Lobbying Regulation in Belgium: How do Legislators Perceive and Use the Lobbies’ Register?

Mr. Joseph Lemaire
Dr. Samuel Defacqz

A key issue of societal and scholarly debates on lobbying regulations is: in whose interest transparency registers are established? Regimes structuring the contacts between decision-makers and interest groups vary across states and levels of government. So far, the literature has notably investigated the conditions in which transparency registers were established, and discussed their (potential) contribution to the legitimacy of decision-making processes. However, perceptions of decision-makers, and particularly legislators, and the usages they make of transparency registers remain unclear. Therefore, the question structuring this paper is the following: how do legislators perceive and use the transparency register?

To answer the research question, we selected the case of the main legislative institution of the Belgian Federal State: the Chamber of Representatives. The paper intends to unveil the perceptions of Belgian MPs about the newly established “Lobbies' Register” (official name) as well as how they use it. The Belgian Chamber of Representatives introduced this register in early 2019. 85 organizations have registered to date. The Belgian case is relevant as it is characterized by a neo-corporatist setting of interests intermediation, while being more and more influenced by pluralist practices, given notably the proximity of the EU institutions. Moreover, the Lobbies' Register is also recognized by its founders as an embryo that is meant to evolve by applying to more levels of power and picking elements from other similar registers.

Data collection consisted of 11 interviews with Federal MPs, one per political group of the Chamber of Representatives. A systematic thematic analysis was conducted on transcripts of interviews to identify the Belgian legislators’ perceptions and use of the register. The results of the qualitative analysis, compiled in the form of a thematic tree, highlight the perceptions of MPs about the regulation of lobbying activities as well as how they use (or not) the existing framework. Beyond that, the analysis shows Belgian MPs' conceptions of lobbying as such, and how they assess the legitimacy of interest groups' participation in the decision-making process. More broadly, the paper also contributes to a better understanding of the relationship between interest groups and decision-makers in Belgium.