The politics of access in the European Union I: Towards elite pluralism?
Relations among the EU institutions and business interest groups have become a major element in the governance of the European Union. Many scholars consider the access of interest groups to the EU institutions as important because systematic variations in these access patterns can result in biased politics. Thus, finding an elitist bias in these contact patterns, Thomas Hueglin (1999: 260) transferred Ernst E. Schattschneider’s well-known comment on the political process in the United States to the European Union: ‘the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper class accent’. David Coen (1997, 1998) arrives at the same conclusion when characterizing the EU patterns of interest intermediation as a form of ‘elite pluralism’ (see also Cowles 2001). Analysis of these access patterns is all the more important because European Commission officials maintain almost as many contacts with interest organizations as with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) or with officials in the Council of the EU. The Commission officials are more frequently in exchange with interest organizations than with position holders in the Committee of Regions or the Economic and Social Committee. In fact, they are only more often in touch with national civil servants than with business interest groups. Among interest organizations, the Commission maintains more contacts with firms and business associations than with trade unions or environmental and consumer groups (Hooghe 2001: 64-5).