28th Mar 2023


MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets

  • Dutch socialist MEP Paul Tang (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)
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MEPs' assistants, EU Commission officials, and industry insiders should help drain the lobbyist swamp in Brussels by tipping off a new "early-alert" system, Dutch socialist MEP Paul Tang has said.

He spoke after a secure drop-box for potential whistleblowers went online on Thursday (2 February).

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Designed to expose abuse such as astroturfing, in which industry giants lobby via front organisations, any tips will be handled with strict anonymity, Tang said.

"Our encryption gives people the reassurance their identities wouldn't be disclosed by accident and that they'll remain anonymous," he told EUobserver.

The early-alert system is being handled by two NGOs, the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and LobbyControl in Cologne.

Their experts will sift any information and if they find real cause for alarm, they'll inform MEPs' offices in the EU Parliament to watch out for the suspects, Tang said.

The Dutch MEP, as well as French left-winger Manon Aubry and German Green Daniel Freund, helped launch the initiative in the wake of a lobbying fiasco involving Amazon, Google, and Meta in Brussels last year.

Tang was among those who complained that the US tech giants had hidden behind groups claiming to represent SMEs in order to distort EU digital-services laws.

"If we'd investigated this earlier, we could've sent out an alert saying :'Be careful — we don't know who's really behind this'," Tang said.

He encouraged industry whistleblowers especially to get involved, since they had the best knowledge of shady tactics.

"It's not just aimed at Big Tech. I suspect the crypto [currency] world is also full of cowboys," he said.

If the alert system amassed enough new information, it could help create pressure for "structural proposals" to improve the EU lobbying transparency register, the MEP added.

The drop-box was also open to tip-offs on any broader wrongdoing in the EU capital, Tang said, speaking in the context of the Qatargate bribery affair.

And the system was robust enough to handle alerts of potentially criminal activity, he said.

"If an alert was serious, we'd need to act on that and maybe go to the Belgian law enforcement authorities," Tang said.

"But let's hope we don't end up with any more of that in Brussels," he said, referring to Qatargate-level scandals. "I think we've all had quite enough of that already," he said.

The US tech giants denied wrongdoing in statements to media at the time of the SME lobbying incident.

The tech sector spends some €97m a year lobbying the EU, according to CEO data, more than even the oil and pharmaceutical sectors.

And just five US firms — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — account for at least €27m of that.

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