associations are coping with increasingly constrained resources and a fragmentation of both the labor market and the economic landscape (as is also happening to political parties). But they remain closely involved in the policymaking process at the executive level.
Gobierno de España (2021), Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia
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 formal and informal networks that also include high-level civil servants and politicians. For example, the day the government announced that it was going into crisis mode due to the coronavirus pandemic, the chairs of the two major employers’ and labor unions met with the ministers of Finance, Economic Affairs and Climate, and Social Affairs and Employment. In the next months, they cobbled together the generous and fast wage-support system that would ultimately save jobs and business activities during the coronavirus lockdowns (see “Economy” and “Labor Markets”). Members of these networks discuss labor market and other important socioeconomic policy issues. These processes have become institutionalized. For instance, there are tripartite negotiations, especially organized in and through the Socioeconomic Council (Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER), in which employers, employees and government experts are fixed discussion partners in government 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. For example, the strongest labor union, FNV, has claimed success in influencing government policy on stricter hiring and firing rules, the pension agreement, and stricter regulation of a flexible labor market. However, membership in trade unions has shown a continuous decline, particularly among younger people. In addition, members and supporters of trade unions and professional and commercial associations frequently have more radical opinions than their representatives. In recent demonstrations, especially by farmers, teachers and hospital workers, association representatives in negotiations with the government were called back by their followers.

Since the mid-1970s, employers’ associations have consistently been in favor of the liberalization of labor market institutions. They have supported efforts to decentralize, deregulate, individualize and more recently also to decollectivize wages, working-time arrangements and collective bargaining. In the early 2010s, however, even while employers organizations maintained that labor-cost moderation was necessary, they started to acknowledge that the purchasing power of large groups of (middle-class) employees was lagging behind and that in some sectors, labor shortages had reached dangerous levels. Moderation among unions and the presence of center-right (dominated) governments reduced the urgency of dismantling the Dutch corporatist framework throughout most of the post-1970s period. Most demands made by employers thus ended up in the general agreements; however, this posture has changed, and employers organizations have several times questioned the need for collective bargaining and corporatist decision-making. The weakness of the unions has clearly emboldened employers, which could signal more labor market unrest in the (near) future.

This institutionalized “poldering” model has seen the rise of a parallel venue of strong business lobbying. 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. However, 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, easing regulation of the banking and financial sector, keeping taxes for business low, and influencing the Dutch stance on Russian gas imports. 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 are systematically higher than for ordinary citizens (see also “Taxes”).
P.D. Culpepper, 2010. Quiet Politics and Business Power. Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, Cambridge University Press

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, Marée, 3 November 2021. Dit jaar opnieuw sterke daling vakbondsleden

NTC, Pelgrim and Sterk, 8 March 2021. Han Busker: ‘De flexibele arneidsmarkt werd gezien als natuurkracht’

NRC, Heck, 5 April 2021. De ceo kan de minister altijd bellen

Follow the Money, Keyzer and Geurts, 11 September 2021. Shell fluisterde Nederlands standpunt in over gas uit Rusland

Boumans, S. (2021). Neoliberalisation of industrial relations: The ideational development of Dutch employers’ organisations between 1976 and 2019. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 1-22.
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. In many cases, interest groups continue to formulate (almost) complete laws by themselves, which parliament subsequently only needs to approve. These groups’ ability to shape politics may have been reduced as a result of Austria’s integration into the European Union, but – in domestic politics – their influence remains 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 has changed to some extent in recent years. The SPÖ’s closest allies have lost ground after the party’s fall from power in 2017. The formation of a new coalition government between the ÖVP and the Greens early in 2020 continued the post-2017 policies. In fact, the ÖVP-Green government was the first national government that did not include any minister representing the government’s social partners (Sozialpartner).
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. 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. Consultation with the trade unions and employers intensified during the pandemic period and their input into the recovery plan was substantial.
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). SEV’s think tank is the Institute of Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE). 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 remainder of the large 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. The same holds for the General Confederation of Civil Servants (ADEDY), which has revived its own think tank (ADEDY Polykentro)

As in the past, in the period under review, the government only periodically consulted with economic interest associations. Limited consultation was the result of the COVID-19 crisis. Naturally, government ministers appeared at all major events staged by economic interest associations (e.g., annual conventions and specific conferences) and submitted drafts of government policy to the scrutiny of interest associations, including the government plan for the development of national economy (the Pissarides Plan).
The opinions expressed by INE, a GSEE think tank supporting labor unions, are available at
(in Greek only).

