Private Actors in Politics and Policy-Making: Trespassers Producing Norms?

CEFRES Platform Workshop

By Marion Clain & Jana Vargovčíková

On May 12, 2016, a CEFRES Platform workshop was organized by Jana Vargovčíková (CEFRES & FF UK) and Kateřina Merklová (FF UK), entitled « Private Actors in Politics and Policy-Making: Trespassers Producing Norms? ». The goal of the workshop was to understand how private actors get involved in the production of norms at the European and at the national levels and with what implications for the understanding of the relation between the private and the public spheres. The papers presented were discussed by Hélène Michel (SAGE, Institut d’Études Politiques in Strasbourg), Michael Smith (CERGE-EI, Czech Academy of Sciences), Ondřej Císař (Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences) and Mitchell Young (Institute of International Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague).

In the first panel Armèle Cloteau, Lola Avril and Oriane Calligaro presented papers all sharing a common focus on the influence of private actors in politics and policy-making at the level of the EU’s institutions. Armèle Cloteau from University Paris Versailles Saint-Quentin and the PRINTEMPS Research Centre, presented the first results of her sociological study of a European office of external affairs of a multinational corporation in Brussels. She insisted on the continuously non-institutionalized character of the Brussels office, as well as on the active lobbying by its staff inside the corporation aimed at defending the importance of a presence in Brussels and thereby, the relative importance of European Union decision-making. This is why she adopted the description of these actors as the „Angels of Europe“.

Lola Avril from University Sorbonne Paris I studied the role of the corporate lawyers in Brussels in the development of the competition law at EU level. She showed the proximity between the competition lawyers and the European Commission, as well as a more recent tendency, traced back to the Single European Act, that of revolving doors between the two, with the corporate law firms hiring former officials of the European Commission.

Finally, Oriane Calligaro from the Université Libre de Bruxelles presented the preliminary findings and design of a starting research project on the impact of private international philanthropic foundations on the NGO policy agendas and the policy-making processes at EU level, especially as regards anti-discrimination policies. She focused on the interactions and reciprocal influence between the Open Society Foundations and ENAR (European Network Against Racism) in the setting of the anti-discrimination policy agenda at EU level, as well as on the circulation of different types of capital between networks of non-state actors in the area of anti-discrimination policies.

The second panel focused on the role of private actors in particular policy areas. These were for one part recent ones, such as that of « urban resilience » in the case of Katarína Svitková from the Charles University in Prague who discussed the role of private and hybrid actors in the security policies through the case study of the city of Barcelona. Olivier Gajac, affiliated to the Centre Émile Durkheim in Bordeaux brought into light what he described as negative impacts of the privatization of universities on education and higher education policies in particular. Through the case study of the relationship between private and public universities in Turkey, he described the differences in the student populations as well as the logics of differentiation between the private and the public universities, presented in the form of a tentative typology of private universities depending on their prestige.

In the afternoon panels, different methodological approaches to analyzing the relations, interactions and a division of work between private actors engaging in politics on the one side, and between private and public actors, on the other, were submitted to discussion through specific case studies. First, that of a Czech NGO-coalition campaign asking for reforms in the area of public integrity, Reconstruction of the State, presented by Jaromír Mazák and Tomáš Diviák from the Charles University in Prague, who tried to test the assumptions based on the transactional activism theory developed by Tsveta Petrova and Sidney Tarrow on this case, concluding by the observation of a strong centralization of the work inside the coalition, running against expectations of intense transanctions between coalition members leading to comparable levels of work on the campaign.

Miloš Resimić from the Central European University in Budapest, in turn, presented a network analysis of business, political and bureaucratic elites in the post-Milošević Serbia, led by the question of what role the ties between business and politics played in the privatization processes that concerned state-owned enterprises. He observed the high frequency of exits from administration responsible for privatization processes to consultancy firms and to the business sector, as well as the strong discretionary powers of political parties in the process, securing positions in tender commissions and the institutions responsible for the privatization processes.

Tomáš Korda from the Charles University in Prague complemented the empirically based papers with a conceptual reflection on the consequences of the blurring of the distinction between the particular and the public interest, brought about by businessmen entering politics without giving up on their entrepreneurial activities. Finally, the normative implications of a proximity between public and private actors were addressed by Vít Šimral from the University of Hradec Králové in his policy-oriented paper on the regulations of lobbying. Vít Šimral attempted to answer the question of knowing to what extent the effectiveness of a regulation depended on the policy design chosen, confronting the recent Transparency International’s assessment of the robustness of lobbying regulations with the case of the Polish lobbying regulation, in force since 2006, yet leading to very little implementation and impact on the practice of public-private actors’ interaction.

The workshop was the fruit of the cooperation between three institutions of the CEFRES Platform, the CEFRES, the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Department of Political Science of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague.