26th Oct 2021

Big tech's EU lobby spending revealed, as key acts loom

  • Facebooks European HQ in Dublin. The Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act are under intense lobbying
Listen to article

The digital industry now has more lobbying power than pharmaceutical, fossil fuels, financial, or chemical sectors, spending annually over €97m to influence EU decision-making, a new report found on Tuesday (31 August).

The research by NGOs Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl revealed an unbalanced playing field, where just a few firms dominate lobbying efforts in EU digital economy policies.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Only 10 companies are responsible for almost a third of the total tech lobby expenditure - with Google, Facebook, and Microsoft as top spenders, with a budget of over €5m each.

However, a total of 612 companies, groups, and business associations in the digital sector were identified as lobbying actors in Brussels - with most of the big players coming from the US.

The report notes that tech companies are not just lobbying policy-makers individually, since they also tend to be part of businesses and trade associations and a wider network of "non-transparent collaborations" with think tanks, consultancies, and academia, all of which are also trying to influence the public debate.

Currently, the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA) are under intense lobbying, as the two landmark pieces of legation with the potential to shape online platforms' business models.

The DSA is aimed at making digital companies accountable for the illegal and harmful content displayed on their platforms, while the DMA attempt to establish for the first time a list of 'dos' and 'don'ts' for the biggest online platforms, so-called gatekeepers.

However, the report also points out how lobbyists behind digital industries keep advocating for a regulation based on a case-by-case approach, using narratives such as "regulation stifles innovation" or arguing that too much regulation will cause Europe to fall behind the US and China.

For example, Facebook's global head of corporate communications Nick Clegg (a former UK deputy prime minister) said in a text published last May that the "Chinese model presents a risk to the open internet as we know it", warning that "policymakers need to avoid two unintended consequences: unnecessarily stifling European innovation, and inadvertently accelerating the splintering of the global internet".

Under the von der Leyen Commission, EU high-level officials such as commissioners, directorates-general or head of cabinets held 270 meetings on these two proposals since November 2019.

The majority of these meetings were with industry lobbyists (75 percent), compared to NGOs (19 percent) and other groups (six percent).

But the lobbying battle has now moved to the European Parliament and Council, where discussions to find a common position are still ongoing.

'Independent voices' required

Meanwhile, civil society and academia are calling on EU institutions to address not only the massive economic power concentration of big tech but also their capacity to influence EU decision-making.

"The economic and political power of the digital giants is hefty, and they are not going to remain passive in the face of possible new rules that affect the way they conduct their businesses. That's why the EU institutions urgently need to change the way they handle this lobbying," said Tommaso Valleti, former chief economist of the EU Commission competition department and professor of economics at Imperial College London.

Similarly, Margarida Silva, a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, said that "it is crucial that independent voices and citizens get involved in these policy discussions, to ensure that corporate lobbyists do not get to shape the future of technology".

For his part, Max Bank, author of the report and researcher from LobbyControl, called especially on EU capitals to "stop acting opaquely, and finally ensure that they provide democratic accountability regarding their processes and decisions".


Podcast: 'Big Tech' and the threat to democracy

Do tech giants like Google, Apple or Facebook have too much power? Is their growing power a threat to democracy? These topics are highlighted in the latest Nordic Talks podcast, featuring three specialists - among them EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Online giants could face 10% fines under new EU law

The European Commission unveiled on Tuesday a package of proposals that set out legal obligations for digital platforms aimed at tackling illegal content and unfair practices in today's digital environment.

No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says

The EU Commission says war rhetoric has no place between member states, following an interview by Poland's prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who warned the Brussels executive not to "start the third world war" by withholding EU funds.

NGOs reveal 71 'revolving-door' cases at fossil-fuel giants

A new research has revealed dozens of 'revolving-door' cases at some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the EU and their lobby groups – triggering calls for stricter ethical rules, similar to those of tobacco industry.


MEPs poised to vote blank cheque for Europol using AI tools

Fair Trials, EDRi and other civil society organisations are calling on MEPs to hold true to protect our fundamental rights. We urge MEPs to vote against the revision of Europol's mandate, which distinctly lacks meaningful accountability and safeguards.

Von der Leyen vows action against Poland

Ursula von der Leyen said the commission might use either an infringement procedure, an EU probe into the ruling, the new tool of conditionality which could lead to the suspension of EU funds, or the Article 7 sanctions procedure.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  2. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  3. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers
  4. No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says
  5. Nine countries oppose EU gas market reform
  6. EU-UK impasse on top court in post-Brexit customs talks
  7. Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors
  8. EU banks play 'major role' in deforestation, report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us