Tech giants lobby Brussels ‘through the back door’

EU buildingThe length that US tech giants will go to ensure they have huge influence in Brussels has been laid bare, with a new study claiming they are spending a total of €97m every year – employing 1,452 staff – lobbying EU institutions, often using murky methods.

A report published by Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobbycontrol reveals that the tech sector outgunning all others, including pharma, fossil fuels, finance, and chemicals, with Google and Facebook both splashing out more than €5m to ensure their views are not ignored.

Just ten companies are responsible for almost a third of the total tech lobby spend; Google (€ 5.75m) and Facebook (€ 5.55m) are followed by Microsoft (€ 5.25m), Apple (€3.5m), Huawei (€3m), Amazon (€ 2.75m), and Intel, Qualcomm, IBM and Vodafone (all spending €1.75m).

In fact, these lobbying budgets have a significant impact on EU policy-makers, who find digital lobbyists knocking on their door on a regular basis. More than 140 lobbyists work for the largest ten digital firms day to day in Brussels and spend more than €32m on making their voice heard.

The Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act – the two strands of the Digital Services Act package – are the EU’s first legislative attempt to tackle the overarching power of the tech giants.

And the lobbying battle being waged over them show the lobby might of the tech industry in practice. More than 270 meetings on these proposals have already taken place, 75% of them with industry lobbyists. Most of them targeted at Commissioners Vestager and Breton who are responsible for the new rules.

This battle has now moved to the European Parliament and Council.

The report also reveals how tech giants not only lobby individually but are also collectively organised into a network of business and trade associations that the report dubs “important lobby actors” too.

This allows the tech giants to push preferred policy positions under a guise of wider industry support, by also funding such associations which then gives them an outsized influence over their lobbying output.

The report states: “Big tech’s lobbying relies on its funding of a wide network of third parties, including think tanks, SME and startup associations and law and economic consultancies to push through its messages. These links are often not disclosed, obfuscating potential biases and conflicts of interest.”

The report goes on to highlight 14 think tanks and NGOs found to have “close ties” to big tech firms, including the Centre on Regulation in Europe, the European Policy Centre and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

The report concludes: “Ten years ago, the picture of EU lobbying was different with sectors like finance or pharma dominating it. But this has changed over the last decade with big tech overtaking them in terms of spending, reach, and influence.

“But it is not just big tech’s lobby firepower that is a problem: its business models threaten to undermine democratic decision-making in our societies. The huge concentration of economic and lobby power is poison to our democracy. This is why we need better rules to limit the lobbying of the digital industry and to make it more transparent.

“But we also need more than that to preserve the functioning of our democracy. The firms’ political power is intimately linked to their business models and their market power.”

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