An Aston University academic has predicted that Brexit will have little impact on most British ‘interest groups’ in the short-term.
Dr Patrycja Rozbicka, a lecturer in politics and international relations at the Aston Centre for Europe, defined interest groups as a mixture of organisations outside formal institutions that seek to influence EU decision-making. They include:
NGOs (non-governmental organisations)
businesses and employers’ associations
trade unions and employees’ associations
health and human rights organisations
but also associations of churches, hospitals and other institutional actors.
Speaking at Aston Business School’s latest Fresh Perspectives breakfast seminar on 15 June, Dr Rozbicka explained that some of the most influential interest groups in the EU came from countries who were not members, like Norway and Switzerland, but primarily from the USA and Japan.
She said: “Whether we have Brexit or not, British interest groups have a chance to be there and to still be active in Europe. Their responsibilities will still be to provide information and data and to represent societal interests.”
Dr Rozbicka highlighted that the UK currently has visible representation of businesses and business associations based in Brussels – more than other EU members like for example Germany, Netherlands or Sweden.
She asked: “With Brexit kicking in, will they shift to national lobbying or intensify at the EU level?”
She argued that if Brexit happens, British groups don’t lose anything when it comes to public consultations, as the EU is open to inputs from non-member states.
“What they may lose,” Dr Rozbicka said, “is the access to the European Commission expert groups which are invite only.
“But if the Commission decides to ask a company – let’s say Cadbury – for input, they are allowed to do it. There’s nothing to say they can’t be involved because they’re not part of the EU. It all depends on the Commission willingness to invite them. Will anything change? Not really.”
Dr Rozbicka explained that Britain would of course be hit by having no MEPs in the EU Parliament and no permanent members in the Council of Ministers, which would mean having less involvement in formal policy processes.
But she argued that Britain already had a strong base of interest groups involved in the informal policy processes, with many European consultation companies based on the UK model and often staffed with British nationals.
“This is not just going to evaporate in in the next few years,” Dr Rozbicka said, adding that businesses and business interest groups might actually intensify their activity in the face of Brexit in the short term.
She added: “In the long term, there will be a period of adjustment, but while formal interactions may diminish informal contacts between stakeholders are not going to disappear.
“British businesses and business organisations have offices in Brussels and will be the most affected by processes so they are still going to be active.
“This intensification of lobbying strategies will compensate for the lack of access to formal processes, and is exactly how countries like Norway, Switzerland and the USA operate. That’s still possible for British interest groups too – it’s not just Brexit and be done.”
However, in answering a question from the audience, Dr Rozbicka did admit that in the specific area of banking and finance, the situation might be “extremely problematic”, as Brexit will mean the EU no longer wanting London to have any financial control in Europe.
The financial ‘passport’ that guarantees access to the EU through the UK banking system is likely to be lost, she said, or at the very least subjected to tough, “nitty gritty” negotiations.
She added: “Lots of companies have stakes and contacts with UK banks and will be in favour of maintaining links, but France and Germany will not want this, and I’m not very optimistic. With Brexit, London’s going to be in a difficult situation in that [banking] process.”
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