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SPP Research Seminar: Interest group networks in the European Union

Florian Weiler
Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm

Florian Weiler (Assistant Professor, SPP)


Interest group networks in the European Union


Interest groups are key actors and sources of information in EU politics and policymaking. Organizational networks define their participation in supranational governance. Yet, we currently lack a systematic, large-scale analysis of their information networks. We ask therefore: what explains tie formation in the information networks established between interest organizations active in EU policymaking? We answer this question by building theoretically on the established literature on US lobbying and policy networks and argue that reputational and information-quality concerns underpin and drive interest groups’ cost-benefit analyses and decisions about contact making on Twitter. Organizations are more likely to establish ties with organizational peers that allow them to enhance their public reputation of being well-informed actors that work faithfully towards achieving their constituency’s interests and policy objectives. We test our argument on a new dataset containing information about the formation and structure of information ties between 7,388 organizations across 40 policy domains with the help of Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGMs). Our research design allows us to investigate in a comparative perspective how actor, network and policy area characteristics shape tie-formation and information networks across policy domains. We find that organizational affinities and the status of policy insider of some actors play a key role in the formation and structure of information networks amongst European interest organisations. We contribute to the literature in several ways. Theoretically, we build an innovative and fine-grained argument recognizing the importance of informational and reputational logics underpinning the choices made by resource-constrained organizations that act in complex and dynamic policy environments and must choose information sources wisely in contexts defined by high publicity, such as social media networks. We refine our argument and contextualise the effect of actor-level factors in light of key policy area characteristics corresponding to different information networks. Empirically, we investigate for the first time the information ties between European organizations on a truly large scale and systematically examine the effects of actor, network and policy area factors on tie formation. We thus provide an analysis of network formation in a broader context. We also adopt a comparative approach and investigate tie formation across policy areas. This captures a crucial feature of the EU polity (i.e. variation in interest mobilization and policymaking modes across policy areas) and provides one of the very few comparative analyses of policy domains and organizational networks.