Corporations, such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, want to water down new legislative proposals from the European Union. The effort they put into this is described in a new report by lobby guards.
Clever lobbying is not a solo singing, but a choir. The voices of big corporations mingle with those of think tanks, industry associations and NGOs that are financially dependent on them. Together they hum the same melody until it becomes the noise of political activity.
A new report by Lobby Control and Corporate Europe Observatory shows how many large technology groups, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, sound in Brussels. “The lobbying power of the digital corporations has increased significantly in recent years,” says study co-author Max Bank from Lobby Control.
His figures make it clear how much influence on the European Union is worth to the big companies: the digital industry spends almost one hundred million euros annually on its EU lobbying. It pays more than oil companies, the financial sector or the pharmaceutical industry. The three companies with the highest lobby expenditures are Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, which each jump five million a year for their representation in Brussels. More than 140 lobbyists are out and about for the ten largest digital companies in the EU metropolis.
There is a lot at stake for the technology groups in Brussels. With a legislative package, the Digital Services Act, the EU Commission would like to limit the power of large platforms and enable smaller companies to compete fairly. The measures envisaged in it, such as restrictions on the use of data in digital advertising, could cost companies such as Google and Facebook billions – so it’s no wonder that the companies are up against it. There must be “stronger pressure” on EU Digital Commissioner Thierry Breton, and “allies in science” should also be mobilized, according to a confidential lobby strategy paper by Google published last autumn by the French Newspaper Le Point.
Large industry associations such as Digital Europe serve the tech groups as echo amplifiers. Individual corporations set the tone there, but the association speaks for the entire digital industry. Think tanks, which are supposed to give weight to the arguments of the digital corporations with their expertise, are also particularly powerful. On the same day in the fall, as Le Point, the lobby paper Google published, being financed by Google brought Think Tank ECIPE out a study. It states that the planned EU legislative package will cost the European economy 85 billion euros. The blemish: At this point in time, the Commission’s legislative proposal had not even been finalized, the figure was pure speculation. Nevertheless, the media reported widely on the study, the tech companies’ narrative was set: Regulation inhibits innovation and costs money.
The technology industry also influences politics through personnel policy. Because the corporations and the associations and think tanks they fund like to hire staff from the EU Commission and Parliament, people often switch back and forth between politics, companies and associations. The prospect of a lucrative job with the technology companies often ensures that criticism from the ranks of politics and civil servants is dampened. Such so-called revolving door changes are restricted by rules, but are still on the agenda.
As an example, the lobby watchdog’s report names Eline Chivot, who warned the industry-related think tank Center for Data Innovation against overly strict regulation of corporations. She now works as a digital policy advisor at the European People’s Party, which also includes the German Union parties. Cheviot did not respond to a request from netzpolitik.org about their connections in the digital industry.
The lobbying power ensures that the voices of the big technology companies are much louder than those of consumer associations, NGOs and other civil society organizations. Of the 270 lobby meetings of the EU Commission on the Digital Services Act, 75 percent were with representatives from the digital industry. This is determined by the study by the lobby watchdogs: inside through an evaluation of the Commission’s transparency register. How much is lobbied in the EU Parliament and the Council of EU States, on the other hand, cannot be said – because there, entries of meetings with lobbyists in the register are not mandatory.
The tech companies are currently investing “in unprecedented dimensions” in lobbying, says Max Bank from Lobby Control. In just a few years, the digital industry will catch up with what traditional industries would have built up in terms of political influence over decades.
Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobby Control are in favor of stricter lobbying rules so that the tech companies do not exert excessive influence on politics through their lobbying. In their study they renew long-standing demands such as those for a mandatory transparency register for all EU institutions, more openness in the legal work of the EU member states in the Council of the European Union and effective blockades against revolving doors between politics and lobbying. It is intended to ensure that politicians also hear sufficient independent voices from civil society, consumer associations, trade unions and academia in their legislative processes. The EU Commission must proactively invite them to talks. This is to prevent large corporations from having their say in discussions about new laws.