Thursday

5th Aug 2021

'Big Five' tech giants spent €19m lobbying EU in 2020

  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO. The report also reveals that three of Facebook's five registered lobbyists were working in the EU institutions - until just before they joined the big social media company (Photo: European Commission)

The increased regulatory scrutiny of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft has triggered a rise in lobbying by these companies in Brussels, and, accordingly, an exponential grow of their budget for these activities.

Last year, the so-called 'Big Five' - Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple - spent a combined €19m lobbying the EU, according to a report of Transparency International EU, a group that monitors lobbying.

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Google takes the top spot. The search engine spent almost €6m last year trying to influence EU policymakers - more than 4.5 times their budget in 2014.

Microsoft, who was already among the top lobbyists in Brussels during the Juncker Commission, comes second. But their expenditure has remained steady, with an increase of 17 percent since 2014.

Over the past six years, Apple and Facebook have increased their lobbying budget from some €400,000, to €2m and €4.25m, respectively.

"It is clear that tech giants devote significant resources to influencing European Union policy…and we continue to see 'Big Tech' companies ranking among the lobbyists with the most high-level meetings with the European Commission," said Raphael Kergueno, lead author of the report.

The latest data indicates 26 consultancies and law firms received between €3m and nearly €8m from the 'Big Five' to increase their lobbying activities in Brussels.

Since 2014, when the European Commission started publishing high-level lobby meetings, there have been over 30,000 high-level meetings recorded by the EU executive, of which 3,363 were on digital policy - making it one of the most-lobbied policy area.

The digital single market (currently broken down into three new portfolios: Europe fit for a digital age, internal market, and values and transparency) was the subject most lobbying by these five companies, followed by data privacy.

Under the von der Leyen Commission, tech policy represents 20 percent of the meeting held so far.

Google ranks second in the top 10 companies participating in the commission meetings, followed by BusinessEurope, Brussels' largest industry group, and ahead of Airbus. Facebook and Microsoft are also part of this list.

Shortcomings

However, according to Transparency International EU, "patchy lobby transparency and ethics rules across the institutions make it impossible to paint a full picture of how any interest representatives really shape our legislation".

Under current rules, commission officials below the Directorates-General level are not required to publish lobby meetings.

Meanwhile, there is no way to assess the intensity of 'Big Tech' lobbying in the European Parliament because not all MEPs are obliged to publish meetings - only those who are rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs or committee chairs (48 percent).

EU lawmakers have declared 153 lobby meetings with the 'Big Five' since 2019 - when the parliament introduced its first mandatory lobby transparency rules.

The main subjects lobbied on are the Digital Services Act, artificial intelligence and e-evidence, the report found.

Moreover, the European Council and permanent representations of member states do not currently have an obligation to publish meetings.

"The EU desperately needs a truly independent ethics body common to all its institutions, capable of ensuring respect for the Union principles of transparency and accountability - meaning it should be able to initiate its own investigations and issue penalties when rules are breached," said Vitor Teixeira from Transparency International EU.

The report also reveals that three of Facebook's five registered lobbyists were working in the EU institutions - until just before they joined the big social media company.

Facebook cries foul on EU request for internal documents

Facebook, a US tech giant known for abusing its users' private data, has filed a complaint at the EU court in Luxembourg, saying the EU Commission's data request was too broad and would affect its employees' medical and financial information.

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Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

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Only EU can tame Zuckerberg's Facebook

When the EU speaks, Silicon Valley listens. The tech titans know that the EU matters. Which is why it's so crucial that following the lobbying from Zuckerberg, on disinformation, the EU gets regulation right.

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