Brussels: Lobbyists are in power – economy

The European Commission had not even published its plans yet, while Google was already making it mobile. In a way as subtle as it is well camouflaged. The internet company has followed a specific scenario to torpedo Brussels’ pro-consumer and pro-competitive plans. Seemingly neutral think tanks, private institutions halfway between science, politics and lobbying, have invited policy makers to influence them in the interests of Google and other big tech companies.

Supposedly neutral studies have also been published. One of them said that if what the Commission was planning were to happen, it would cost 20,000 jobs and 85 billion euros in gross domestic product across Europe. Associations from other industries were also linked to Google, as was its own video affiliate, Youtube. There, Google’s positions should dominate and Youtubers should be convinced as activists by selling them the commission plans as a dangerous interference with their creative freedom. This is what he said in an internal strategy document which became known by a leak in the fall of 2020.

The activities are mainly directed against two regulations which the European Commission published only a few weeks later. They are abbreviated as DMA (Digital Markets Act) and DSA (Digital Services Act). On the one hand, they aim to curb the dominant economic position of Google, Facebook or Amazon. On the other hand, the European Commission wants to prohibit companies from arbitrarily merging the personal data of users of different platforms or from favoring their own products. Personal online advertising shouldn’t be as easy as it used to be. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Co. would lose billions of dollars in business because of it all. So they set in motion an armada of lobbyists unlike any Brussels has ever seen, where people are used to a lot in this regard.

The ten largest digital companies alone spend 32 million euros on lobbying

A few years ago, most lobbyists at EU level were fighting for the interests of the financial sector, the petroleum, pharmaceutical, chemical and automotive industries. The digital giants are now engaging in the greatest lobbying efforts. With unprecedented financial and human resources, they are grappling with the EU. According to a joint study by the non-governmental organization Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and the German association Lobbycontrol, around 600 lobbying agencies, companies and associations are currently trying to promote European Union policy and legislation in the field. . of the digital economy in the interest of business influence.

They cost almost 100 million euros per year. Almost 1,500 lobbyists are on the road for you in Brussels. The ten largest digital companies alone spend 32 million euros on lobbying. In order to be as successful as possible, big tech companies are establishing an increasingly narrow and wider network of law firms and think tanks acting on their behalf.

“This gigantic lobbying power is a danger for democracy,” warns Max Bank, digital expert at Lobbycontrol. He is one of the authors of the new study, which denounces the “growing influence” of Google and Co. “on our way of life”. “The lobbying power of digital companies has grown dramatically in recent years,” Bank says. His CEO co-author Margarida Silva sees the danger that “the concentrated lobbying power of the digital industry” dilutes the stricter rules laid down by the European Commission with the help of DMA and DSA regulations. There is already a major imbalance in terms of access to EU decision makers. Three quarters of the 276 meetings of European DMA and DSA commissioners were held with representatives of digital companies. Only a quarter of the appointments were from trade unions or non-governmental organizations. Moreover, a lot of things do not happen in a verifiable way in secret. For example in national member states. No one knows which influential minister, MP or government official met when and with whom from Google, Facebook or Amazon and gave advice on DMA or DSA.

The plan is to pull as many unsuspecting users as possible to the shopping cart.

Thus, the lobbyist arming of the digital giants does not only concern the laws and rules that they want to prevent or at least influence in their favor. It is also a political influence on the European Union from outside, namely the United States. With 5.75 million euros spent per year on lobbying, the American market leader Google is the sole leader, followed by Facebook (5.5 million), Microsoft (5.25 million) and Apple (3.5 million) . Chinese company Huawei follows in fifth place, followed by Amazon, IBM and Intel in the US market. Speaking of China: The country’s lobbying efforts at the EU level are hardly significant compared to the Americans.

The plan of the lobby strategists is to attract as many unsuspecting users as possible to their shopping cart. Each German citizen spends an average of three and a half hours a day on the Internet, teenagers and young adults more than double. Search engines and social networks play a central role in this. This enables digital businesses to collect their users’ data and prepare it for advertisers in a targeted and lucrative way. A mega-company you don’t want the EU to regulate.

Winning users as allies against the Brussels plans would of course not be an argument. So instead of talking about their tangible economic interests, lobbyists prefer to talk about internet freedom, which European regulators are supposed to want to restrict. Other arguments, according to the CEO and Lobbycontrol’s study, are the warning against too much Chinese influence, digitization as a solution to many problems and the alleged concern of small digital businesses and start-ups. All in the hope that lobbyists for digital companies have. Let the political choir grow more and more and sound louder and louder. Just as you would like.

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