New Actors or Established Elites? Civil Society Participation in European Parliament Intergroups
This article explores European Parliament intergroups and their potential to serve as an (alternative) deliberative tool in the EP that contributes to democratic throughput legitimacy by playing a central role in the way parliamentarians interact with civil society. Intergroups are informal cross-party, cross-committee groupings bringing together Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from different political groups, parliamentary committees and member states (see Landorff, 2019). The Parliament’s Rules of Procedure define intergroups as “unofficial groupings of Members” which may be, inter alia, formed for the purpose “of promoting contact between Members and civil society.” (Ref). In the eighth European Parliament, 28 Intergroups received official recognition from the EP with up to 136 parliamentarians as inscribed members , covering a wide range of topics from ageing to digital agenda, and from aerospace to urban areas.
Previous research on intergroups argues that intergroups represent “one of the main avenues for citizen interest groups lacking access to other institutional structures” (Greenwood, 2007: 179). It further shows that MEPs and civil society actors alike use intergroups as additional deliberative venues to official EP organs (parliamentary committees, hearings) to introduce new topics to the parliamentary/legislative agenda, to raise awareness for marginalised perspectives in the parliamentary debates, and to foster opinion-formation on the respective issues prior and parallel to the committee stage (Landorff, 2019). As a result, the article is interested in the inclusiveness and openness of intergroups asking the following questions: Who gets access to intergroups, and how diversified is this access? How exclusive or inclusive are intergroups? Whose voices are heard in an intergroup? Do intergroups strengthen already established patterns of interest intermediation? Do they challenge existing hierarchies and thereby, potentially in-/decrease the quality of EU governance?
The analysis is based on ten semi-structured interviews with representatives of European umbrella organisations. The qualitative data is combined with a quantitative analysis of intergroup meeting agenda (n =118) and civil society speakers (n=382).
By exploring the inclusiveness and openness of intergroups for civil society actors, this study is of particular relevance to parliamentary research and the wider literature on EU civil society and interest group representation. It addresses key functions of parliaments as venues for deliberation, i.e., (public) interest articulation and intermediation, and alerts us to focus our attention on the role that public and interest groups play in the parliamentary process, and to the important question of: Who is included in parliamentary debates and processes, and who is not? It adds to the general debate on whether the EU system of interest representation is (still) driven by some sort of “élite pluralism” or chameleon pluralism (Eising, 2019; Bunea, 2014; Coen and Katsaitis, 2013), and the particular debate regarding the European Parliament where research is still inconclusive as to whether the Parliament displays a bias towards business interests or not (Ripoll Servent, 2018).