Τhe website of the think tank of ADEDY is available at

For opinions mostly reflecting the views of Greek industrialists, see the website of the IOBE think tank at http: (English version of the website).
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 publish policy proposals aimed at influencing public debate and 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 further economic opening. Critics also contend that its membership policies are too conservative, de facto keeping startups and tech companies at bay. However, the accession of new members such as Facebook in 2019 may indicate that the federation is trying to adapt. The Doyukai is characterized more by strong independent companies, and has been outspoken in demanding a more open business environment.
On 70th anniversary, top business lobby looks at what distance to keep from politics, The Mainichi, 31 May 2017,

Shigenori Arai, Facebook joins Keidanren, Japan’s leading business lobby, Nkkei Asian Review, 2 July 2019,
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 Center 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. Their strength was demonstrated during the pandemic and through close consultation with government.
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 (bringing together over 320,000 members in 27 affiliated unions), Federated Farmers, and the Chambers of Commerce, and BusinessNZ. All are involved in policy formation and dissemination, and all seek to influence government policy. However, there is an underlying asymmetry. During the 1990s and 2000s business interests relied 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 (NZI), a libertarian think tank that lobbies for pro-market economic and social policies, although the NZI does not have the same degree of networked influence as its predecessors.
Business New Zealand – Submissions: (accessed October 24, 2015).
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, About us (
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).
South Korea
Business associations such as the Korean Employers Federation and the Federation of Korean Industries, as well as labor-union umbrella groups such as the Federation of Korean Trade Unions 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. 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 more labor-friendly stance.
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. The positions of the two main parties had appeared to diverge in the 2019 general election. However, in the course of the pandemic, the essential role of the state was broadly accepted by both business and labor interests. 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 process of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union led to some more assertive stances both from business (concerned especially about threats to its access to European markets and curbs on skilled immigrant workers) and trade unions (notably around protections deriving from EU rules). Some business groups were, however, more concerned about what they perceive as excessive regulatory burdens associated with EU membership. Although British business associations were divided over Westminster’s political ties to Brussels, access to the European Single Market was 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. Several international businesses, such as Airbus and certain Japanese investors, were vocal during the Brexit debates. Several more international businesses (e.g., Nissan and BMW) have made it clear since the referendum result that disruptions to their densely woven supply chains across the European Single Market will negatively affect their British production facilities. While somewhat masked by reduced trade volumes as a result of the pandemic, border frictions have certainly arisen, but with more pronounced effects on SMEs than larger companies.

Despite being capable of formulating policies, the eventual result of the EU-UK negotiations (namely a comparatively “hard” Brexit) indicates that the influence of associations on both sides of industry must be judged relatively minor in the face of clear political preferences. As the pandemic recedes, businesses are starting to express concerns about increased taxation and the – so far – limited changes in regulatory measures, while trade unions are worried about the rising cost of living.
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 were relatively active in this regard throughout the period in review. They also cooperate 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 European 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.
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 only rarely engage in cooperation with academic bodies or individual experts to commission impact assessments of draft legal initiatives. 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 2019, 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 152th 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. “2019 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.

Due to the anti-corruption efforts of the new government, several union leaders are facing corruption charges, including the leader of Pemex’s workers’ union. In addition, the former CEO of Pemex is also facing corruption charges.

In contrast to its predecessors, the new government is cooperating more with NGOs, and social movements and activists, which has at least partly counterbalanced the traditional weight of established interest associations.
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, used to have quite friendly relations with the PiS government, which have now deteriorated due to the government bypassing trade unions over decisions regarding COVID-19 measures. Trade unions are also more critical of the school reforms and have supported the various teachers’ strikes. 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. All associations complain about not being involved in government policy discussions, despite the formal existence of the Council of Social Dialogue.
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. 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.
In Slovenia, with its strong corporatist tradition, economic-interest associations are very well organized, and possess relatively strong analytical capacities to propose and assess policies. 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. In the period under review, however, there were some setbacks for the Economic and Social Council, despite an increase in meetings, as employee representatives pulled out of the council in May 2021, accusing the government of breaking the rules of social dialogue.
Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
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 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, healthcare, security, and migration.

