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What’s in a Name? Framing Public Interest Groups in the European Union

Jonas Schoenefeld

In the vast literature on EU public interest groups, scholars describe organisations like Greenpeace as civilsociety organisations, interest groups, or NGOs. The common practise of using such terminologyinterchangeably impedes characterising and understanding different organisational activities. I thus adopt aframing approach to ask which of these terms organise and signify sets of ideas concerning EU policy ideals.Framing means organising cognitive elements like ideas, practices or beliefs into coherent networks orframes and can be deployed strategically (Benford & Snow, 2000).I start by identifying prevalent terminology used to describe EU public interest groups, then link sub-sets ofterminology to prevalent theories of democracy. Content analysis of a representative sample of articles onEU public interest organisations was conducted to identify underlying democratic frames, and then drawingon interview data I juxtapose academic frames with the self-understanding of EU public interest groups.Preliminary results suggest that prevalent frames include ‘interest group’/’lobbying’ and ‘civil society’, with‘NGOs’ used less. These frames can be linked to theories of liberal democracy (‘interest group’),deliberative/participatory democracy (‘civil society’) and network governance (‘NGO’). Interview data indicatethat academic frames do not always correspond with the self-understanding of public interest organisations.

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