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  • Writer's pictureBastian Friborg

Is lobbying Pro Bono for MPs?

Updated: Jan 9

Lobbying is a bit of a naughty word in Danish politics, even though a lot of lobbying has helped improve bills and implementations over time. The fact is that the opposition would be a whole lot weaker without the many interest groups and organizations constantly involved and giving their best through data and examples. The Danish lobbyists know that they should not falsify data or spin it - credibility is an essential virtue in Danish lobbying.

Virtually all members of parliament know and use lobbyists from various interest groups and organizations in their daily work, simply because otherwise they would not be able to match the government, which has the entire civil service behind it.

The lobbyists from the various organizations can help investigate a problem thoroughly and clarify the consequences of a given piece of legislation before it is implemented - this is very valuable for politicians. However, it can be a challenge, democratically, if the busy politician can not see through the lobbyists' goals and what value a §20 question (a question directed to a minister in parliament that is answered directly to the MP) can have for a given organization's bottom line. Because even if an organization comes and presents facts to the politicians, they only offer their angle and not the overall picture, which is what the politicians should ideally have in mind when they make decisions on behalf of us all.

While the lobbyists have plenty of time to formulate and lay out strategies for influence, the politicians like to be very busy, and often they also sit with several different areas, which means that they can hardly get deep into the matter in all the areas as they may be rapporteur on. For this reason, skilled lobbyists can often convince politicians of a particular angle and wording of that question or issue that will benefit their organization. Sometimes just a softening of a wording somewhere in the law text or raising of an issue that put the organization's cause on the agenda and show the hinterland that action is being taken is all that is needed for the black numbers to raise on the balance sheet. But, either way, it can be difficult for the busy politician to see through the end goal and the value of an information or a question or a changed wording - and that is a problem for democracy!

Brussels, the capital of lobbying, has all the major EU bodies, including the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the Commission. All organizations and companies that want to help influence its framework have people in Brussels lobbying politicians and officials in the EU system. For greater transparency, there is a register of lobbyists in the EU, in which all companies and individuals who engage in lobbying are registered. It is also registered who meets with whom and when, as well as what gifts - money or anything else that may be exchanged. This means there is something close to near-complete openness about who influences whom in which direction. It is important for citizens' confidence in the decisions made by the political system. The alternative is that citizens suspect large companies of being behind decisions - with the registrations, then such suspicions can at least be confirmed or refuted - the large companies and industries have great power and influence due to the many resources and jobs they are responsible for.

In my opinion, it could be beneficial if Denmark introduced some form of registration of lobbyists - ala the one in Brussels - as I really think it could be one of the stones that could rebuild confidence in the political system in Denmark. Trust is important, especially in times of crisis, as the population needs to follow the decisions that are made and not get tired or suspect 'dark men' or others to control the course of the battle at Christiansborg.

Registering lobbying, in my opinion, would not be something that got in the way of all the 'good' lobbying that is taking place - where politicians get figures and statistics from organizations and companies that have expertise in a given area - it would just create clarity.

How do you think lobbying in Denmark could be regulated?

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