Abstract: Recently, various Central and Eastern European countries have experienced a regression of democratic quality, often resulting in the emergence of competitive (semi‐)authoritarian regimes with an illiberal governing ideology. This has often been accompanied by a closing political space for civil society groups. Based on a survey of more than 400 Polish, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovenian interest organizations, we explore, in the context of backsliding, the conditions under which organized interests shift their lobbying activities to alternative, i.e., EU or regional levels. Our statistical analyses indicate that it is rather exclusive policy‐making in general than a lack of individual group access to domestic policy networks that motivate organizations to engage in multilevel lobbying. However, it appears that organizational self‐empowerment and inter‐group cooperation are the “name of the game.” Even under the adverse conditions of democratic backsliding, organizations that are accumulating expertise, professionalizing their operations, and cooperating with other organizations not only can sustain access to (illiberal) national governments but also branch out their operations to the European and regional levels.
Keywords: Central and Eastern Europe; democratic backsliding; European Union; multilevel lobbying; organized interests; post‐communism