Book Review: Poteri forti?

Andrea Pritoni, Poteri forti? Banche e assicurazioni nel sistema politico italiano (Bologna: il Mulino, 2015). 256 pp., €24,00 (paperback), ISBN: 9788815257468.

Located in the research tradition developed in the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Bologna, which in recent years has been an important driving force for a renewed attention to “interest politics,” which had never found a solid base in Italy, Andrea Pritoni’s book attempts to give an answer to the classic Lasswellian question “Who gets what, when and how?” In order to do that, he focuses on the Associazione Bancaria Italiana (Abi–Italian Bank Association) and the Associazione Nazionale fra le Imprese Assicuratrici (Ania–National Association of Insurance Companies), two actors that so far had not been closely analyzed but that have always been identified as having “strong powers,” that is, powers that often if not always make them capable of enforcing their preferences and specific interests in decision-making processes that may be of concern to them.

The research objective of this book is to identify and measure these two actors’ access to policy making and to transform this access into a true influence on outcomes by focusing attention on three extremely important decision-making processes in the policy fields of credit and insurance: the conversion of Decree Law N° 223/2006 into Law N° 248/2006 (“Bersani’s first ‘lenzuolata’ of liberalizations”), the conversion of Decree Law 7/2007 into Law N° 40/2007 (“Bersani’s second ‘lenzuolata’ of liberalizations”), and the conversion of Decree Law N° 1/2012 into Law N° 27/2012 (the liberalizations made by the technical government headed by professor Mario Monti).

Before presenting the results of his empirical research, in the first two chapters Pritoni suggests a thorough review of the international literature on the lobbying capacities and strategies that groups may adopt. In particular, in the first chapter, the author, embraces the idea that before being a (more or less) relevant actor in the policy-making process, every group is also and above all a complex organization that needs a certain structure and specific resources. He then proceeds by classifying and identifying four ideal types of groups, each of which insists on a certain segment of representation and has a prevailing organizational mission.

The second chapter explains the research strategy and the methodology used. Here an interesting review of the literature regarding lobbying and policy analysis is proposed. Moreover, after having identified some approaches that in his opinion are best suited to achieve the goals set, the A. elaborates some research hypotheses to explain the influence that specific groups have on decision-making and does that by looking at the relationships between organizational resources held by specific groups and the characteristics of the policy issues analyzed. Finally, Pritoni presents a series of proposals for operationalizing the concepts used.

The other chapters show the results of the research: the third describes the structure and the organizational resources; the fourth shows the lobbying strategies used; and the fifth focuses on the influence of groups in the three processes previously mentioned. As for the structure and organizational resources, the data used are easily accessible (different groups’ statutes, the central and territorial organizational articulation, the number and types of bureaucrats, the extent of membership, representativeness, expertise, and skills that groups can mobilize, the symbolic resources, the confidence in the organization as assessed through surveys). Pritoni analyzes the type of lobbying and the tactics and strategies of influence in the decision-making process by looking at the activities of two groups in a specific year (2012) and, to identify these tactics, strategies and types of lobbying, conducts semi-structured interviews with the leaders of the organizations. Furthermore, the author attempts to reconstruct a series of group actions (mobilizations, civil disobedience, appeals to civil and administrative justice to change wrong policies, strikes, etc.). With regard to the problem of influence in the three decisional processes that were previously analyzed, Pritoni, perfectly aware of the difficulty of measuring this influence, opts for a minimalist strategy of research by suggesting control over the results of the decisional process, which measures the influence in terms of distance between the outcomes that have occurred and the demands expressed by all participating actors. To calculate this distance, the A. uses both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the content of important documents, especially the articles and subsections related to the issues to which the groups are considered most susceptible, and asks eight experts to estimate the innovations introduced by the legislation analyzed despite the presence of group preferences in favor of the status quo. It must be said that only three of the experts responded positively to the request for cooperation and evaluation, and this made the effort to attempt a quantitative analysis “disproportionate”.

Overall, the results of the empirical research showed that the analytical-conceptual schema proposed in chapter one holds. The third chapter, in particular, shows a new image of the organizational traits of the two actors studied, and the hypothesized proximity to the ideal type of corporate interest group of both associations is confirmed by most of the empirical dimensions analyzed. As for lobbying and the logics of strategic action, although they show some contradictions, the collected data validate the roles of the insiders in both associations, including their possession of vast economic, political, and informational resources that allow the leaders constant access to both political and bureaucratic policy makers. This access, however, does not seem to turn into influence in any decision-making process analyzed in chapter five: in fact, the empirical analysis shows that neither the Abi nor Ania were able to exert any influence. Pritoni considers that because the three decision-making processes were not particularly complex and they concerned extremely important policy issues on which public attention is rather high, the lack of influence can be considered not surprising. He also considers that the Abi and Ania could nevertheless be considered strong powers but not always strong: especially when the issues are very important and/or poorly specific and technical, they appear to be forced to accept unwanted policy results.

As plausible as it is, this interpretation does not seem to be sufficient to eliminate some small doubt about the adequacy of the data collection tools and approaches used. It does not seem daring to assume that the relations between political actors and interest groups deserve more attention and that more attention should be given to that gray area between the “visible policy of the invisible policy,” which is definitely not detectable through the interviews with the organizations’ leaders but is also not absent. None of this, however, calls into question the scientific relevance and usefulness of the fine work of Pritoni, especially the theory and methodology discussions.

In conclusion, we can only agree with Pritoni, who considers his research to be the beginning of a study that has significant empirical evidence on two actors that political analysis neglected and that uncovers a reality that needs further investigation.

Orazio Lanza, University of Catania

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