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Abstract

The paper investigates the role of German business interest groups in the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2020ff.). Taking the perspective of interest group research, we focus on the ‘logic of membership’ and examine the associations’ portfolios and the range of services they offer their members. For this purpose, (a) information, (b) concrete service offers of support to overcome the crisis, and (c) political demands of employers' associations, business associations, and economic chambers (chambers of industry and commerce, chambers of craft) were systematically collected in a comprehensive examination of the associations' websites in spring 2020. The sample includes 136 business associations and economic chambers from all three 'pillars' of the German business interest group system and represents a large part of the German economy (measured by the economic sectors covered accord- ing to NACE Rev. 2). A quantitative overview of the scope and content of Covid-19-specific information, services and political demands is followed by an analysis of the variations within the sample. This is guided by three hypotheses. First, the pillar and organisational structure hypothesis assumes that variances can be explained by the functions and task portfolio in the ‘three pillar model’ of German trade associations. Second, the shock hypothesis assumes that differences in the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on business sectors and regions (mainly changed consumer behaviour) and the political measures to cope with the crisis (restrictions on economic activity, social distancing, etc.) explain variances across associations. Third, the resource hypothesis assumes that information supply and demands differ according to the capacities of the organisations. Following exchange theory, the study provides new insights into the services business interest groups provide to their members, not only in times of crisis, but also beyond. The hypotheses were only partly confirmed. While differences of the service portfolio of business interest group can partly be explain by the function of the association, shock and resources are of minor importance. It became apparent that chambers of industry and commerce as well as chambers of craft offer a particularly broad service portfolio to their members. Furthermore, it has been shown that the process of de-differentiation between business and employers' associations has also been evident in the Covid-19 crisis.

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