Lobbying and diplomacy are both activities aimed at representing certain interests in front of the decision-makers and the public by informing both policy-makers and the public about certain policies, specific viewpoints, advantages or disadvantages in adopting a certain measure.
The lobbying activity requires a lot of work and professional integrity. It requires legal, political, sociological and communication knowledge. In supporting a public cause, a good lobbyist must be rigorous and creative at the same time. In the EU, the high-level diplomatic lobby functioned mainly until the 1970s, when the precursor lobby of contemporary practices took over. At that time, there were few lobbyists in Europe, and law firms were not involved in lobbying at that time. The explosion of the modern lobby occurred after 1979 when the first elections for the European Parliament were organized.
What makes the practice of lobbying different from the practice of diplomacy?
Diplomacy has long been portrayed as the prerogative of states (and its representatives), engaged in the management of international relations by negotiations done in a peaceful way. In recent years, however, diplomacy as an exclusive state domain has been challenged on several fronts. The range of issues has expanded significantly to a variety of areas that go beyond the immediate military and political dimensions of traditional diplomacy (e.g. environmental diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, etc.).
Unlike diplomacy, lobbying is normally associated with the actions of interest groups. Defined as those activities that target policy-makers with a view to influencing policy outcomes and bringing them close to the interests and goals of the lobbyists, the role of lobbying and how different interest groups manage to shape public policies is a crucial issue for scholars. Given its importance in terms of who wins/loses in politics and who influences whom, lobbying has thus generated a large amount of studies that have tried to assess the influence of interest groups, to gauge the evolution of the lobbying population and to evaluate their role in terms of democratic accountability and/or biases that the system might have towards certain actors. Interestingly, lobbying does not only occur on issues of domestic policy, but foreign policy is an important aspect as well.
Nowadays, lobbying it is an increasingly common practice. Governments use lobbyists as an alternative to traditional diplomacy. Being able to develop and apply negotiation and a lobbying strategy has become a necessity for professionals aspiring to develop their influence and their business relations. Acting effectively with the various international decision-makers and international actors require:
- A knowledge-based approach mastering and taking into account specific political, legal and regulatory constraints;
- A know-how putting into practice the most effective methods of action and communication instantly when the decision-making process is implemented;
- A high-level of comfort in adapting to the various target cultures and regions and to the current world.
The differences between lobbying and diplomacy
Lobbying and diplomacy are activities aimed at representing certain interests in front of the decision-makers and the public of a political system; at informing policy-makers and the public about certain policies, specific viewpoints, etc.; at communicating these issues via formal and informal channels; at influencing the formulation and implementation of policies and at building relationships.
Besides the similarity in the goals of lobbying and diplomacy, both rest on persuasion as diplomats and lobbyists have to convince their counterparts of the importance of their perspective, information, and interests.
The diplomatic relations exercised through the embassies are a fruitful area from which some successful lobbyists of today come from, despite professional deontology, which, in principle, forbids the employment of former graduates in private lobbying firms at the end of the term. The rules regarding the hiring of the diplomatic personnel in the sphere of private lobbying consultancy need more clarity and transparency from the European Commission.
The impact of lobbyists on the foreign policy of the states is not, however, as clear as that on the internal policy. The results of the lobbying campaigns, in general, show that lobbyists produce more visible changes, thus exerting greater influence in internal politics as compared to the external relations.
Influence & Lobbying
The structure of interests in any given nation will depend upon the structure of the economy, the role of the government, political and business culture. If there’s a tendency for less governmental control, there’s a higher possibility that interest groups will act more or less independently using the government as an instrument of influence. If, on the contrary, the government tends to subordinate business and industry in a power vertical, their interests will more likely become an instrument of achieving political goals.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that international lobbying is made only from business interests, it includes other groups as stated above. Moreover, there are often purely political goals that may not include private interests. For example security issues, whether it is about implementing a new arms control agreement, fighting terrorism or extradition of criminals, these issues are usually dealt through official channels and embassies. But even here, lobbying can become a part of the policymaking, if a government decides to hire lobbyists or consultants that are ready to accompany policies, influencing decision-makers, experts or public opinion.
The lobbying activity helps to maintain and improve the public trust, trust in the democratic institution and the representation process of public politics. In the end, international lobbying never excludes diplomacy and vice versa, these are complementary layers that become intertwined, as the decision-making process becomes more complicated.