Lobbyist Overload

Germany's Voice of Industry Gets a Sore Throat

BDI DPA
Part of the BDI's problem is that it has to represent various types of industries, like the steel one shown here.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Should the influence of BDI, the traditional lobby for German industry, continue to wane, the country’s political agenda may become fragmented and splintered by special interests.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • There are an estimated 5,000 lobbyists in Berlin and 520 offices representing associations, non-governmental organizations and trade unions.
    • In a new image campaign, Federation of German Industries, or BDI, aims to reconnect with the public and its member organizations.
    • It faces competition from smaller organizations such as the Association of Family Enterprises.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Everything seemed to be in place for Ulrich Grillo’s welcoming address to political and business leaders at an annual event on Tuesday dubbed the “Day of German Industry.” Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who directs the center-left Social Democratic Party, were giving speeches. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron had also accepted the invitation to attend the event, hosted by the Federation of German Industries, or BDI, and its president, Mr. Grillo.

But behind the glamorous facade, the event’s influence is crumbling. The once-powerful lobbying group has been losing influence in Berlin’s political community for years. The organization’s leadership has recognized the dangers of a gradual loss of importance and is already preparing countermeasures.

BDI representatives face increasingly daunting competition. The non-profit group Lobbycontrol estimates that there are about 5,000 lobbyists vying for the attention of lawmakers and ministry officials alike in Berlin. The journal politics and communication counts 520 associations, non-governmental organizations and trade unions with headquarters in Berlin.

In other words, the BDI is now only one voice among many, and to make matters worse, it is a voice that is not seen as particularly friendly. Because of its powerful position in past decades, the BDI is still viewed as a somewhat sinister group wary of the general public.

This dinosaur-like image is a clear disadvantage for the BDI as it competes with other associations. The organization’s chief executive, Markus Kerber, and Mr. Grillo have apparently recognized this problem and now intend to launch a transparency campaign starting early next year.

Beginning in 2015, the federation will publish an annual report. Like any standard business’s financial statement, it will include precise details of the group’s revenues and expenditures, along with BDI executives’ salaries and contributions from member organizations.

The new annual report is an attempt to shed the BDI’s image as an opaque organization, and to apply pressure to competing lobbyists. The BDI finally wants to become a role model for other associations.

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