For almost three years, the Association of Public Affairs Agencies of the Czech Republic (APAA) has been attempting to explain the basis of lobbying and its role as an intermediary between the public and private interests, as well as to fight the faulty understanding of lobbying, especially in the media. Given that in recent years lobbying and lobbyists appeared at the center of public debate in relation to the embezzlement of public tenders, we often face the incorrect belief that regulation of lobbying will limit corruption.
How truthful is the claim that the border between lobbying and corruption is thin? It is probably as thin as the difference between a purchase and a theft in a supermarket. Yes, you are at the same place with the same people, but that is where the similarities end. Intentions, objectives and means are different – and are punishable yet! We could hardly defend the need for a new regulation of shopping just because some people steal in shopping centres.
By setting certain rules for the relationship between the state and interest groups (i.e. lobbying), we can increase the quality of democracy for all of us. Transparent dialogue between the state and interest groups and their inclusion in the decision-making process contribute to greater predictability and stability of the business environment – which, according to large companies considering investment in most of the CEE countries, currently is non-existent.
By estimate, roughly fewer than a hundred people in the Czech Republic earn their living by lobbying. Some are employed by specialised agencies, out of which the six largest are united in APAA; many companies employ their own in-house lobbyists; and other firms conduct lobbying as a part of their external communication or through their legal teams. For a large majority of small or medium-sized enterprises, it is the manager or owner who defends the company’s interests on all fronts. State, public administration and the EU regulation have ever greater impact on the operations of businesses, thus when companies reach a certain size and influence, it pays for them to protect their interests on their own or to hire specialists. As Scottish journalist Alex Massie wrote: “If you accept the need for this regulation, then justice demands you accept the need for lobbying, too”.
Technological development is reflected in the difficulty of regulations – now more than ever, politicians and public officials decide on issues about which they know nothing except for what they read in the newspaper. Drone regulation, electronic cigarettes or genetically modified food are just a few examples of modern-day regulatory challenges. At every monthly session, the Parliament usually discusses more than 100 issues, while a single person cannot encompass more than a tenth. In the end, however, it is not the lobbyists but decision-makers who adopt legislation, and it is in their interest to hear different opinions. The issue is not too much lobbying, but the lack thereof.