Lobbying is an integral part of decision-making
Emilia Korkea-aho has been studying lobbying for the past eight years. First, she received three years of postdoctoral funding from the Academy of Finland for a project that dealt with non-EU countries’ attempts to influence the European Union. From there, her research career continued with a five-year Academy of Finland Research Fellow project, which focused on the regulation of lobbying in particular.
Korkea-aho also participated in the work of a group of experts appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The group’s report, published in December, proposes a new transparency register for Finland. If the transparency register – or the lobbyist register, as it is more commonly known – is operational as of 2023, Finland will be a pioneer in transparency in the Nordic countries.
For Korkea-aho, one thing is clear: lobbying is an integral part of the decision-making process.
“It goes without saying that decision-makers don’t have all the necessary information, and lobbyists bring information from specific fields into decision-making. The transparency register makes visible the positive impact interest groups in these specific fields have. This is one of the reasons why lobbyists in Finland support the transparency register. They feel that it helps to clear the name of lobbying. The reputation of lobbying is somewhat tainted, and some of that bad reputation is, perhaps, undeserved. In Finland, lobbyists seem competent,” Korkea-aho says.
The most recent and ongoing four-year Academy of Finland project led by Korkea-aho is also linked to lobbying. The study, conducted in Finland, France and Slovenia, examines the revolving door phenomenon and its regulation, i.e., how the recruitment of public sector employees to the private sector is regulated, and what tensions are associated with the phenomenon.
“Extensive work experience is emphasised in recruitment in both the public and private sectors. The movement of experience and expertise is not exclusively a bad thing, but it involves a tension between public and private interests. The project focuses on how the movement of employees between the private and public sectors is regulated at EU Member State level. This is also linked to lobbying since PR and lobbying agencies recruit experts from the public sector. If a minister’s former special advisor starts working for an NGO, it is seen as less suspicious than if they start working for a PR agency.”
Transparency register adds to the material available to researchers
The principle of the transparency register planned for Finland is that each party engaging in lobbying registers and reports on who they have been in contact with over a certain period of time, what has been discussed, and what resources have been used for lobbying. There would be an obligation to submit a report semi-annually.
“Lobbying and influencing are most effective in the early stages when there is an opportunity to influence the preparation of a matter and the agenda. If the groundwork has already been done, influencing becomes more difficult. The transparency register will cast more light especially on early-stage influencing,” Korkea-aho says.
At level of the European Union, lobbying is largely regulated by instruments that are recommendations by nature. In Finland, the register would be statutory. The transparency register would apply only to government-level administration. On the other hand, a study carried out in Ireland shows that problems with lobbying and influencing are found specifically at the municipal and regional levels, especially in zoning and land use. In the future, this is something Finland should keep an eye on.
Korkea-aho has worked as a researcher in the US, the Netherlands, Italy, and the UK, among other places. In the US, research into lobbying is perceived to be natural. But in Finland and Europe, the field is more foreign especially to legal scholars. With this in mind, Korkea-aho commends the Academy of Finland for its unprejudiced position in granting a legal scholar funding to study lobbying. The new transparency register may encourage others, too, to do lobbying research in the future.
“The transparency register would add to the material available to researchers, and hopefully also interest in lobbying research.”
But has she, as a researcher, ever been the target of lobbying?
“When the group of experts preparing the transparency register began its work, I received a few calls and emails which made me feel like I was being targeted. But I feel that I have been more of a lobbyist myself when lobbying for lobbying research to legal scholars,” Korkea-aho says, laughing.
- Professor of European Law and Legislative Studies, University of Eastern Finland, 1 January 2022 –
- Title of Docent, European Law, University of Helsinki, 2015
- Doctor of Laws, University of Helsinki, 2012
- Master of Laws, University of Helsinki, 2005
- Associate Professor, University of Eastern Finland, 2018–2021
- Visiting Researcher, Maastricht University, 2017–
- Academy Research Fellow, University of Eastern Finland, 2018–2021
- Academy Research Fellow, University of Helsinki, 2016–2018
- Academy Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Helsinki, 2013–2016
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