How regions assemble in Brussels : the organizational form of territorial representation in the European Union
Faculty of Social Sciences. Political Sciences
Publius: the journal of federalism
, p. 527-550
University of Antwerp
Subnational authorities (SNAs) are increasingly mobilized at the European level and much research has been conducted on the liaison offices that represent these substate jurisdictions. Yet liaison offices are only one of the available organizational forms SNAs rely on in Brussels. In this article we investigate multiple organizational formssuch as trans-regional associations and national associationsand how regional entities combine them. This broader perspective leads to the conclusion that the scope and diversity of EU-level territorial mobilization is much more extensive than liaison offices only. However, resource-full SNAs, SNAs benefiting from a high level of self-rule, or SNAs harboring regionalist political parties are comparatively much more active in establishing liaison offices and occupy a prominent position in various trans-regional associations. The presence of regions, provinces, counties, and cities in Brussels has, next to the more institutionalized channels of representations for subnational authorities (SNAs) such as the Committee of the Regions and/or representation through the EU Council, become a commonplace phenomenon in the EU interest group community (Hooghe 1995; Tatham 2008). One of the earliest systematic studies on territorial interest representation in the EU has been conducted by Marks et al. (1996) who explained the increasing number of liaison offices in Brussels through a multilevel governance (MLG) perspective emphasizing how regional distinctiveness triggers the establishment of liaison offices. While Marks et al. identified fifty-four liaison offices in 1993, today we count in addition to more than 200 offices many other forms of regional representation. All this points to the validity of the MLG argument, namely that substate territorial interests are capable of building an independent and sustained presence at the EU-level (Marks et al. 1996; Nielsen and Salk 1998). Brussels-based regional offices are distinct from other organized interests in the sense that they represent the public sector, democratically elected executives and territorial jurisdictions. However, somewhat less attention has been given to the fact that substate jurisdictions have various ways to represent themselves, for instance creating or joining a territorial interest association. Such associations can be created at the national (e.g., the Mid Sweden EU Office) or the European level (e.g., the European Chemical Regions Network). The fact that SNAs adopt collective forms of representation makes them somewhat similar to functional interests, although at other timesfor example, when relying on a liaison office that functions as an unofficial embassythey take on state-like properties. Clearly, many of the activities SNAs deploy in Brussels, in particular their attempts to represent their interests through collective forms of representation can be considered as equivalent to interest group behavior. In this regard it is no surprise that some earlier studies on regional offices strongly relied on interest group literature (for instance, Marks et al. 1996; Marks, Heasly, and Mbaye 2002). SNAs use multiple organizational forms for making their voice heard in the EU. Some forms entail collective forms of representation, while others concern one single SNA. The two most mentioned forms in the literature are the liaison offices and the trans-regional associations. The first one, the liaison office, is the individual presence of a subnational executive that establishes an office in Brussels. The second one, the trans-regional association, is a collective form and consists of SNAs originating from different member-states. These organizations group several SNAs, focus on particular policy fields, and their activities are similar or equivalent to functional interest groups (Piattoni 2010, 25051). Some of these associations have a very broad and generic focusfor instance, REGLEG, the European Network of Regions with Legislative Powerswhile others have a more sector or function focusfor instance, the Association des Régions Européennes des Produit dOrigine. Because of their encompassing naturemultiple regions with interests in a particular areathese associations may play an important role in the Brussels lobby circuit (Tatham 2008). In addition, to strengthen their lobby efforts individual SNAs may make strategic use of these associations and in many cases liaison offices provide the structural logistics (offices, staff) for these organizations, especially at the time of their establishment. Some authors pointed at other collective forms of representation (Jeffrey 1997; Marks, Heasly, and Mbaye 2002; Huysseune and Jans 2007). First, SNAs may share representation costs with other SNAs of the same country by establishing a joint office. As these associations do not need to cover all SNAs in one single country, we call them partial national associations. An example is the joint office of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg. Although these partial national associations fulfill more or less the same function as a liaison office, within these associations a limited number of regional executives originating from one member-state share the infrastructure and the costs of an office. Secondly, all SNAs in one member-state may decide to establish one single representation in Brussels, which we call a complete national association. For instance, the Irish Regions Office encompasses all regions of Ireland. Organizational form is an important component in our understanding of concrete lobbying practices and capabilities (Halpin 2011; Halpin and Nownes 2012). For instance, the value of organized interests to policymakers depends on their capability to foster coordination among different actors, which is connected to organizational form. However, collective forms of representation may also constrain interest representation. A complete national association allows the representation of widely supported positions, but given the fact that it covers a whole member-state its position and strategy may often tend to be complementary with what the central state executive presents in the EU Council. Complete national associations need to reconcile the views of an encompassing membership and the substantial number of regional executives involved makes that this form does not entail direct and distinct interactions between an individual SNA and EU policymakers. The membership of a partial national association may affect the representation of regional interests in a similar way. For example, in one of our case-studies we observed a low level of activity of Swedish regions regarding the Trans European Network program (TEN-T), not because of a lack of interest, but because of conflicting interests among the members of a Swedish partial national association. As some proposed transport lines would not cross through all members territory, its members did not share similar interests on this particular issue. The aim of this article is to explain varying organizational forms SNAs use when mobilizing in Brussels. Although the literature is aware of these various forms of territorial representation (Hooghe 1995; Hooghe and Marks 1996; Bomberg and Peterson 1998; Tatham 2008; Blatter et al. 2008, 2009), few have analyzed and compared multiple forms of territorial lobbying. A systematic mapping of multiple forms is particularly needed in order to understand better the scope and diversity of the Brussels territorial interest community. While some view the EU institutions and the emergence of collective and individual forms of regional mobilization as an opportunity for peripheral regions (Bartolini 2005, 269), others are more skeptical as they expect that mostly the wealthy and prosperous regions get represented (Borras 1993). The latter argument resembles a repeatedly heard conclusion in the interest group literature, namely that interest representation tends to be biased toward a few selective interests and that most interest group populations are skewed towards resourceful and well-endowed actors (Baumgartner and Leech 2001; Lowery and Gray 2004b; Beyers, Eising, and Maloney 2008; Scholzman 2010). Is the EU best described as a plural system where a large variety and diversity of regional representations compete and forge coalitions? Or, is EU governance more accurately portrayed by elitism whereby a limited number of resourceful regions tend to dominate the influence production process (Greenwood 2011)? This article offers a large-n study analyzing the multiple organizational forms substate jurisdictions rely on in Brussels. In the next two sections we discuss our theoretical framework and we outline the hypotheses that guide our empirical analysis. Then we present our newly created dataset on the involvement of 297 regions from 20 member-states in 275 different EU-level representations. The final section includes the multivariate data-analyses with which we test our hypotheses. Our results demonstrate that although all European SNAs have some presence in Brussels, substantial differences exist in the sense that resource-full SNAs are very active through multiple forms and occupy a prominent position in several trans-regional associations.