In Europe, associations have formal institutional structures, voluntary membership, independence from the government, and regular activity in the public arena. Most associations carry out their activities in particular regions, though some cross international boundaries.
Given the range of countries across Europe, the influence and specific activities of professional and trade associations vary across the region. In general, and as in other parts of the world, trade and professional associations in Europe gather intelligence, advocate on behalf of their members, share information with their members, and provide a platform for direct engagement with officials.
Across Europe, some of the largest or most prominent associations include BUSINESSEUROPE (which represents national business confederations as well as companies), Digital Europe, the European Association for the Promotion of Cogeneration, Accountancy Europe, Confederation of British Industry, and the Standing Committee of European Doctors.
In the U.S., trade associations advocate for their members’ interests in many ways. At both the federal and state levels, trade associations regularly provide information to legislators and regulators through in-person briefings, regulatory filings, and white papers. Association advocacy today also includes grassroots mobilization and communications campaigns. Associations also educate their members about developments that may affect their interests and facilitate their ability to contact policymakers directly. Government officials, in turn, often seek out the views of associations to understand how particular proposals might affect a particular economic sector or the business community as a whole.
These advocacy efforts are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to free speech and right to petition the government. Interpreting the First Amendment, a series of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court allowed associations to advocate on behalf of their members who, in other contexts, compete vigorously against each other. These court cases created what is now known as the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine. Notwithstanding these constitutional protections, trade associations, particularly those that represent individual sectors of the economy, must take care that they do not facilitate cartelization.
Beyond policy work, associations also advocate for their members through the court system. In certain circumstances, an association may have the legal ability to bring a lawsuit on behalf of its members. Through such lawsuits, associations can challenge the legality of statutes and regulations that adversely affect their members. In other cases, associations may file amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs, that provide the courts with useful information relevant to a particular legal dispute. The courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, sometime cite such amicus briefs in their written opinions.
In the U.S., some of the largest trade associations include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Homebuilders; and the American Hospital Association. Large professional associations include the National Association of Realtors, American Bar Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and American Medical Association.