Lobby groups "outdated" on equality, climate, culture

Analytics company Iloom reports that lobby organisations in Finland place very little importance on contemporary issues such as climate change, gender equality and digitalisation.

In its analysis of 56 lobby groups, the study commissioned by consultancy firm Blic found that currently lobbyists are mainly focused on employment and entrepreneurship, education policy reform, municipal governance and international relations.

Innovation chief Sari Siikasalmi calls these foci "traditional". Job-related values tie in with competitiveness, deregulation and taxation – mainly because most of the organisations studied were either employer or employee interest groups.

"These groups feel that Finland's future competitiveness rests on education and research, and they will be pushing the next government to increase spending there. There is a consensus that education has to be pushed," Siikasalmi said. The new cabinet is expected to take office in late spring or early summer following the parliamentary election in April.

The lobbyists included in the study had all posted their own election themes on their websites. In a nutshell, said Siikasalmi, the themes tended not to reflect the broader contemporary societal discussion, whose topics and values are more varied than lobbyist agendas.

Themes continually raised in public discourse and the media include the challenges of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI), foreign policy standpoints and cultural funding.

Not even the social and health care reform bill (sote), the now-cancelled central project of the outgoing government, made it onto the lobbyists' to-do lists, even though the proposal only very recently fell flat.

As for the environment and climate change, many lobby groups used topical buzzwords but refrained from actually proposing any measures to tackle these issues.

"Labour organisations seem to have very little to say about environmental themes," Siikasalmi said.

The Iloom study also highlighted the ultra-traditional slant to the lobby groups' view of equality: the theme was only raised in connection with heteronormative families with children.

"This is hardly a breath of fresh air," Siikasalmi asserted. "Outdated attitudes and nothing new."

The study also found the language of the lobby platforms highly bureaucratic, a kind of political shorthand that bears no resemblance to the language of everyday citizens.

Comparing the various platforms also showed that labour organisations tended to be more professionally organised than smaller NGOs, leading to job market concerns dominating the political influence held among lobbyists.

A parliamentary working group headed by Parliamentary Speaker Paula Risikko recently called for the establishment of a lobbyist registry, aimed at boosting transparency on interest groups' influence on Finnish MPs.