Tech

Lobby battle: What Google & Co are paying for the fight against EU rules

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612 companies, associations and business associations try to influence the EU’s digital economy policy through their lobbying work. They currently spend more than 97 million euros a year on this and employ a total of 1,452 lobbyists. This emerges from a study on the “lobbying power of Big Tech”, which the two civil society organizations LobbyControl and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) published on Tuesday.

The IT industry therefore has the highest lobby expenditure in the EU, ahead of the pharmaceutical industry, oil and gas companies, the financial sector and the chemical industry. The ten largest digital corporations alone employ more than 140 lobbyists in Brussels and spend over 32 million euros a year for this. Google is at the top with 5.75 million euros for influencing politics in Brussels, followed by Facebook with 5.5 and Microsoft with 5.25 million euros.

Apple follows according to the analysis in fourth place with 3.5 million euros. The Chinese company Huawei ranks fifth with 3 million euros. In sixth to tenth place are Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, IBM and Vodafone with lobby costs of 2.75 to 1.75 million euros annually. Netflix, Airbnb, Uber, Spotify, Alibaba and eBay follow after the multi-million dollar top group. They provide between 600,000 and 900,000 euros annually for EU lobbying.

Of all companies that want to influence EU policy in the field of digital economy through local forces, a good fifth come from the USA and there especially from Silicon Valley. Less than one percent are based in China or Hong Kong (Alibaba). These companies from the Middle Kingdom spend a total of 18 million euros per year for their lobbying activities.

In order to determine the lobbying power of the digital industry in Europe, the authors used the information available in the EU transparency register. In doing so, they first displayed all companies that have a particular interest in the digital economy. They mainly included providers of hardware, software and telecommunications and information services, but also Bayer, Bosch and Kyocera. They compared the results with the Forbes list of the 100 most important digital companies and added missing corporations.

According to the study, the large Internet platforms do not only take care of lobbying themselves. They also have their interests represented by a broad network of professional lobby groups, consulting firms and law firms. They also finance numerous think tanks and other groups such as the Center for Information Policy Leadership (CIPL) and Center on Regulation in Europe (CERRE). In addition, it says: “The trade associations that stand up for the interests of Big Tech spend more money on lobbying than 75 percent of companies in the digital economy.”

The authors explain the record expenditure with the fact that there is currently a “lobby battle” over the drafts of the EU Commission for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA). With these initiatives for a “Basic Platform Law” and new antitrust regulations, the Brussels government institution wants to limit the power of Google, Amazon, Facebook & Co. According to the authors, the digital industry is fighting against this “with concentrated force”.

Since the Ursula von der Leyens (CDU) cabinet took office at the end of 2019, most of the lobbying efforts of the digital economy have been directed towards these two legislative proposals, the study shows. Over 271 meetings have already taken place with the Commission, 202 of them with companies and their industry associations and only 52 with non-governmental organizations, consumer associations and trade unions.

Twelve of the fifteen most important lobbyists acted on behalf of the Internet industry. According to the study, these included Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Spotify and the industry association DigitalEurope. Last autumn, Google’s lobbying strategy against the EU Commission became known.