The Role of Interest Groups' Preferences and Frames in Formulating the General Data Protection Regulation: Uncovering lobbying success and policy conflict in EU Data Protection

Liza Marie Green & Emilie Christine Lucie Jaillot

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis focuses on the role of interest groups’ preferences and framing strategy in informing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR is known to have been one of the most lobbied legislation in the history of the EU, and the deliberations ultimately leading its adoption in April 2016 lasted several years. Personal data protection has become a burning issue fuelled by numerous data breach scandals. Debates revolving around the topic generally oppose privacy concerns to data enthusiasts perspectives that highlight the endless potential of data-driven technologies. Intrigued by the conflicting views characterising the personal data protection debate and the substantial lobbying efforts, this thesis investigates the role of business and civil society interest groups in informing the GDPR, as well as how these groups’ policy preferences are articulated in the final legislation.This thesis adopts a pragmatist approach. As part of this, we draw on an actor-centered constructivist perspective to analyse the strategic use of frames. We follow a preference attainment methodology, which entails analyzing the alignment between interest group’ preferences and the final policy outcome. Through a detailed study of interest groups’ position papers and legislative texts, we analyze the interest groups’ policy preferences, the frames they used, as well as their degree of preference attainment. Our findings establish that civil society and business interest groups draw on shared frames, yet use them in different ways. This accounts for their diverging perspectives and explains why we found their policy preferences to be generally conflictual. In terms of preference attainment, civil society groups’ policy preferences are further reflected in the GDPR final text than that of business groups. An important number of policy issues are also found to have been compromised upon, suggesting that no interest group has achieved a higher degree of preference attainment on a number of issues. In the discussion, insights from theories on interest groups influence nuance our findings. First, we point out that the political and institutional contexts might constrain the degree to which interest groups achieve preference attainment, and second, we demonstrate that compromises dilute the overall stringency level of the GDPR, thus nuancing our perception of lobbying success. Based on this, we conclude on the shortcomings of interest groups influence literature, and on the GDPR policy outcome to be more of a compromise than a better reflection of civil society’s preferences over that of businesses.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages169
SupervisorsAndrej Savin