chapter  7
Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil: European integration and interest group politics in the Low Countries
Pages 21

Introduction The Benelux countries are traditionally categorized as neo-corporatist systems of interest representation (Siaroff 1999; Woldendorp and Delsen 2008; Lijphart 2011). Interest representation in such systems is characterized by concertation, namely policy-making in which peak associations and state actors negotiate jointly and seek consensus on specific policies. This process takes place before the parliamentary stage and parliament frequently rubber-stamps decisions taken elsewhere. Often neo-corporatism goes hand in hand with weak parliaments and executive dominance (Armingeon 2002). Another typical feature of neocorporatist systems is their hierarchical structure within which a limited number of peak associations negotiate with each other and with state actors. Peak associations aggregate societal interests and, as a result, represent encompassing interests instead of specialized and sectoral interests. In the case of the Low Countries, these features of neo-corporatism need to be considered in the context of a broader consociational system in which centralization in terms of bargaining and policymaking is combined with sub-cultural and ideological segmentation. Most organized interests are tied to an organizational network that performs various socio-cultural, welfare, recreational and social functions (such as health care insurance, payment of unemployment benefits and vocational training). These organizational networks correspond with socio-cultural, religious, ideological or linguistic segments of society, also called pillars. One of the typical features of a consociational system of interest representation is that many public policies are administered by the pillars and that state actors depend on these pillars in order to design and implement public policies. Chapter 8 by Vis and Woldendorp focuses on labor and business organizations, the so-called social partners, and concludes that European integration has not profoundly affected existing modes of neo-corporatist policymaking. In this chapter, we take a somewhat broader view and assess how European integration has impacted modes of politics in the Low Countries (the second research question), in particular the political strategies and the overall orientation of organized interests. On the one hand, one could argue that the liberalization and globalization processes that have gone hand in hand with Europeanization have eroded

the propensity of individuals and firms to act collectively and to associate (Cerny 1995; Traxler 2003). Moreover, the up-scaling of contemporary policy-making possibly complicates the capabilities of societal interests to gain influence and power. On the other hand, European integration has created additional venues, where organized interests can seek access and attention. Although the European Union (EU) can be conceived of as an actor that imposes policies on the member states, it is also an arena that supplies access opportunities as well as legal and normative tools that enables societal interests to become politically active. The main question we address is whether EU membership has had organizational and strategic consequences for domestic organized interests, to what extent there has been a shift from the national to the European level, how such a shift can be understood and what the implications are for the nature of interest groups’ relationships with political authority. After having sketched the broader context, namely how interest representation in the Low Countries has traditionally been organized, we develop some propositions that will guide our analysis. One of our main findings is that Europeanization has had a different impact on different types of interest organizations, and that this variation in impact has been highly similar for the three countries. While some organized interests have shifted part of their attention to the EU, for many organized interests EU policies remain a minor point of attention. Although there has clearly been some EU impact in terms of organizational and strategic adaptation, there is little evidence that European integration has substantially transformed the overall mode of interest group politics in the Low Countries.