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Compare the role of interest and pressure groups in the UK, France and Russia Paper

 

Without the ability to access the government directly many outsider groups turn to protest politics or direct action to voice their opinion. The structure of the British political system, with its unitary state and limited separation of powers, is relatively closed, with restricted access available for pressure groups to obtain. However, within the UK, policies are generally formulated by governments after the relevant inside interest groups have been consulted. This has led to a large, but organised and formal array of interest and pressure groups within the country.

In contrast, the French system of interest groups has traditionally mistrusted interest groups. The development of interest group activity was hampered by the elite conception of the proper role of the state. However, more recently new patterns of interest group behaviour has emerged, based around “autonomous associational activity”4 and a decline in protest politics. Unlike the UK, main economic and social groups are highly fragmented. For example, trade unions are not differentiated functionally under one umbrella organisation such as the TUC in the UK.

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The large organisations which are in place for unions are often internally divided creating more problems for the French system. Similarly, Russia is hindered by poorly organised and incoherent interest groups. Pressure groups with strong links to the Soviet-party state often perpetuate influence. Other groups are notoriously weak and find difficulty gaining support due to the restrictions placed on the media. Corporatism is a “relationship between the state and interest groups in which major decisions on domestic matters emerge from discussion between the government and a few peak associations.

“5 In return for their influence these favoured groups are expected to ensure the compliance of their members. Russian pressure groups are well known for internal influence and corruption of the government. The separation between public and private sectors, so central to the organisation of interests in the West, has not emerged in this democracy and this has led to an unnatural balance of power. Many private entrepreneurs compete for wealth which can be extracted from previously state-owned industries.

Although Trade Unions have broad membership, they are co-opted by management and government and avoid direct links with non-governmental political parties. This means they are limited in their influence and can be quickly overruled by more influential players such as the financial industrial groups. The government allows tacit abuse of union power if it means they will gain support. In France there have been a limited number of examples of corporatism between unions and government. In agriculture a close relationship developed between the state and the FNSEA (National Organisation of Small Farmers.)

French officials handed the organisation a set of selective incentives with which to consolidate support in the countryside. Despite the lack of trust in pressure groups from the French government there have been a number of examples of corporatism in the French system. Therefore it can be concluded there are still a few features of corporatism in France. In contrast the UK can be catagorised as one of the least corporatist countries. The problem lies more with individuals. Although large financial donations must be declared, there is no specific upper limit to the extent of a group or individuals generosity to a political party.

Evidence of this was apparent in the run-up to the 1997 General Election, when the Labour party was offered i?? 1 million from Bernie Ecclestone, the Chief Executive of the FIA. Thus, when the issue of tobacco sponsorship legislation was addressed in the Commons after the election, it was little surprise that its abolition was set back five years. Apart from corruption and close government relations, pressure groups seek to gain support and influence by employing protest politics methods. Historically it is the trade unions who are likely to instigate direct action.

France has a strong tradition of protest politics. There is a relatively small trade union movement in France and it is clearly focused on direct consultation with the administration, particularly since the strengthening of presidential government and the weakening of the National Assembly in the Fifth Republic of 1958. Although the trade union is now seen as a far more “legitimate social actor”6 than was previously the case in France, there is a decline in members of unions. At its high point in 1975, only 24 per cent of the French workforce belonged to a union, this fell to just 13 per cent in 19897.

Regardless of this, the country does have a history of direct action, demonstrated by the rebellion of students and trade unionists during the political troubles of May 1968. Indeed, pressure politics has always moved readily to the streets in France, resulting in a reputation for mass demonstrations and public disruption. Similarly, there is a history of industrial action and protest politics in the UK. For example, the Countryside Alliance marches in 2002 and the General Strike in 1926. However, the amount of direct action is clearly less than that of France as the system of negotiation between the government and groups is fully integrated.

The Russian system is known more for crime related to policy decisions rather than direct action from the public masses. The operation of the secret police (FSB) has created an atmosphere of fear within Russia and has made public marches and protests near impossible. Therefore although there is a history of disruption and unrest in Russia, characterised by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the current situation does not allow enough freedom for groups to voice their opinion in protest politics. Overall a number of similarities and differences can be identified in the pressure groups of the UK, France and Russia.

These can be attributed to the different political and historical backgrounds of each of the countries. For example, it is impossible that the Russian system would be as democratically liberal at the UK after the previous authoritarian state. However, the current style of “personal rather than institutional”8 pressure politics does not look all together hopeful for the future in Russia. Similarly, the tradition of protest politics within France is unlikely to subside. Regardless of how the pressure groups within each country gain power, they all influence government. Their role in each country is of key importance to policy decisions.

Therefore they are a very influential force for governments to deal with. Resources R. Elgie S. Griggs (2000) French Politics – Debates and Controversies (London 2000) J. Forbes N. Hewlett (1994) Contemporary France (Essex 1994) R. Hague M. Harrop (2001) Comparative Government and Politics (Hampshire 2001) A. Heywood (2002) Politics 2nd Ed . (Hampshire 1997) W. Grant (2000)

Pressure Groups and British Politics (London 2000) M. Olson (1982) The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1982) J. Richardson (1993) Pressure Groups (New York 1993) S.White et al, (2001) Developments in Russian Politics 5 (London 2001) 1 A. Heywood (2002) Politics 2nd Ed . (Hampshire 1997), p272 2 M. Olson (1982) The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1982), p78. 3A. Heywood (2002) Politics 2nd Ed . (Hampshire 1997), p422 4 R. Elgie S. Griggs (2000)

French Politics – Debates and Controversies (London 2000) p 147 5 R. Hague M. Harrop (2001) Comparative Government and Politics (Hampshire 2001) p 161 6 J. Forbes N. Hewlett (1994) Contemporary France (Essex 1994) p35 7 A. Heywood (2002) Politics 2nd Ed . (Hampshire 1997), p278.

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