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Les courtiers du capitalisme

Milieux d'affaires et bureaucrates à Bruxelles
Private appropriation of administrative knowledge

Most of the business lobbyists we met in Brussels say in interviews that they spend almost "80% of their working time" interacting not with members of parliament, but with European Commission officials. This aspect is often concealed in media discourse on lobbying, which frequently features a lobbyist walking the corridors of the European Parliament.

This reality of lobbyists' work can be explained by institutional logics: the European Commission is most often the initiator of regulations, Commission agents are also very active at the time of the informal trialogue or at other stages of regulation, European agencies have a predominant role in the concrete application of directives, etc. The European Commission is also very active in the implementation of directives.

But this reality can also be explained in terms of historical and political logic. The book shows how, over the course of time, a system of community affairs emerged in which cooperation between civil servants and certain entrepreneurs and executives became the norm.

The change in scale of European capitalism could only be achieved by relying on two pillars: no market without an administration capable of playing the role of symbolic bank and reflecting in legal form the expectations of the economic field; no legitimate administration as long as it fails to gain recognition as a place of power over economic exchanges. The interweaving of these two spheres of practice (that of administrative agents and that of employers' representatives) has made it possible over time to structure a relatively self-contained power structure with its own political legitimacy.

Lobbying as the activation of bureaucratic capital

The book proposes to revisit the common criticism of lobbying as a simple assault by the "private" on the "public": if there are brokers of capitalism, they are placed at the heart of this system of relations associating political-administrative agents and lobbyists.


Lobbyists may be seen as having unilateral power of influence, but they often play no more than a conduit for the permanent interweaving of administrative and economic interests. Interest representatives are the kneecaps through which the interests of the business world are adjusted to the normative expectations of a bureaucracy. They are agents through which dominant economic operators can hope to play on the legal structure of markets and capture bureaucratic resources for their own benefit.

By opening the black box of employers' federations, we can see that interest representatives import a series of normative constraints from EU officials into the heart of the work of coagulating business interests. From the moment when the regulatory boundaries of markets depend on the standardization work carried out in Brussels, knowledge of the workings of the bureaucracy becomes both an issue and a resource for the business world. Understanding the bureaucracy and acquiring an understanding of how it works underpins the social legitimacy of a new layer of intermediaries who use their services to gain access to EU institutions.

This bureaucratic capital is not limited to knowledge of the rules of law, but also refers to a series of practical skills which, in a given situation, make the work of representation possible: knowing how to play off inter-departmental rivalries, knowing when to move up the hierarchy, knowing when to monetize informal relationships or long-term working relationships in the form of obtaining a first draft of a directive, etc.

"Quiet politics"
or the rise of a new census
Titre 5
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The valorization of bureaucratic capital as a vector for relations between civil servants and company representatives contributes to the closing of a social world in on itself. It localises in technical arenas choices that are also social choices.


Promoting dialogue behind the hushed screen of government departments helps to exclude a number of players (notably certain NGOs, which do not have the means to project themselves onto the entire institutional surface required to monitor certain directives).

With specialized agencies, business associations are fully involved in promoting the technical capital held by the firms most closely integrated into the European entresoi. They are increasingly investing in the recruitment of engineers and doctors in the exact sciences, to maintain direct access to agency officials. These demands for scientific excellence have now reached such a level that the image of poaching or deviation from scientific work only partially describes the issues raised by these developments.

Above all, this loop of social relations contributes to the exclusion of citizen spokespersons who are unable to free themselves from the cost of putting their own positions into technical form.


Ci-dessus, Analyse des correspondances multiples. Firmes représentées à Bruxelles en fonction de leurs répertoires d'action.

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