Lobbying: Not the address book – strategy is key

The political business in Berlin has changed since the new government came to power. The demands on professional lobbyists have changed fundamentally—a guest commentary.

The German economy is unsettled. A new political generation with a different understanding of politics and a new political style is about to shake up the traditional interplay between business and politics. With 300 newly elected members of parliament, the Bundestag has not only become younger and more diverse; a change in attitude toward political decision-making is on the horizon. If political stakeholders want to continue to mediate between societal issues and their political implementation, they must show that they can learn.

The new generation of politicians has developed a more unconstrained relationship to power. Political observers have described the coalition negotiations accurately as “professional”, “confidential”, and “goal-oriented”. There were no public lobbying battles. Those the negotiators did not involve looked on in amazement from the outside. This procedure, prepared down to the last detail, is exemplary for professionalized political power processes, which increasingly seek their external legitimacy not only through internal party conference resolutions but also through plebiscitary elements such as member surveys.

In the “traffic light coalition,” the party – understood as an independent power system – is gaining influence over parliamentary decision-making. The dispute-settling function of the coalition committee moves even more to the center of power.

The pre-political space becomes thoroughly politicized

The new party dynamic of a “democratic center” of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Greens, and Liberals recognizes that it must now win over a highly volatile electorate. It is not enough to establish platforms for long-term exchange. Politicians must also anticipate the fast-moving, current formation of interests and address them with spontaneous formats. In this process, members of parliament are becoming small independent campaign units.

Business and civil society actors must adapt to this new style of politics. Decision-makers, especially parliamentarians, often reject classic requests for meetings without cause. Those who do not have a concrete issue and only pursue their own particular interests are hardly heard in the political Berlin. Nowadays, those actors who propose comprehensive and strategic solutions, i.e., solutions based on a precise calculation of goals and resources, are more convincing. Consequently, the so-called “pre-political arena” is being more and more politicized. Business and civil society actors must explain how they intend to resolve the tension between particular interests and the common good and initiate pre-parliamentary consensus-building processes.

The logic of successful proposals for solutions is circumscribed by radically new political parameters of consideration. Here, absolute priority is given to environmental and health protection, considering the goal of an “ecological-social” market economy. Other social goods – also protected by fundamental rights – such as mobility, freedom of occupation, prosperity, or culture are integrated or have to take a step back. In public debates, the discourse ethics that are still oriented toward Habermas is giving way to an emotionally charged ethical rigorism.

However, this development holds not only risks but also opportunities. In light of a postmodern political logic, economic actors are under pressure to transform, as they need to build new bridges to politics. They will only be successful if they integrate civil society as alliance partners into their action strategies. This leadership task is no longer limited to keeping address books. Business organizations must seek a dialog with civil society while maintaining a pragmatic but credible political position. They must actively play in the pre-parliamentary space and identify congruent interests across ideological divides. 

Resources of a postmodern power logic

Today’s political advocacy relies on the comprehensive development of political strategy skills and argumentation sensitive to discourse. Contemporary public affairs is based on a partnership approach oriented toward the common good that helps shape policy through its own mobilization and reflects its own organization’s social positioning and responsibility.

Political advocacy and public affairs thus grow into the architects of this bridge-building process. They explore the complex interconnections between business and the common good in the light of a new style of politics. Credibility, professionalism, transparency, and trustworthiness serve as the primary resources of postmodern power logic. The lobby register, which has finally come into force this year in Germany, helps to ensure transparency. As soon as the lobby register reflects the planned executive and legislative footprint, the end of the classic “address book lobbying” will be sealed.

For political lobbyists, it is crucial to recognize the new reality. Only for those who understand the core of the traffic light coalition’s political style and can master the strategic skills now required, many political options will open up.


The German version of the article was published online in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 16/01/2022.