European Journal of Political Research (2017) 56(1): 46-69. (doi: 10.1111/1475-6765.12165)
Consultations with stakeholders are a policy instrument widely used by policy makers to design policies and prepare legislative proposals across national and supranational systems of government. The European Union has recently reviewed its stakeholder consultation regime and asked for stakeholders’ policy input. This offers an opportunity to examine empirically stakeholders’ own evaluation of the regime and to ask a fundamental question about its democratic credentials: Do stakeholders recognise the EU consultation regime as reinforcing bias in interest representation by benefiting policy insiders, or conversely as an instrument that alleviates bias in supranational policymaking? Building on rational choice institutionalism, this article outlines the potential distributional outcomes of the regime and argues that they are likely to vary along the lines of a classic divide in policy making that opposes policy insiders to outsiders. Two competing narratives are discussed in relation to the expected direction of this variation by focusing on insiders’ incentives to support or oppose the regime.The observable implications are tested empirically on an original dataset containing information about stakeholders’ positions on the evaluation of the regime status quo, its proposed further institutionalisation and their recommendations for change.The findings describe a consultation regime that seems to have created conditions alleviating bias in stakeholders’ participation in supranational policymaking.This is evident in the lack of systematic, significant differences between insiders and outsiders in the evaluation of the consultation regime.Where differences do occur, they are consistent with the image of a consultation regime that has not reinforced bias in favour of policy insiders.These actors are found to be more critical of the regime status quo, its institutionalisation and more inclined to recommend policy improvements.This supports an optimistic view over the democratic credentials and legitimacy of the EU consultation regime and outlines an additional scenario under which policy actors that are traditionally associated with exerting more power and influence find themselves stripped of their privileged position in the context of European supranational governance.