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What is lobbying?

Often looked upon as secret and mysterious, lobbying gives rise to speculations that add fuel to perceptions that are rarely consistent with its true nature. The result is distrust towards those engaged in lobbying, a totally legitimate occupation according to the National Assembly. The opinion that lobbying should not occur in a democratic society also impairs the overall perception of this activity. In this context, it is not surprising to see people who lobby hesitate to identify themselves as lobbyists. To clarify these notions, it is important to distinguish between lobbying, lobby and lobbyists.

Overall, lobbying corresponds to the steps taken by a lobbyist to represent the interests of a lobby, a client, an enterprise or an organisation. It concerns oral or written communications aimed at influencing the decisions of a public office holder.

The lobby of environmental groups, the pharmaceutical industry lobby or the agricultural lobby are terms used regularly in the media. What is the meaning of lobby? Generally speaking, a lobby is a pressure or interest group which gets organised for the purpose of promoting a project, an idea or to put forward before public authorities a viewpoint shared by all of its members. For example, the tobacco industry can bring together different actors (smokers' group, cigarette maker, tobacco manufacturer and association of sponsored events organisers) to form a lobby.

Many times, people who communicate with members of a public institution in an attempt to influence a decision are specialised stakeholders called lobbyists. A lobbyist is not a person specialising in public relations; he or she may just as well be a lawyer, an engineer, a urban planner or a geologist, for example.

In essence, a lobbyist's function is to speak on behalf of the lobby, of a client, an enterprise or an organisation that he or she represents in order to influence a public office holder. If we go back to the example of the tobacco lobby, the cigarette maker could, among other things, hire a lobbyist to defend his interests before public authorities.

As representative of a lobby, client, enterprise or organisation, a lobbyist must be well informed, not only about the project he is responsible for, but also about the political or administrative structures of each of the authorities his file must go through. Moreover, he must develop intervention strategies and be able to communicate his message efficiently.

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