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. In many instances, this has led the government to offer wage increases that are well below real inflation rates.
Şahin, A., & Söylemez, A. (2017). Sendikalara Yönelik Politikaların Belirlenmesinde Sendikaların Rolü Ve 6356 Sayılı Sendikalar Kanunu. Sosyal Ekonomik Araştırmalar Dergisi, 17, 135-144.
Trade unions cover about one-quarter of employees. Union membership is declining and is higher in the public than in the private sector. Like most other economic interest associations, trade unions have focused on opposing government proposals, but have lacked the will and ability to develop their own proposals. In 2019, trade unions became more active and the three trade union confederations – Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), Independent Trade Unions of Croatia (NHS) and Association of Croatia Trade Unions (Matica) – led a campaign to collect signatures for a petition to hold a referendum on changes to the pension system reform. The teachers’ unions orchestrated a strike in 2019. Like other public sector trade unions, however, they have failed to propose measures to improve the quality of public services and have focused only on securing salary hikes.

There is only one representative association for employers, the Croatian Employers’ Association (HUP). The HUP carries out some policy analysis relating to institutional reforms. The HUP publishes thematic articles through its newspaper and electronic bulletin. It presents positions on current economic themes through press conferences and media campaigns. However, effective coordination between HUP members in designing their own solutions or seriously challenging government is lacking, since many employers are heavily dependent on state contracts. The Chamber of Trades and Crafts, which has been particularly vocal in making proposals concerning vocational education, has played a more constructive role.

In April 2020, the Croatian Employers’ Association (Hrvatska udruga poslodavaca, HUP) hired a new chief economist, striving to raise the quality of the group’s policy assessments. In 2021, the group published analytical projections related to the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism. Based on this information, HUP proposed to the government that 50% of the funds should go to the private sector. The government ignored this request, as evidenced by the fact that the HUP announced only a few weeks before the adoption of the policy that it was still not involved in the process of drafting this strategic document.
Tripartite consultations (comprising the government, employers’ associations and trade unions) are an established tradition in labor relations. The actors participate in order to promote their sectoral interests. They have no research institutes beyond study teams, with limited capacity and scope. The left-wing Pancyprian Federation of Labor (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO) is a rare exception. Its research institute regularly produces and publishes scientific studies on the economy and labor market.
1. Hoteliers and unions agree on terms for collective agreement, Cyprus Mail, 28 August 2019,
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-sized companies complain that their specific interests are marginalized by larger national groups and by the government. Trade unions are usually more reactive in spite or because of their relatively small membership numbers, with trade-union members accounting for less than 8% of the workforce (the lowest percentage within the OECD) and split into several rival organizations. The strategy of the unions is to compensate for their weakness at the company level by negotiating at the sectoral level or even at the national level, and by 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, effectively making decisions jointly with the government. In other areas, the weakness of organized interests results in marginal involvement in decision-making, which may lead to friction during implementation. President Hollande’s attempt to rejuvenate social dialogue 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 tend to resist or reject any serious change. They have long relied upon mass mobilization to block reforms, but their ability to mobilize is diminishing except in a few sectors such as public transport. 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. However, President Macron did not honor this constructive attitude, and did not try to forge reform alliances that included the unions. On the contrary, the government’s rejection of the agreement between the social partners on the issue of unemployment insurance marks a recent failure of social concertation. The government contended that the agreement did not go far enough in tackling the costs and loopholes in a system that provided overgenerous benefits and too few incentives to accept available jobs. It presented its own reform bill, which passed parliament and has been in force since October 2021.
Domestic business associations, especially the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have been capable of formulating relevant policies, but have proved loyal to the government. The trade unions have recently adopted a much more critical position toward the government. However, as their membership is small (somewhat below 10%) and they suffer from fragmentation, they are weak and lack the resources to conduct thorough policy analysis.
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 union members to their own personal objectives. Moreover, when economic interest associations are capable of formulating relevant policies, this has been somewhat undermined by the unwillingness of the government to consider their views, 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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