In addition to the fact that lobbying as an activity originated in the United States of America, in its form it can be found in some form around almost every person or group of persons with the highest political decision-making, one might say inherent in power. If it cannot be ruled out, its proper regulation is justified, otherwise it raises internal and external sovereignty (and security) issues that currently concern both the leaders of the European Union and Hungary.
The position of the boundaries of sovereignty has been a concern of legal and political scholars for centuries since sovereignty is the fulfilment of human freedom. With the help of sovereignty, the people have the freedom to decide, and by exercising this freedom, societies elect representatives and give them powers, expecting their representatives to act according to their interests both in domestic and foreign policy. Following the principle of popular sovereignty, it is therefore expected that elected representatives – including those elected in the international political arena – will be able to say no to attempts at external influence, thereby preserving faith in institutional systems.
The sui generis political system of the European Union has partly intergovernmental and partly supranational political features, thus features reminiscent of statehood. Therefore, a sovereign European Union cannot afford not to present itself autonomously, and above all to its own citizens. This is the importance of the sovereignty of the European Union and the essence of strong defence against lobbying.
In the course of European integration, a number of measures have been taken to filter out attempts at external influence. In the spirit of transparency, a transparency register has been set up to identify organisations and interest groups seeking to influence EU legislation and policy implementation, as well as measures have been taken to promote transparency of contacts. The loopholes and shortcomings of the system were brought to public attention by the Qatar-gate affair, which pointed to the fact that NGOs hide behind civil society in an attempt to buy influence, and foreign influence can be measured by handfuls in the European Parliament, which has weak rules.
On 13 February, Monika Hohleimer, a German MEP from the EPP, recognised the need for legislation like the US legislative framework and called for an EU equivalent to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). In the United States, lobbying has long been on the minds of lawmakers — with a long history of both the US Federal Lobbying Act and FARA — so the United States can offer Europe a good perspective. It took the fight of US Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Harry S. Truman to bring lobbyists, who appear as a separate power factor on Capitol Hill, within legal frameworks. However, the Inspector General drew attention to the fact that forced-to-act interest groups, inventing grassroots lobbying, are already trying to influence public opinion and thus representatives by building a hidden agenda, seriously violating the principles of sovereignty. Faced with the problem, in January 2023, a bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa reintroduced the legislation designed to curb efforts by foreign adversaries to secretly influence U.S. policy. Grassroots lobbying has also emerged in Hungary, which was highlighted by the dollar media scandal, but according to intelligence reports, the rolling dollars could also reach easily corruptible left-wing actors.
The main constitutional principle established by the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the country’s subsequent constitution in the USA is the principle of (popular) sovereignty, the protection of which is a legislative priority, and which should also be welcomed in the European Union, since incomplete or poorly implemented regulation has already caused a great deal of damage to European integration. It also has a detrimental effect on the international representation of European values such as the rule of law, solidarity, equality, or justice. The leaders of the European Union can only talk credibly about issues of democracy and the rule of law if the protection of the EU’s external and internal sovereignty can be effectively implemented in relation to external and foreign forces and interests, including lobbying organisations and NGOs.
In the research of the Századvég Foundation, a new product will be introduced called Századvég Reality Check, in addition to the range of strategic or tactical analyses known so far. In the course of its multifaceted work, Századvég, as a dominant think tank in Hungary, has always strived to combine analysis, research and direct information transfer, the interpretation of facts and data, through its professional activities, which attract the attention and interest of a wide public audience.
Reality Check (actually confronting reality) is nothing more than a second opinion given about the state of a current (e.g., social, economic) situation. So, when we say that something is a reality check for a specific target group, the goal here is actually to make them aware of the truth about a particular situation. Reality Check is similar to fact-check, but less formal.
In the field of public awareness, it can be considered an important aspect of development that a citizen, a voter who is open to the issues of politics and the economy, can distinguish between reality and fiction when forming his or her own thoughts and opinions. Errors in thinking, as well as inadequate information (incomplete or poor knowledge of facts, data, trends), can influence civic and voter behaviour and thus lead to unsound decisions in many areas of life. The “reality test” of Századvég highlights the importance of interpreting or possibly “correcting”, i.e., checking, facts, data, and trends that play a significant role in public and social reality, which can be learned mainly from news.