Adriana Bunea. (2018) European Journal of Political Research 57(2): 378-403.
Regulating interest groups’ access to decision makers constitutes a key dimension of legitimate and accountable systems of government. The European Union explicitly links lobbying regulation with the democratic credentials of its supranational system of governance and proposes transparency as a solution to increase legitimacy and regulate private actors’ participation in policy making. This lobbying regulation regime consists of a Transparency Register that conditions access to decision makers upon joining it and complying with its information disclosure requirements. The extent to which transparency-based regulatory regimes are successful in ensuring effective regulation of targeted actors and in being recognised as a legitimate instrument of governance constitutes a key empirical question. Therefore, the study asks: Do stakeholders perceive the transparency-based EU lobbying regulation regime to be a legitimate form of regulatory governance? The study answers by building on a classic model of targeted transparency and proposes perceived regulatory effectiveness and sustainability as two key dimensions on which to evaluate the legitimacy of the Register. The arguments are tested on a new dataset reporting the evaluations of 1,374 stakeholders on the design and performance of the EU lobbying regulation regime. The findings describe a transparency regime that scores low in perceived effectiveness and moderate to low in sustainability. Citizens criticise the quality of information disclosed and the Register’s performance as a transparency instrument. The Register did not effectively bridge the information gap between the public and interest groups about supranational lobbying. In terms of sustainability, interest organisations appreciate the systemic benefits of transparency, but identify few organisation-level benefits. Organisations that are policy insiders incur more transparency costs so they instrumentally support transparency only insofar it suits their lobbying strategies and does not threaten their position. Insiders support including additional categories of organisations in the Register’s regulatory remit but not more types of interactions with policymakers.They support an imperfect regulatory status quo to which they have adapted but lack incentives to support increased transparency and information disclosure. Targeted transparency proves an ineffective approach to regulating interest groups’ participation in EU policy making, constituting a suboptimal choice for ensuring transparent, accountable and legitimate supranational lobbying.